Senior diplomatic official says Israel has detected Hamas smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip just two weeks after the end of Operation Protective Edge
– Herb Keinon, The Jerusalem Post, September 7.
The Iranians are seeking to renew aid to Hamas because it has proven itself against the ‘Zionist enemy’
– Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Herzliya, September 8.
Israel did not succeed in imposing the goals the prime minister set for the Operation [Protective Edge] on the terror organization [Hamas]
– Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, “How to deal with the strengthening of Hamas” (Hebrew), September 10.
With public debate on Operation Protective Edge beginning to subside, and public memory of events beginning to fade, I could have devoted this column to more timely topics.
Last week’s pledge
I could, for example, have dealt with the dramatic offer allegedly made by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to allocate a large area in Sinai for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Or the potentially ground-breaking address on Tuesday by former Head of Mossad Shabtai Shavit at the 14th annual conference of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, in which he urged Israeli authorities to work for the dismantlement of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) and resettlement of the refugee (or rather, “refugee”) population of Gaza elsewhere.
But these eminently worthy topics will have to wait. Instead, I will honor the pledge made last week to provide a sequel to my column “Protective Edge: Catalogue of common canards.”
Readers will recall that I focused on the activities of various official government spin-doctors and unofficial government apologists who attempted to assure us that the campaign was a resounding success – and what we got was the best we could get under prevailing circumstances/ constraints. They invoked an extensive “catalogue of canards” in an endeavor to dissipate the unease that large segments of the Israeli public – and many of the country’s supporters abroad – felt as a result of that outcome.
A brief reminder
I managed to elaborate on three of the canards: The “international pressure” canard, according to which Israel was prevented from engaging in more assertive military action by pressure from the international community, chiefly the US; The “anti-Semitism” canard, according to which such inimical pressures are impossible to attenuate because they basically emanate from a visceral hatred of Jews, which expresses itself as inherent hostility toward the Jewish state, irrespective of the justice of its actions; The “Obama” canard, according to which Israel’s choice to limit military operations in Gaza must be attributed to pressure derived from the blatant antipathy of the Obama administration.
Clearly, I have no wish to repeat details of the arguments I presented last week to establish the “canard-credentials” of these issues.
I will confine myself to the following synopsis:
(a) With respect to supposed pressures from the international community and the US administration, reference to these actually constitutes more of an excuse to justify the outcome than a motive that explains Israel’s military restraint. In large measure, ‘pressures’ tend to come from Israel’s incompetence and impotence in the conduct of public diplomacy;
(b) As for the issue of antisemitism, Israel is jeopardizing Jewish communities abroad by allowing the image of Israel to become so demonized so diaspora Jews’ imputed affiliation with the Jewish state amplifies antisemitism.
Instead of anti-Jewish sentiments inducing anti-Israel attitudes, the contrary obtains: anti-Israel sentiment generates anti-Jewish animosity, the reverse of what is usually suggested.
Now we can move on to an analysis of other canards in the unfortunate and misleading catalogue.
‘Mowing-the-lawn’/’managing- the-conflict’ canard
The refusal to face unpalatable realities created by the colossal blunder of yielding land to Arab rule has spawned new slogans to disguise intellectual surrender, and to mask unwillingness to accept the need – and the cost – for regrettably harsh but essential measures.
Originally, we were told that there was “no solution” to the Israel-Arab conflict, so we should aspire to manage rather than resolve conflict.
Then a new, somewhat derogatory, term was introduced to professional jargon to convey a similar concept: “mowing the lawn” is intended to express the idea that a new round of fighting will be necessary every time Palestinian violence reaches unacceptable levels.
Its rationale, for want of a better term, was recently articulated by two well-known members of a prominent think tank: The use of a measure of force calculated “not to attain impossible political goals, but… designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities.”
Sadly, what we have seen is far from substantially “debilitating enemy capabilities.”
Said enemy keeps reappearing, spoiling for a fight, ever bolder with ever-greater capabilities.
“Mowing the lawn” is an unsustainable canard. Indeed, almost two years ago, at the end of the previous round of “mowing” (Pillar of Defense), I cautioned: “Temporary lulls are increasingly unacceptable, [because they make] life in the South increasingly untenable… depopulation of the South and the denudation of the Jewish presence there is an ever-more tangible possibility.” (“Israel’s infuriating impotence” – November 29, 2013).
And sure enough, during the current round of “mowing” this “tangible possibility” became a tragic reality.
Clearly, periodically “mowing the lawn” is a misguided policy prescription that cannot stand for long – it simply will not cut it. The grass needs to be uprooted once and for all.
‘Inadmissibility of victory’ canard
The “mowing-the-lawn” canard is closely related to – in fact, grew out of – an alternate canard – the “inadmissibility of victory.”
In large measure, this corrosive canard is the consequence of a malaise, inculcated into the thinking of the IDF officer echelon by two-state/land-for-peace advocates who comprise much of the staff of colleges and faculties which members of the military attend during the course of their service. Here they are taught (read “conditioned”), by the adherents of political appeasement and territorial concessions, that victory is not only an invalid concept, it is an unattainable, even undesirable, operational goal.
