Reality returned with a vengeance to Israel last Thursday, as at least 20 terrorist infiltrators from the Sinai mounted a sophisticated multi-pronged attack across the Sinai border into Israel, about fifteen kilometers north of Eilat. Eight Israelis were killed in the attacks and the subsequent battle after IDF soldiers rushed at the scene. In addition, five Egyptian soldiers were accidentally killed by IDF forces, as the latter pursued the terrorists back across the border, creating a rift in Israeli-Egyptian relations that required the direct intervention of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to repair.
One of the most lethal terrorist attacks in recent years, followed four months of "social justice" demonstrations, in which growing numbers of demonstrators have put forth an ever expanding list of goodies, beginning with cheaper housing, even in the highest-rent districts of Tel Aviv, free day care, and, for good measure, lower taxes. The terror attack from the Sinai served as a grim reminder to the protestors, with their demands for major new government expeditures on "social welfare," that the huge cost of maintaining IDF capabilities is not yet one that Israel can do without. (Haifa University economics professor and sometime black humorist Steven Plaut commented that there is actually a connection between the protestors' signs demanding lower housing prices and those demanding an end to the occupation: The greater the number of missiles shot from territory turned over to Palestinian control by Israel the lower will be the housing prices in the areas under the most immediate missile threat.)
The curious unreality of economic protests in a country with one of the highest rates of growth in the developed world and whose financial system has been almost completely insulated from the Western financial crises since 2008 unfortunately has had its parallels in Israel defense policy. Caroline Glick pointed out in last Friday's Jerusalem Post that Israel's defense doctrine never seems to take account of new threats until there is Israeli blood in the streets, in the manner of highway planners who only install various protective features after a few fatal crashes.
Thus from 1994-2000, Israeli planners failed to take note or respond to the symbiotic relationship between Palestinian security forces on Yasir Arafat's payroll and out-and-out terrorist groups. Only when those Palestinian security forces prevented the evacuation of an IDF soldier wounded at Kever Yosef, and the soldier bled to death as a consequence, did the penny drop. The failure to respond to Hizbullah's massive missile build-up from 2000 to the onset of the Second Lebanon War in Summer 2006 is another example of the same phenomenon. Not only did the IDF clearly have no well thought out plan of response at the beginning of the month-long Second Lebanon War, it still had none at the end. Since 2006, Hizbullah has succeeded in not only replenishing but doubling and dramatically upgrading its missile arsenal from what it was at the beginning of the Second Lebanon War.
An entirely new security situation has now developed on Israel's southern border as a consequence of the downfall of the Mubarak regime. For one thing, Israel can no longer be assured of the Egyptian government's commitment to a cold peace with Israel. We do not even know who will constitute that government six months to a year from now. Secondly, the Egyptian government has eliminated most of the barriers to the free flow of arms into Gaza and of terrorists from Gaza. The highly trained terrorists who executed last Thursday's well-coordinated attacks belonged to Gaza's Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), and travelled south from Gaza through the Sinai to just above Eilat. Under Hosni Mubarak, the north-south corridors of the Sinai were carefully monitored in order to forestall threats to the Egyptian hotels on the Red Sea coast.
The third major development is the increased freedom of action for Beduin groups in the Sinai due to the preoccupation of the Egyptian authorities with matters closer to hand. They have succeeded in blowing up the Egyptian-Israel gas line five times since the beginning of demonstrations in Tahrir Square. The Beduin have become increasingly Islamist in recently years, and Al Qaeda has succeeded in establishing offshoots in the Sinai.
Despite these changes for the worse on the southern front, Chief of Staff Gen. Benny Glantz has so far resisted all calls to increase the troop and tank strength of the IDF on the southern front lest doing so be read by the Egyptians as a provocation.
ISRAEL DOES NOT LACK FOR COMPETENT GENERALS and first-rate strategic analysts. So what explains the paralysis within the IDF? The start of an answer begins with the delegitimization of Israel. Generally, when we contemplate the impact of the sustained delegitimization of Israel, we tend to think of such matters as economic and academic boycotts.
For sure, there is a real danger from such boycotts. But, by themselves, they constitute only one aspect of the damage from the growing delegitimization of Israel, and by extension anything Israel does to defend itself. A no less important consequence of Israel's obsession with world opinion is the weight given by Israeli policymakers to the negative world reaction sure to result from any Israeli military action – a constraint that does not apply, for instance, to Bashar Assad.
Last week's attacks provide a good example of how the process works. The Shin Bet General Security Service warned of a planned infiltration from Sinai prior to last Thursday's attacks, though the goal of that infiltration was assumed to be the kidnapping of another IDF soldier. And the intelligence services knew exactly who was planning that infiltration and their address. That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu was able to boast within hours of Thursday's attacks that those who planned them were no longer numbered among the living.
But the one thing that never occurred to Israel's leaders was to eliminate the PRC leadership in advance. Why? Because Israel's claim that it acted preemptively to stop a terrorist attack would never have been credited by the international community. First, there must be the dead Israelis, and only then can Israel act. The result is that Israel is always in a defensive and a reactive mode vis-à-vis security threats.
On Motzaei Shabbos, eighty rockets were fired at Beersheba from Gaza. At least one Israeli was killed by a missile and two others are in critical condition as of this writing. Another missile hit a home in Ofakim, injuring three, including an infant. Earlier in the week, a missile fell in the courtyard of an Ashdod yeshiva injuring ten.
Israel huffed and puffed and threatened all manner of tough responses to the missile attacks, which would have triggered all-out war if launched against any other country in the world. Yet when Hamas announced on Monday morning that it was instituting a ceasefire, Israeli leaders acted as if they had no choice but to go along, even after another 15 to 20 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip in the course of the day.
Yes, world opinion has real consequences, and it must be factored into security decisions. And yes, there are reasons why Hamas and allies like the PRC may wish to lure Israel into an all out offensive: the desire to take the spotlight off the atrocities against his own citizens and the Palestinian refugees living in Syria since 1948 committed by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad; the hope of bolstering the Palestinians' UN statehood bid in September; the desire to stir up tensions between Israel and Egypt.
And sometimes wisdom does consist of resisting the temptation to go after the terrorist infrastructure and arsenals in response to missile attacks. But if Israeli leaders can always be counted on act with such "wisdom" and restraint to attacks on its citizens, they will guarantee that such attacks become a permanent feature of Israeli life. Hamas will correctly perceive how sensitive Israel is to the possibility of adverse world opinion, however hypocritical, and see such attacks as win-win: Either they succeed in killing Jews with little cost to be paid or they trigger a major Israeli response, which will pay its own dividends in the further delegitimization of Israel.
Being too smart too often is costing Israel its deterrent capacity. And the consequence of making peace with repeated missile attacks on major Israeli cities too frequently is that the world community views such attacks as something normal, and any Israeli response as a departure from the norm.