It's Easier to Destroy a Tunnel than the Real Enemy
During Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in August 2014, when I was a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, the Hezbollah was busy in Syria and its positions on Israel’s northern border were empty. “Why don’t we take advantage of this to destroy their missiles at a low cost to us?” I asked and was answered with a shrug of the shoulders.
Since the Oslo Accords, Israel’s military posture has changed unrecognizably and going to war in order to remove a strategic threat – as Israel did in the Sinai Operation and the Six Day War – is nowhere to be found, neither in the civilian or military lexicon.
The populist IDF desertion of the Lebanon front ordered by PM Ehud Barak in 2000 (with pressure from popular radio broadcaster Shelly Yehimovitz) created a strategic threat on our northern border that had been hitherto unknown. (See footnote 1). According to various estimates, there are at least 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel from our northern border. These missiles cover the entire state of Israel and many of them are equipped with GPS precision guidance systems that can strike any strategic target in the country.
It is no coincidence that the Hezbollah chose to show Israel Air Force runways in various places in Israel, clearly visible and vulnerable to the enemy, in its threat-video. Their message was: We are capable of paralyzing your long arm with the push of a button.
And we haven’t even related to Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, power stations, communications centers, military staging sites, hospitals and the like. Israel’s interception systems provide a partial response for unguided missiles because they know how to filter out a potential hit on unimportant space and to focus on the few missiles that will cause real damage. But these systems are insignificant when faced with a barrage of guided missiles. As we saw in our recent defeat in Gaza, the Gazans have also learned how to override our interception systems by sending large quantities of missiles. When faced with quantity barrages of guided missiles, Israel’s Iron Dome interception system will lose anything that is left of its effectiveness.
The real story, then, is not the tunnels, the construction of which residents of Israel’s north have been hearing underneath them for years. As shocking as this may be (and of course the tunnels must be neutralized) their potential damage is not strategic, but rather psychological. The real story is the missiles and the fact that they are currently being upgraded to precision capabilities.
Here, at this strategic turning point, at the point that the missile arsenal of the Hezbollah is transforming into a guided missile threat, deadly and with a potential of strategic damage on a nuclear scale (see footnote 2), the new threat meets an Israeli leadership – both civilian and military – that is anemic, deterred and for whom it is doubtful that considerations beyond the end of their tenure are of any interest.
Since the Syrians downed the Russian fighter jet in September, Israel has abandoned its attempt to stop the enemy missile-upgrading process. Iranian jumbo jets have been landing directly at the Beirut airport and unloading the guidance systems that will be attached to the Hezbollah missile arsenal. It seems that Israel is deterred by the existing Hezbollah missile capabilities in Lebanon. Its leaders prefer to buy quiet and political stability now in exchange for unprecedented danger to Israel’s security in the future. They prefer to pass the hot potato to some future leadership – despite the fact that that leadership will be forced to deal with an exceedingly more severe situation.
To the credit of Israel’s current leadership, we can say that it has prepared the army for the threat. The IDF also has guided missiles and the Air Force has rapid and precision strike capabilities – simultaneously and over a wide area. From that standpoint it seems that the lessons of the Second Lebanon War were well-implemented.
Operation Focus, in which the Israeli Air Force destroyed the Egyptian Air Force in the first three hours of the Six Day War, essentially determining its outcome, could have been accomplished today, with our modern capabilities – in a matter of minutes.
Apparently, Israel can destroy Hezbollah’s missile arsenal in an all-out surprise attack and neutralize them before they are launched.
So why don’t we do that?
Two factors prevent Israel’s leadership from performing its duty:
The first factor is the trauma of the “400,000” person protest. The First Lebanon War, led by Prime Minister Begin and Defense Minister Sharon, was the first and last war fought under the leadership of the Right. Israel’s Left made it clear then to the Right that it has a mandate to make “peace”, not war. In order for the entire nation to be willing to go to war, the leadership has to be from the Left. Simply put, Netanyahu is more afraid of the Left than of the Hezbollah and its potential threat to Israel’s security. There is no doubt that from his personal standpoint, there is much logic in his order of priorities.
