It’s no secret that Israel has been banging away at Iranian targets in Syria for years. But just as there is a good reason for ambiguity about Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities, there’s also good reason not to brag about targeting Iranian assets in Iran. So Israel has been keeping quiet.
Until now. Here’s part of what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on a trip this week to the northern border: “The Israel Defense Forces has attacked hundreds of Iranian and Hezbollah targets. In the past 36 hours, the air force attacked Iranian depots full of Iranian weapons at Damascus International Airport.” Then he promised more attacks.
Bragging about the strikes invites—almost obligates—the Iranians to respond. One thing leads to another, and there we have it—a nice war to underscore how important it is to be tough in this tough neighborhood, how scary it is over here, how we are always just one step away from total annihilation. And all this just before Israel’s election.
As title of my new book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” implies—all this is unjustified, dangerous, and wrong.
There’s a major problem with this Iran threat-danger-war scenario: Iran isn’t interested in a war with Israel. It’s interested, as Middle Eastern regimes have been for years, in talking about Israel, threatening Israel, slandering Israel. Not actually doing anything.
In fact, Iran has had a presence in Syria for decades. Since the civil war erupted there in 2011, its presence and role have increased. There have been Iranian forces in striking distance of Israel’s borders for nearly a decade. But except for one unexplained volley of rockets in the Golan Heights, how many actual, planned, intentional Iranian attacks against Israel have there been?
Iran has been supplying weapons to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, and Israel considers it legitimate to protect its border by interdicting those shipments. But from there to bragging about it is a long, fateful leap.
The US cancelation of the deal has led to reports that Iran is tooling up its uranium enrichment program. Oh, the outrage. Oh, the shock. What did we expect? As I wrote before, it’s a self-fulfilling “I told you so” situation.
But even that doesn’t amount to a threat against Israel. No, we’d rather bring damage like that on ourselves. We’ve done it before.
Netanyahu’s 2015 trip to Washington to address Congress in opposition to an Iran nuclear deal the sitting US president had already negotiated and was about to sign caused, or at least exacerbated, an unprecedented split between Israel and the mainstream Democratic Party. There was no chance that Netanyahu could stop the deal—it was too far along by then. But he gained “toughness” points from his base back home.
Now there’s an actual election in the near future, and Netanyahu is threatened by the hated, semi-traitorous left on one side and the immoral, ambitious, and leftist police and judiciary on the other. So what’s a little war with Iran compared to all that?
Let’s get real. Israeli experts who may not be quoted by name consider Iran a “rational player.” That is in stark contrast to the regime of crazy, hate-driven mullahs that Israel and its allies in the US government want us to imagine. Iran knows full well about Israel’s second-strike capabilities— more, certainly, than we are allowed to write here. There will be no nuclear attack on Israel from Iran.
Iran is willing to absorb the damage from Israel’s airstrikes in Syria as part of the cost of its influence there. Casualties among Iranian forces, up to now, have been relatively few. Absorb damage, yes. Absorb implied ridicule and insult? Not so much.
Netanyahu knows that. And yet, he said what he said. Then he conjured up the image of hundreds or thousands of Hezbollah terrorists racing through tunnels into Israel’s north, capturing territory, massacring Israelis. But it is patently absurd to think that any Hezbollah force could invade Israel through tunnels without being picked off immediately by Israeli forces.
So why scare the people? Why provoke Iran? Why anger the US president and alienate millions of Americans?
It’s all for Israeli politics, of course. It’s how Netanyahu stays in power.
But the cost, already high, could become catastrophic: An unnecessary war.
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Here’s my answer to the panic-mongers who are warning of everything up to and including the destruction of the Jewish state because of the pullout of the small US military contingent in Syria.
Here’s the beginning:
The US evacuation of military forces from Syria is a grave threat to Israel, so we hear.
Another reason to be afraid, right?
Wrong. Here’s a link to my new book, titled “Why Are We Still Afraid?” So you see where this is going.
The article concentrates on the effect, or lack of it, of the pullout on Israel’s security, but I’ve been writing about the larger issue for years.
“When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” That accurately describes the American military-first response to every challenge on the international scene. It’s completely misguided.
Will Syria fall under the influence of Iran and Russia? Yes, what’s left of it. Look at the map. Syria shares a border with Iran, and Russia is not far away. So their hammers will always be more effective than American hammers.
That’s not to say that the US should just pack up and leave the region. Quite the opposite. The civil war that has devastated Syria has displaced millions of people–about half the nation’s population are either refugees or internal refugees. Entire cities have been laid waste. The US is not to blame for that, but the US can and must lead the humanitarian aid effort to clean up the mess and rescue the people. It would cost a fraction of the military mission, and it would help repair the tattered image of the US in this region.
It’s a major challenge, directing rebuilding and distributing aid, without the resources falling into the wrong hands.
So the US, and the West, need a new definition. Forget the nail. Make a breadbasket, or whatever metaphor you want, that will direct the same energy, the same expertise, and same commitment to humanitarian aid efforts that the US has committed over the past decades to its hammer.
That would create a positive difference instead of creating more and more death and destruction.
This Washington Post article is the most extensive reporting on the murder of Jamal Kashoggi I’ve seen. It’s highly disturbing.
If even half of it is true (and considering the source, I’d bet that considerably more than half is true), it’s a road map into a whole new era. Of course there are Israeli footprints in key places, and it helps explain how and why Israel’s relations with some Arab countries are warming.
I’ve taken to calling it “antisocial media.” An in-depth report like this displays an additional reason why–beyond the distortion of public discussion and decimation of media and journalism.
