The New York Times has, as usual, figured it all out. Operation Defensive Shield, Israel’s most serious attempt to date to uproot the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, is Prime Minister Sharon’s private war. The paper has relentlessly personalized the Israeli action, portraying it as rooted in Mr. Sharon’s particular character and history.
The Prime Minister is, according to the Times, someone who cannot shake his simplistic faith in military solutions to complex problems. In another twist, Sharon is Ahab to Yasser Arafat’s White Whale, pursuing a vendetta that reaches back to Lebanon and beyond.
Both as a portrayal of Mr. Sharon and Israel this is nonsense. Far from being an unrepentant warmongerer, Sharon has long been one of Israel’s most practical politicians. It was he who destroyed Yamit, forcibly removing hundreds of protesting settlers, when Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt. As Foreign Minister in Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, he was a full participant when Israel submitted to American pressure and agreed to further territorial withdrawals at Wye. Elected prime minister on the promise to end terror, he has been far more frequently reviled by the Right for his reticence than by the Left for his bellicosity.
But what is most lacking in the Times’ account is the fact that Israel is a democracy. All polls put support for the operation at over 80%. Even more telling is the response of reservists to their mobilization orders. Middle-aged men, most of them with families, reported for what they knew would be a very dangerous mission, in numbers that shocked the Israel Defense Forces. The turnout for combat units was consistently between 95 and 100%. (One would never know this from the Times’ op-ed page, long the preserve of Israeli figures on the far fringes of the Israeli political spectrum and beyond.)
Far from Sharon having manipulated Israel into war, had he not acted decisively after the Seder night massacre in Netanya and two other suicide bombings two days later, which left 50 dead and hundreds wounded, his government would have fallen.
Why, then, does the Times’ persist in characterizing Operation Defensive Shield as "Mr. Sharon’s War?" Because it does not want its readers to understand precisely why the Israeli actions were necessary. To understand why Israel’s Jews are so strongly behind Operation Defensive Shield is to understand why it was unavoidable.
The Times’ could not convince its readers that Israelis have suddenly developed a desire to reassume control of the daily lives of millions of Palestinians. Every poll shows a solid majority still in favor of dramatic territorial compromise in return for peace. On no issue is there such unanimity as the lack of desire to maintain any permanent presence in Palestinian cities and towns. Nor – at least in America – could it credibly argue that Jewish lust for Palestinian blood was driving the action. So instead it had to portray the war as Sharon’s own.
No country can absorb dozens of civilians being murdered every few days without becoming completely demoralized. That demoralization was the Palestinians’ goal and Israel’s greatest fear. Israel has struck against the terrorist infrastructure not out of a belief that all future terrorist attacks can thereby be forestalled, but to show the Palestinians that her citizens are not yet prepared to become fish in a barrel for suicide bombers. "A collective response to the assault on our collective being," was Yossi Klein Halevi’s apt description of Operation Defensive Shield.
The greatest achievement of the operation to date is not the killing or arrest of hundreds of wanted terrorists, nor the destruction of dozens of laboratories for the production of explosives and the seizure of vast weaponry, nor the seizure of documents providing the "smoking gun" linking Arafat and the entire Palestinian security apparatus to the terror -- as important as all these are. The greatest achievement is the proof that Israel has not given up the will to live.
The target of the Times’ disinformation campaign is the influential American Jewish community. The Times’ seeks to keep that community supportive of its all-purpose panacea: an immediate withdrawal to the 1949 Armistice Lines. To do that it must prevent American Jews from seeing the situation through the eyes of the their brethren in Israel.
The Jews of Israel were willing to take risks that no other country has ever taken for peace, but they now realize that the answer for Palestinian terrorism is not further Israeli concessions. American Jews must understand this is not Sharon’s war, but all of ours.