The second factor is that like Gaza, the missiles in Lebanon are concealed in mosques, kindergartens and schools. As opposed to Operation Focus, this time it will be necessary to strike civilian populations in order to achieve the element of surprise. This means that Israel’s civilian and military command may be forced to remain in Israel for many years for fear of being arrested for war crimes overseas.
Israel’s operational forces are liable to also provide us with some unpleasant surprises. In the Second Lebanon War, a combat helicopter pilot refused to come to the aid of ground forces in trouble for fear of harming enemy civilians. Since then, the re-education of the IDF with its progressive new values system has deepened. Who can promise the PM that the F-15 pilot, armed not only with progressive weapons, but also with progressive ‘values’ (see footnote 3) will carry out his orders and bomb a kindergarten hiding missiles ready to be shot into Tel Aviv?
If so, then, what can the Prime Minister do to justify his resounding defeat in Gaza? He does not dare attack the Hezbollah and remove the missile threat due to the factors above. All that is left is to carry out a miserable clearing procedure in our own territory and to call it an “Operation”, making it seem like a war.
“Who is the enemy?” I asked Deputy Chief of Staff (today’s Chief of Staff) Gadi Eisenkot in my despair during Operation Protective Edge, when the missiles continued to fall in Tel Aviv. Eisenkot swallowed his tongue and almost choked, just as a different senior officer reacted when I asked him the same question in a television broadcast.(See the video here).
Maybe if we turn the tunnel into the enemy, the real enemy will disappear… It is a sort of post-modern military thought exercise, which envelopes the entire senior army command today. Nothing is real anymore.
What will happen next?
Churchill has already explained that those who pay for quiet with dishonor will ultimately get both dishonor and war – and under the very worst conditions.
That is what happened to us in the recent round of fighting in Gaza (see footnote 4) and sooner or later it will happen in Lebanon. A pistol that appears in the first scene will shoot in the third scene. Unfortunately, the missiles in Lebanon will not rust on their launchers.
The “Operation” that the IDF is now carrying out in the “legitimate” space (inside Israel’s borders) will give the Hezbollah the excuse it needs for escalation. Like in Gaza, the IDF will attempt not to react, but we do not know how and when the gates of hell will open. What is clear is that a surprise attack and resounding defeat that would neutralize the threat before the steep price that will be exacted from Israel’s citizens – is not about to happen.
Perhaps Netanyahu thinks that the vital war in Lebanon can only be waged after we are attacked, with a consensus born of no-choice. “I feared the Nation,” said King Saul to Samuel the Prophet. With those words, he lost his throne. At the moment of truth, a leader has to lead the nation, not be led by it.
If this is the situation and these are Netanyahu’s considerations, we are liable, God forbid, to pay a terrible price because of the most fearful person who ever served as prime minister of Israel.
Footnote 1: For the sake of fairness, we can say that the strategic collapse that Barak led is nowhere near the collapse brought upon us by Netanyahu, when he passed the responsibility for Israel’s existence and defense in the face of Iran’s threats of destruction to the US.
Footnote 2: A nuclear bomb like the bomb that fell on Hiroshimah is capable of destroying a town and killing tens of thousands. From a human standpoint, it is of course a horrific act and a terrible blow. Equipping missiles with chemicals – a logical possibility that must be taken into account – will not take the same toll in human life as a nuclear explosion. But the strategic damage to military capabilities wrought by widespread implementation of guided missiles can be even greater. Air Force runways can continue to be used a number of kilometers from a nuclear strike, major traffic arteries can remain opened and military staging capabilities would be less compromised from one nuclear bomb than from a precision missile strike, coordinated to hit Israel’s strategic underbelly all at once.
Footnote 3: In answer to the claims of the students of the Atzmona military preparatory academy that the IDF endangers the lives of its soldiers in order to safeguard enemy civilians, today’s Deputy Chief of Staff answered: “The role of a person who wears a uniform is to endanger his life so that those who are not in uniform can live in peace. I have no problem with that.” (General Yair Golan, 2006)
Footnote 4: The heroic action in Gaza in which Lieutenant Colonel M was killed in battle, was meant to provide intelligence that would make it possible to continue to keep the threat on a low flame instead of defeating it. Retroactively we can see that the low-flame strategy is what brought about the last round of fighting, the 500 missiles on southern Israel and the resounding defeat that sends a very bad message to all those who would like to see us disappear from the face of the earth.