Opinion |

A Slight Bump to Israeli Arrogance

Decades of air supremacy led Israel to act as if were alone in the skies of the Middle East. This ended when Syria shot down an Israeli fighter jet

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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The downed jet near Kibbutz Harduf in northern Israel Saturday.
The downed jet near Kibbutz Harduf in northern Israel Saturday.Credit: Rami Shllush
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Israeli arrogance might not have ended Saturday, but it surely cracked. Suddenly it became clear that Israel is not alone in the Middle Eastern, that even its immense military power has its limits. There could be a silver lining, if Israel accepts that it cannot forever live by the sword, nor even by advanced airplanes. Perhaps the F-16 that was downed took down with it the doctrine according to which everything can and should be resolved by force; first of all force, always force, only force.

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Decades of air supremacy — and often, as in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, air exclusivity — have led Israel to behave as if it is not only the strongest power in the skies of the Middle East, but the only one. On Saturday this assumption reached its end. Israel is not alone in the sky and the price is painful. The comic relief was when Israel claimed the Iranian drone had violated its sovereignty. Israel can violate anyone’s sovereignty — overflying Lebanon, bombing in Syria, Sudan and of course helpless Gaza — but only the Iranian drone violated sovereignty.

Nothing could have been more predictable than the downing of the plane Saturday. Despite all efforts to disguise it, the plane “fell,” and Israel took a slight blow to the wing. After dozens of ostensibly successful sorties in Syria, it was clear that it would happen. An omnipotent Israeli plane will be downed. No one thought about what would happen afterward and where that could lead. Drunk with success, Israel increased the bombings’ frequency, thinking that its strength increased with each one. No one said a word. No one said “stop.” The airstrike hasn’t been invented that doesn’t get wall-to-wall support here. Are we bombing? There’s nothing better. Syria’s bleeding, after all, so what could be bad?

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Few know whether all the airstrikes were necessary, and if the benefit outweighed the harm. Everybody kept quiet or cheered. These bombings also do damage and have a cumulative cost. Sometimes they actually spur on the enemy, sometimes they plant a desire for vengeance. And when the Israeli commentators say for months that neither side wants war, it’s time to get the bomb shelters ready; they say that before every war.

The genuine danger of an Iranian military buildup across the border should not be taken lightly. It’s dangerous and frightening. Iranian expansionary plots are worrisome. But not everything can be solved, certainly not with bombing raids. This must be acknowledged. In Israel, with an army of pundits who can only parrot what is dictated to them, an issue like the airstrikes in Syria isn’t even raised for discussion. In Israel there is also no significant opposition to anything. On Saturday too, the center-left broke out in cheers of encouragement and support, as it does after every bombing raid and before every war.

Nor has Israel’s overall policy on Iran ever been tabled for debate. The nation of the army and the sword is always against agreements and in favor of every war. In Israel, the only opposition is to agreements. For the prime minister and the ruling right, every agreement is a Munich Agreement. Few opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign against the Iranian nuclear accord. It’s doubtful that Israel saw any benefit from it. The Israeli Churchill brought the country to the edge of an abyss.

It’s difficult of course to know what would have happened had Israel supported the agreement, but the fact is that Israel now faces the danger of a war with Iran. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Arrogance has its price.

It’s arrogance that says that the Gaza Strip can be allowed to starve and the West Bank to roil forever, simply because we are strong. It’s arrogance that determines that only Israel can arm itself endlessly, and everyone else must bow their heads in surrender forever. And then a man falls from a plane one night, or one morning, and Israel suddenly wakes up to reality: It is not alone, it is not omnipotent and it certainly cannot depend forever solely on its military might.

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