Exposing some enduring fallacies

Because so much of what is said and written about this region is nonsense, it is reassuring to know that there are clear-thinking, cool-headed commentators like Evelyn Gordon contributing to the public discussion of events here. However, no one is perfect.

In her latest column (which you can read here: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1215331213571&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull), Gordon bemoans Israel’s loss of its deterrent capability following the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the Second Lebanon War. I won’t address the Lebanon complaints, which are mostly accurate but only superficially relevant. Instead I’ll focus on several complaints about the disengagement — not new but recycled by Gordon — that simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.

One is that the disengagement weakened Israel’s position vis-a-vis Hamas.

UNTIL ISRAEL quit Gaza in 2005, it combated Palestinian arms smuggling with substantial (though never complete) success. But once it withdrew, the floodgates opened. Thus pre-disengagement, most Hamas rockets had ranges of only a few kilometers, and its stockpile never exceeded a few hundred. Today, Israeli intelligence believes the organization has thousands of rockets capable of reaching major cities in southern Israel, on top of thousands of shorter-range rockets. It has also acquired sophisticated anti-tank rockets ­– the weapon responsible for most IDF casualties during the Second Lebanon War –­ and built a network of Hizbullah-style bunkers.

Let’s take this apart.

The IDF’s battle against Palestinian arms smuggling, and the range of rockets available to Gazan fighters, are two separate subjects.

Arms smuggling begins at the Egyptian border, so that problem is a diplomatic one at least as much as it is a military one. Israel’s failure there, I agree, has been immense. In any case, the digging of arms smuggling tunnels under the Rafah border area flourished even during the time when Israeli soldiers were patrolling that border area. In addition to a severe lack of pressure on Egypt to halt the activity from its side of the border, Israel’s failure to act decisively against the smugglers on the Palestinian side has been evident both BEFORE the disengagement and AFTER it. Clearly, then, the disengagement is not directly to blame for this problem.

As for the range of Palestinian rockets: That is a matter of time devoted to engineering better materiel, not a matter of smuggling. Unlike the foreign-made weapons that are smuggled into Gaza, including assault rifles, bullets, explosives and anti-tank rockets, the Kassam rockets that have pestered the western Negev are cheap, home-made weapons — made from scrap metal gathered locally, and designed with the help of Hizbullah training manuals and videos passed to them electronically, in metalworks labs in northern Gaza. The range of the rockets is a function of continued development in crude conditions; it advanced even while our armored personnel carriers were rolling through the streets of Gaza City, and will surely continue to advance now.

Yes, while the IDF carried out frequent raids in Gaza City, it often shut down metalworks labs where Kassams were built — but others always sprouted up. It is practically impossible to deter the militias from DEVELOPING such weapons; deterring them from USING them, however, has much more to do with the threat of our response than it has to do with whether our troops are quartered in the former Netzarim, inside the Gaza Strip, or in bases just outside the Strip. It is the government’s limp-wristed response to the FIRING of the rockets, not to their development, that has led to the terrorization of Sderot — but, again, this has nothing to do with the disengagement.

Also, the bunkers and tunnels that Gordon mentions were being dug even while Israeli troops were stationed inside the Gaza Strip. For example, the brazen attack on an IDF position several hundred meters outside the Gaza Strip in 2006 (after the disengagement), in which Cpl. Gilad Schalit was kidnapped and two other soldiers killed, was preceded by several similar attacks on Israeli positions INSIDE the Strip two years earlier, well BEFORE the disengagement. So, once again, the problem is a complex one for which the disengagement is not directly responsible.

Finally, let us ask a simple question: What is the purpose of our attempts to measure deterrance vis-a-vis the Gaza Strip? If it is the stockpiling of weapons by our enemies, then this discussion will devolve into a cacophony of complicated arguments and counter-arguments about the strategic military balance in the region, and its implications for the prospect of future confrontations… and, yet again, it will not lead us any closer to a clear-cut resolution about the detrimental nature of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza.

But if it is about whether Gaza terrorists have succeeded in killing or wounding more or fewer Israelis since the disengagement, or whether they have attempted more or fewer attacks on Israelis since the disengagement, then the evidence leaves no room for doubt: Israel suffers LESS now than it did before, with far fewer casualties and fewer attacks initiated from inside the Gaza Strip than before.

Another fallacy is Gordon’s misuse of a Hamas leader’s quotes about the use of suicide bombers, to condemn the disengagement.

According to repeated polls, 70 to 85 percent of Palestinians believe that Israel quit Gaza due to anti-Israel terror…

Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who is widely regarded as Hamas’s leader in the West Bank, explained the thought process in an astonishingly frank interview in last Friday’s Ha’aretz. He himself, the interview implies, was unenthusiastic about suicide bombings. Yet Israel’s own actions proved the tactic so effective that its opponents within the organization were effectively silenced.

“Members of the Israeli peace camp, those who spoke about ending the occupation and withdrawing, pushed us forward in our decision to continue the suicide attacks,” he said. “The cracks in your steadfastness encouraged us greatly and proved that this method is very effective. Ariel Sharon’s plan for disengagement from the Gaza Strip was also a great achievement that resulted from our activities. For us, one of the best proofs of the rift that suicide attacks had created in Israeli society was the phenomenon of refusal to serve in the army. We thought this rift should be deepened, and use of the suicide bomber weapon became a matter of consensus in our organization.”

In short, many Palestinians concluded that Israel was simply too weak to stand up to terror.

The fact that Israelis’ weeping and moaning may have encouraged Hamas to use suicide bombers, in the belief that they could tear our society apart because it was fragile is only mildly interesting (there are other factors as well, ignored by both Yousef and Gordon). Much more noteworthy is that THEY WERE WRONG. Israel has crushed their stupid intifada, suicide bombers and all. In the equation of loss of life and limb, the Palestinians are losers by a 4-to-1 margin; Israel’s economy is stronger now than it was before the intifada, while the Palestinian economy is weaker, and so forth.

Israelis often express their concern — and rightly so — that mistaken assumptions on the part of Israel’s political or military leadership about the thoughts and actions of our enemies will lead to disastrous results in the future. In other words, it matters to us if our understanding of our enemies is misguided, and we actively seek to correct such misperceptions. Yet when our enemies are shown to have misguided views of our own society, we treat this knowledge with trepidation, fearing lest they continue to act on these mistaken ideas. It’s folly.

Deterrence is not just about what makes your enemy act a certain way, it’s about what makes them STOP acting that way. If suicide bombings were explainable only in the facile way in which both Yousef and Gordon say they are, then we should still see them on a daily basis. After all, Israelis are as hypersensitive to casualties as they ever were. Yet suicide bombings have all but ground to a halt. Why? Because a combination of several military measures has quashed the intifada. And, as much as Gordon and others hate to admit it, the disengagement has played a more positive role in that equation than a negative one.

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