Thursday, March 28, 2019


 Vic Rosenthal's Weekly Column

Moshav Mishmeret is an agricultural community about 21 km. north and slightly east of Tel Aviv. It is about 125 km. north of Rafah, which is at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, on a line that passes almost directly over Tel Aviv. The moshav was founded in 1946 by demobilized British soldiers and workers from the Ashdod port. 

At 5:20 in the morning this Monday, a rocket fired from Rafah by terrorists associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad made a direct hit on a house in Mishmeret, destroying it, and injuring eight people. They were saved by the mamad, the reinforced concrete safe room now required in all Israeli construction. The most seriously injured person did not get to it in time, and the others had left the door open for her. Several dogs that were in or around the house were killed, and if not for the safe room, probably the human residents would have been seriously injured or killed as well.

I made a mental note on reading this: always make sure to close the door of the mamad. Rehovot, where I live, is only about 85 km. from the launch point of this rocket, and half that from the northern tip of the strip. They have only to turn their dial a couple of clicks to the east.

Initially, Hamas claimed that the firing was a “mistake,” but later on a Hamas official said that the attack was ordered by Iran and carried out by its Islamic Jihad proxy. Israel holds Hamas responsible for any attacks from Gaza, and responded with the usual bombing of military targets, after waiting for Hamas to evacuate so as to not hurt anybody. Hamas then fired some 85 rockets at the Gaza Envelope area, which were intercepted by Iron Dome or landed harmlessly in open areas. Sometime early Tuesday morning, the shooting on both sides stopped; but on Tuesday evening Hamas went back to sending balloons carrying explosive and incendiary payloads over the border fence. And firing rockets.

The claim that the rocket that hit Mishmeret was fired on Iran’s instructions is believable. It’s not impossible that it was aimed at Tel Aviv. Rockets fired from Gaza are notoriously inaccurate, often falling short and landing inside the strip itself. Given the amount of damage done by the blast, the fact that the rocket hit a single-family home in a moshav and not an apartment building in Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, or Herzliya, can be considered very good luck.

Incidentally, for once and for all we can put aside the ridiculous statements by Hamas supporters that the rockets fired from Gaza aren’t dangerous. The number of Israelis killed by these weapons is relatively small because of the huge investment Israel has made in shelters and the Iron Dome antimissile system. I don’t know if the rocket that struck Mishmeret was built by the industrious Orcs of Gaza, or if it was made in Iran and smuggled into Gaza in pieces; regardless, it is only a matter of luck that this rocket didn’t kill dozens of people.

Which raises the following questions: what are Iran and Hamas thinking, and what do we do now?

My guess is that Iran, which has been greatly hurt by Netanyahu in Syria, wants to see him defeated in the election. Rocket attacks against the center of the country demand a response, and they calculate that whatever he does now will damage him. Although some say that the government values citizens in the center more than the periphery, the truth is that the population density in the center is so much greater that the potential for mass casualty events is higher. For that reason, the recent attacks cross a red line.

PM Netanyahu cut short his visit to the US, where he was present as President Trump signed an order recognizing Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights. He returned Tuesday morning, exactly two weeks before the hard-fought election that will determine whether he will continue as PM. This attack and the previous “mistake,” in which two rockets fell in open areas near Tel Aviv, have put him between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, if he doesn’t respond aggressively enough he will be pilloried for not protecting the population, his most basic job. Israelis are rightly sick of the daily and nightly riots and incursions at the border with Gaza, the incendiary and explosive balloons and kites, and of course the rockets and mortars that drive the inhabitants of the northern Negev into shelters over and over again.

We are also sick of terrorism carried out by Hamas operatives in Judea and Samaria, and of security prisoners rioting and stabbing jailers because Israel has blocked their illegal cell phones. We are tired of Hamas, period. Netanyahu’s political opponents, some of whom are former Defense Ministers and Chiefs of Staff who understand precisely the dilemma he’s facing, happily suggest that he’s a weakling and they would know how to deal with Hamas.

On the other hand, if he launches an operation to take down Hamas and destroy the Islamic Jihad organization, he risks escalation into a war in which IDF soldiers could be killed, wounded, or (perhaps worse) captured, and the civilian population placed at risk from the expected rocket barrage. It could even expand into a multi-front war including Hezbollah and its massive rocket arsenal. Such a war would entail many more casualties and a great deal of destruction on our home front. Israel would not be the same for many years.

Even if the worst could be avoided, Netanyahu would be accused of starting a war to divert attention from his legal issues, to improve his chances for reelection, and so on. And then there would be the atrocity propaganda and the coordinated diplomatic attacks by the “human rights” industry, the UN, hostile governments in Europe and elsewhere, and the international Left. And of course, if we did get rid of Hamas and the others, what then? Who would rule Gaza? The IDF?

The temptation to practice restraint and respond with minimal force is great. On a national scale, the danger from Hamas rockets and terrorism is small, even if on a personal scale – if your house is hit by a rocket – it can be enormous. There is an element in Israeli character which is highly pragmatic and responds to the argument that we can afford to accept a certain amount of terrorism, a teeftoof (drizzle) of rockets, a few stabbings every other week, and a few fires in our agricultural fields and nature preserves. Meanwhile, we put out the fires, develop anti-rocket and anti-balloon systems, and find more ways to defend ourselves without hurting anyone.

The danger of this approach is twofold. First, our frog is slowly being boiled. Our deterrence is evaporating. This is what happened in the north, where we treated Hezbollah with restraint since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and then suddenly woke up and found that its deployment of more than 100,000 rockets in civilian areas had deterred us from taking action against it, almost no matter what it does. We don’t have an answer for its rockets other than to incinerate much of southern Lebanon, along with whatever part of the population that doesn’t succeed (or isn’t allowed) to flee. Not that we won’t do it if we have to, but meanwhile we have no leverage to prevent the introduction even more dangerous weapons, to the point of Hezbollah becoming, if it is not already, an existential threat.

Second is the psychological dimension. It becomes understood throughout the world that anyone is permitted to strike at Jews. We’ll try to ward off the blows, but we won’t respond aggressively. We won’t do anything disproportionate. We won’t punish our enemies as they deserve. We’ll show ourselves as a people without honor. And we’ll come to believe that our enemies are right. Maybe we deserve to be shot at; because if we didn’t, wouldn’t we hit back? Maybe the endless contempt that is heaped on us in international forums is justified?

As I’ve written before, honor is of utmost importance in the Middle East. Deterrence is important everywhere; and self-respect is especially essential here in Israel. In the past several years, all these things have been eroding. Netanyahu must find a way to protect his people, and to reverse the trend. Of course there are risks. But what else is new?

I still have faith that he understands this. Now, just before the election, is a great time to find out.



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