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Morris J. Amitay

Column for July 6, 2007

 

What Is Going On In Israel?

 

 

A useful rule of thumb in viewing events in the Middle East is that whenever things look bad, they can always (and usually) get worse.  This particularly applies now as we look at how Israel is reacting to the Hamas takeover of Gaza.  It’s really depressing when the only good news coming out of Israel today is the story of the no-hit game thrown in the brand new Israel Baseball League.  I have always felt constrained from offering advice to my Israeli friends as to how they can best ensure their own national security.  However, the reactions of Israeli officials following the emergence of Hamastan in Gaza makes one long for the good old days when Israel confronted challenges instead of wishing them away.  Current Israeli policies seem to echo Churchill’s description of a second marriage – “a triumph of hope over experience.”

 

This July 4th reminded one of Independence Day, 1976 with Israel’s daring rescue of Jewish hostages in Entebbe.  The gutsy decision by Prime Minister Begin, along with a well conceived plan by Defense Minister Rabin was executed flawlessly by the IDF and gained the admiration of the civilized world.  Compare this to the current Israeli government’s reaction to the Hamas takeover of Gaza – and weep.  While the two situations do not readily invite comparison, the differences in basic approach as to how best to serve the national interest could not provide a starker contrast.

 

With Fatah control now confined to the “West Bank” there have been the paeans to Mahmoud Abbas’s “moderation” and his desire to live in peace with Israel – despite Abbas’ consistent record of all talk and no action.  Already, with the first release of funds to Abbas, Israeli officials have said they had no objections to payments being made to Gazans.  But if overlooking Fatah’s weak leadership, corruption, incitement and toleration of terror were not bad enough, there is also Israel’s acquiescence to U.S. plans to train and arm “loyal” Fatah thugs.  Hamas now controls the arms, ammunition armored cars – and who knows what else – previously provided to Fatah in order to be able to stand up to Hamas.  By now we must acknowledge that if it comes to standing up to their Arab brothers – or killing Israeli civilians – what the Fatah forces’ choice would be.  This has already been made clear on numerous occasions by Fatah’s “military wing” – the “Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades” who have already announced their rejection of Abbas’ decree disbanding all militias, and who assert that they will not be committed to any truce with Israel. 

 

In the face of Abbas’ inability or unwillingness to bring about real change in his corrupt and inept movement, we have Prime Minister Olmert’s “gesture of goodwill” to “Saint” Abbas by offering to release 250 Fatah prisoners.  To demonstrate how really harmless this is, Prime Minster Olmert conditioned their release on their signing “commitments not to become involved again in terrorism.”  That should take care of that!  But aside from the obvious danger of releasing these terrorists, there is the larger question of why this gesture would “strengthen” Abbas.  It surely does not improve the lot of the Palestinian people, but it does demonstrate that getting terrorists out of prison, and continuing “resistance to the occupation” remain more important goals for Abbas and his followers than forging any peace with Israel. 

 

Israel, now faced with an enemy in Gaza dedicated to its destruction, and having failed to take decisive action to prevent hundreds of rockets from raining down on civilian targets in Israel, is looking on as the buildup there continues.  In light of all this, the Government’s reaction so far strains credulity.  We read that Israel has begun planning to “armor” 10,000 homes and businesses within Kassam rocket range of Gaza – at the cost of $250 million dollars.  Hasn’t anyone figured out that increasing the range of these rockets is not exactly rocket science?  What ever happened to the doctrine that “the best defense is a good offense”?

 

But for many respected commentators both here and in Israel the most puzzling decision made is the Israeli Government’s open-ended commitment to the care and feeding of the Hamas regime in Gaza.  Sustaining Gaza’s standard of living seems to have become a solemn Israeli obligation.  On an almost daily basis, the IDF releases “a summary of humanitarian activity”.  One recent example:

 

“Throughout the day the following humanitarian aid was transferred from Israel into Gaza through the Sufa and Kerem Shalom crossings with the coordination of the Gaza District Coordination and Liaison Office: 569 tons of animal feed; 269 tons and additional 7 truckloads of flour; 22 tons of straw; 187 tons of sugar; 143 tons of bananas and additional 9 truckloads of fruits; 98 tons of salt; 78 tons of cooking oil; 28 tons of humus; 12 tons of milk powder and additional 300,000 liters of milk; 300,000 kg of seedlings.  In addition, 480 tons of wheat seeds were transferred through a conveyor belt near the Karni crossing.”

 

It is hard to think of any precedent where a sovereign nation undertakes to provide funding, food, water, electricity, and fuel to an area whose people have “democratically elected” a leadership explicitly committed to war with that nation.  In WWII we didn’t drop wienerschnitzels on Berlin – we dropped incendiaries. 

 

While the delivery of food aid could conceivably be justified as preventing civilian starvation, what about the regular delivery of fuel and electricity?  What would be the result if, for instance, electricity from Israel were to be cut off for one hour, or one day, for every Kassam that lands in Israel?  Obviously, there are many ways Israel could use Gaza’s almost total dependence to reduce the risks to its own population.  Less obvious, however, is why Israel always seems constrained to demonstrate its humaneness.   Who does this really impress?  The Jerusalem Post editorializing on this subject put it this way:

 

“The tactical question of whether services should be cut off immediately, whether an ultimatum should be issued first, and under what conditions these services should be restored is a valid subject of a debate.  What should not be debatable is the principle that Israel will not assist a terrorist entity that is attacking our citizens with one hand and consuming goods and services with the other.”

 

We agree.

 

But it only gets worse as we see Israel doing next to nothing to prevent Hezbollah from rearming in Lebanon, and when we read that some IDF senior commanders have abandoned traditional Israeli military doctrine of winning a war, and instead are reverting to strategies of “conflict management” and “containment”.   What is even more alarming is that faced with an existential threat from Iran, outgoing Deputy Defense Minister Sneh recently claimed that there is insufficient funding allocated to the IDF “to deal with the Iranian threat.”  If true, what is going on here?

 

Now that I have broken my self-imposed rule of not publicly criticizing Israeli government policies with regard to how it protects its own security interests, I can rationalize this departure in two ways.

 

First, on a personal level, as someone who will be marking the 30th “anniversary” later this month of having his home dynamited (and dog killed) because of my Israel-related activities when I was Executive Director of AIPAC, I can empathize more directly with my Israeli friends who constantly face terrorist threats. 

 

Second, it is axiomatic that a weakened and irresolute Israel cannot serve U.S. security interests in the Middle East well.  As Americans, we should want Israel to continue to be a strong, resolute ally in a very problematic region of the world.  If there was ever a time for American friends of Israel to be concerned as to whether Israel will continue to play this role – this may be it.