It’s not as if we can put it back in the bottle–but we need to develop defenses against the takeover of our public, and to some extent, private lives by this cancerous phenomenon–and I understand the irony of the fact that I’m going on and on about the dangers of antisocial media…right here on antisocial media.
This is amazing…an tiny, active expat Jewish community in Dubai going somewhat public.
It signifies the political earthquake rocking the Mideast–a realignment of forces that includes a more rational view of Israel. That’s to say–Israel is not the main component of the realignment, but a sign of it. Here’s more on that.
The above photo accompanies the Times of Israel article.
It started like this—a Facebook post from a friend in England, responding to Hamas firing hundreds of rockets at Israel in a single day, sending hundreds of thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters for many long hours, killing a man in Ashkelon and wounding others:
“I would be much happier if Israel defeated Hamas militarily and damn the consequences. This can’t go on.”
Here in Israel, some people share the sentiment. It’s hard not to sympathize. Israel has the strongest military in the region, and Hamas, with all its rockets, is a ragtag terrorist group. Of course Israel could wipe out Hamas if it wanted to.
Or could it?
We’re still learning to deal with what they call asymmetrical warfare. That’s where one side has sophisticated weapons like fighter aircraft, and the other has primitive stuff like unguided rockets and bombs.
If the strong side uses all its might to wipe out the weak side—what does that mean, and how can it be done?
Let’s say Israel decides to take out the Hamas leadership, one by one. Well, we’ve done that before—killed wheelchair-bound Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 2004, killed his successor Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and killed many commanders, big and small since then. Yet Hamas persists. It’s what NFL teams dealing with inevitable injuries call “next man up.” Hamas has enough commanders to take the place of the ones we kill, and let’s face it, commanding the Hamas military wing is not all that complicated. It’s pretty much “get money, dig tunnels, buy some weapons, build some rockets, and let fly.” Over on this side, commanding the sophisticated array of weaponry in the Israeli military is a doctorate-level mission.
So how about sending the Israeli military on a sweep through Gaza, singling out all the Hamas terrorists and killing them all? That would mean killing thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of civilians, while taking high numbers of Israeli casualties, probably triggering a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon—and Hezbollah has more and better rockets than Hamas does. In other words, that won’t work, either.
That’s the background to my response to my understandably troubled friend in England, who recommended sending Israel’s army on a mission to wipe out Hamas once and for all:
“It’s too easy to make such recommendations from so far away. Many Israelis agree with you, but cooler heads here admit it can’t be done. For now there’s no solution…we have to live with this, and we can.
“I don’t want to get over-philosophical here, but there are problems that have no solutions. This is one. We cannot “punish” Gaza or “teach them a lesson.” Palestinians have been educated for generations to relish in their victimhood, with the full support of the world and especially the UN.
“Short of killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, which we are not going to do, nor should we, there is no military solution. Residents near Gaza are understandably upset that the IDF and government didn’t provide a permanent solution to this, but most of them realize, when tempers cool, that there isn’t one.
“It also bears repeating that when Israel did control Gaza (before the 2005 pullout), terrorism was rampant, and suicide bombers from Gaza blew themselves up in Israel–so retaking Gaza is not a solution, either.”
The solution will come one day in the framework of the realignment of the Middle East that’s in its beginning stages now. It started with Arab Spring, and it’s moving toward replacing the outdated 1920’s Sykes-Picot borders with Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish spheres of influence. And one Jewish state.
The borders of the one Jewish state must be fixed in accordance with the realignment of the rest of the region, and that also means the borders of the Palestinian state or entity or whatever emerges. It won’t be peace, but it will be an arrangement that has the support of the Arab world.
Will it result in a Palestinian state, a Hamas-led rogue state bent on attacking Israel at every opportunity? Perhaps. But that state would be at odds not only with Israel, but also with the powerful Arab sponsors of the new order. And make no mistake—besides being a convenient tool to distract downtrodden Arab populations from their own troubles, the Palestinians have never been the darlings of the Arab world. After borders are set and agreed, if Israel has to take drastic steps to defend itself, there will be little objection from anyone other than the professional Israel-bashers, mostly in the West.
After turning down two Israeli offers of an independent state, in 2000 and 2008, the Palestinians are likely to end up with much less—and for the meantime, and that’s going to be a long meantime, nothing at all except corrupt leaders, terrorism, deprivation, and professional victimhood.
And what does it leave Israel? A Gaza that defies solutions means a Gaza that periodically fires rockets at Israel. It is a harsh reality, but one that Israel is tough enough and resilient enough to withstand, especially if it has the kind of leadership that listens to its people and takes their needs into account, as opposed to the kind of leadership that blusters and threatens and warns, with the object of sounding “tough” and getting votes. Here’s my answer to that, my second book, coming soon.
There are government incentives for Israelis who move to and live in the West Bank. It should be obvious that the Israelis in constant rocket range in Israel’s south should get much larger benefits than the settlers. The people of Sderot and the other communities close to the Gaza fence are literally on Israel’s front line. Their lives are hell, not because their government has failed to impose a solution, though politicians from right and left are crowing and wailing in that vein, now that the latest round of violence appears to be over.
Their lives are hell because there is no solution.
We in Israel need to embrace the residents of the Gaza target area not just when the rockets are falling, but especially when they are not. If we do, and only if we do, can we say sincerely that the periodic flare-ups with Hamas in Gaza are unpleasant and painful, but they do not threaten our existence, and they are part of the price we are prepared to pay for the privilege of living in Israel.
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Correspondent MARK LAVIE has been covering the Mideast since 1972.