This is an ideological imperative for obsessive two-staters, since they can maintain the perception that a “political solution” is an illusory imperative only by denying the possibility of military victory. The upshot of this process of disintegrative reasoning was recently conveyed vividly by Caroline Glick, in a stinging condemnation of the conduct of upper echelons of the IDF during the recent war in Gaza (“The unfinished war,” September 1): “Hamas will only stop fighting when it is defeated. And Israel did not defeat Hamas…. the IDF senior command echelon is Hamas’s ace in the hole…. under Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, the General Staff refused to present the security cabinet with any viable plan to defeat Hamas.”
This is clearly a matter of choice, not of military exigency dictated by the balance of forces. In the past eight years, in four military encounters with lightly armed militias, Israel has deliberately eschewed the goal of defeating the adversary (i.e. attaining victory). The IDF could have overrun Hezbollah positions in Lebanon in 2006, and Hamas in Gaza in 2008-9, 2012 and 2014.
This lamentable approach ensured that Israel paid a heavy price (hundreds killed and thousands wounded) and reaped the most meager fruits (the need to continue to “mow the lawn” and inevitably suffer even more casualties) – vividly illustrated the chilling, but apparently inexorable, truth of the caveat articulated by John Churchill, first duke of Marlborough (1650-1722): “… pursuit of victory without slaughter is likely to lead to slaughter without victory.”
‘Weaken but preserve Hamas’/‘If not Hamas, then ISIS’ canard
One of the oddest ideas to emerge from the 50 days of combat in Gaza is the nonsensical notion that somehow, Israel has a vested interest in preserving the rule of Hamas (albeit weakened) over Gaza. Incredibly – or perhaps not, given Glick’s review of the mindset of the IDF senior command – this ludicrous position seems to have gained traction.
Thus, according to The Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Lappin, “Israel’s military planners” believe “toppling the Hamas regime… is not necessarily in Israel’s long-term strategic interests. It remains far from clear who might replace Hamas, and Gaza could turn into a Somalia-like strip of land filled with Islamic State militias that cannot be deterred at all.”
This sort of claim must be rejected out of hand. It was precisely this kind of thinking that induced Israel to deal with the PLO, lest it end up with Hamas. So Israel agreed to deal with the PLO and got Hamas…
Moreover, quite apart from the fact that it still has to be demonstrated that Hamas can be deterred, it remains entirely unclear how a weakened Hamas would withstand the onslaught of un-weakened Islamic State-like militias, especially if the intention is to disarm and demilitarize Hamas (another emerging canard to be discussed at some future date).
Israel cannot determine who will rule Gaza… unless it does so itself (see “The day-after” canard below). Thus, no matter what Arab regime is in Gaza, there is always the risk of it being replaced by more implacable and inimical successors.
‘Strengthen Abbas’ canard
With their preferred political prescription fading into irrelevance, desperate two-stater, land-for-peace addicts came up with a brilliantly “innovative” idea to salvage the rapidly sinking wreckage of their vision: Abu Mazen.
This absurd notion should of course be dismissed with a terse “Been there. Done that. Didn’t work.” It is almost inconceivable that this notion is still being raised as a supposedly realistic policy option.
How any rational being could cling to the idea that a near-octogenarian, in the 10th year of his four-year term of elecion, trailing abysmally in the polls behind rivals and devoid of real legitimacy and authority, is beyond comprehension. Abbas was summarily ejected from Gaza in 2007 by Hamas; he probably could return only on pain of death. His administration – probably his very life – depends on the protection of IDF troops. How could he possibly stand up to a challenge from Hamas, take up any significant role in governing Gaza or protect it from any predicted onslaught from Jihadi radicals? That people of influence in the Israeli establishment still seriously subscribe to and actively promote such a patently preposterous canard should cause grave concern about the judgment of those charged with charting the course of the nation.
‘The day after’ canard
To deter proponents of victory-oriented policies, their opponents brandish “the day-after” canard, according to which defeating Hamas would be disastrous because “the day after” success, Israel would be saddled with the problem of what to do with the large civilian population newly placed under its control.
Without broaching the discussion of how to meet such a daunting challenge, it must be pointed out that what to do on “the day after” is not a one-way question. Those against imposing defeat on Hamas must also be compelled to confront it.
After all, in the absence of victory over Hamas, the “day after” will look very much like the “day before.”
The abandonment of the Gaza belt settlements has shown unequivocally that there will eventually be either Jews in the Negev or Arabs in Gaza – but not both. That is the brutal choice facing Israel’s decision-makers – the true “day-after” dilemma.
To resolve it Israel’s only option is to impose unconditional surrender on Hamas, beginning with systematic dismantling of Gaza and humanitarian relocation of its non-belligerent population in third countries, as I first proposed two decades ago in “Why we can’t dump Gaza” (Jerusalem Post, December 9, 1992) and in numerous subsequent Into the Fray columns – something Shabtai Shavit seems to have alluded to in his recent above-mentioned address.
Ducks, geese and other avian-related dictums
The term “canard” comes from the Medieval French expression “Vendre des canards à moitié” – literally meaning “to sell ducks by half…” i.e. to trick people with something literally true, but deliberately misleading.
Unless we extricate our policy-making mechanisms from the destructive influence of these corrosive canards, our goose may be well and truly cooked.