No, it isn’t Kent State on the Mediterranean*

I talked to an American friend yesterday. She is well-educated and interested in current events, and she was concerned about what was going on at the border with Gaza. She read me an AP news account that was in her local paper (probably this one) which explained in the second paragraph that

Israeli troops opened fire from across the border, killing at least nine Palestinians and wounding 491 others in the second mass border protest in eight days. The deaths brought to at least 31 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since last week.

What is the picture that this evokes?

If I didn’t know better, I would see a bunch of people peacefully holding signs, singing “we shall overcome,” when suddenly a machine gun opens up and mows them down at random, men women and children. The article mentions that “the area was engulfed by thick black smoke from protesters setting tires on fire,” but it is only in the ninth paragraph that we are told that “the [Israeli] military said” that the “protesters” threw firebombs and explosive devices under cover of the smoke,  and that “several attempts to cross the fence were thwarted.”

Let’s analyze some of this.

Are they “protesters” and if so, what are they protesting? Some of them are civilians who are sympathetic with Hamas, or who are young people with nothing more exciting to do, who have taken the free buses provided by Hamas to eat the free lunch provided there. Participants are encouraged to try to break through the border fence, and Hamas is paying them from $200 to $500 if they are injured, and $3000 to families of anyone who is killed.

The civilians  are generally not the ones who are getting shot. Most of those who did are members of the al-Qassam brigades or other military organizations associated with Hamas or other terrorist factions, who a trying to damage or penetrate the border fence, or injure or kill Israeli troops on the other side.

Here is a description from an article by Nahum Barnea, an Israeli journalist who is a bitter enemy of Israel’s present government, and anything but a right-winger:

[IDF officer at the scene:] “There were armed cells among the protestors that wanted to break through the fence to set it on fire, to kidnap soldiers and perhaps break into one of the kibbutzim. There are several people within the crowd, members of Hamas’ elite Nukhba force, who are hiding guns, knives, explosives under their clothes. Their intention was to turn into a fighting force.”

Nineteen or 20 Palestinians were killed on the first Friday, I said.

“One-third of the dead are armed terrorists,” one of the officers said. “Another 40 percent are members of the organizations, including a Nukhba company commander. Most of the others were identified as key instigators. The first person who was killed was a farmer. It was a misidentification by a tank.”

The orders received from the General Staff are clear. A soldier is allowed to fire in three cases: If he is in a life-threatening situation, if he detects damage to state infrastructure [the border fence] and if he spots key instigators. In the last case, he must receive approval from a commander. First, he fires into the air, and only then he shoots towards the person’s body.

“Let’s assume that 400 people had broken through the border fence,” one of the officers said. “We would have had to stop them with fire. At least 50 of them would have been killed. It would have been a strategic event. They would have had to retaliate. We would have had to retaliate. In fact, we are preventing war through our surgical activity.

People in Gaza have much to be unhappy about. Media sympathetic to Hamas usually blame Israel, citing its “blockade” of Gaza. But the blockade is very selective, and does not prevent Gaza from importing food, medical supplies and even construction materials intended to rebuild homes and infrastructure damaged in recent wars. Hamas taxes all imports heavily, and appropriates what it wants for its own purposes. Cement and rebar imported for construction of buildings, for example, is diverted to use in attack tunnels dug under the border to Israel, which are intended to infiltrate terrorists and to kidnap Israelis.

The biggest problems for Gaza residents today are the lack of electricity, mostly because of a dispute with the Palestinian Authority, and the availability of clean water and sewage treatment facilities. International donors have provided money and equipment, but resources are consistently diverted to Hamas for military purposes.

But these are not the things they are protesting. The protest is called “The Great March of Return,” and it is on behalf of a “right of return” of the descendents of Arab refugees from the 1948 war to land that has been under Israel’s control since then. Rhetoric is very aggressive. Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said that the event marks the beginning of their return to “all of Palestine,” especially Jerusalem, which they say US President Trump had no business recognizing as the capital of Israel.

As everyone knows, the “return” of the millions who claim refugee status would be the end of the Jewish state (and probably the start of a civil war that would rival the one in Syria). In other words, what they are protesting is the very existence of Israel on land that they want for themselves.

I told my friend that Israel had few options. Could they fail to defend the border, close to Israeli communities (as close as 100 meters in some cases)? Palestinian terrorists have on countless occasions showed that they are capable of horrific violence, even slitting the throats of babies in their cribs.

Some commentators have gone as far as to accuse Israel of deliberately “massacring” Palestinians. What they don’t explain is what advantage Israel would gain by doing so. Israel is extremely conscious (too much so, in my opinion) of maintaining an image of a progressive, humane society, and would consider mass or indiscriminate killing of Palestinians a public relations disaster as well as a moral one. The view that IDF soldiers in general would seize an opportunity to kill Palestinians out of sheer hatred – which is apparently assumed by those who suggest that there has been a “massacre” – is a manifestation of the campaign of demonization that Israel and the IDF have been subjected to, and even of a pervasive anti-Jewish worldview.

Hamas, on the other hand, benefits greatly from civilian casualties, which support its narrative of victimization and provide its supporters with fodder for “lawfare” against the IDF and diplomatic sanctions against Israel.

I have recently read several articles which argue that the situation is very complicated and we shouldn’t place all the responsibility on either side. I agree that it is complicated. There are numerous players with influence here, including Israel and Hamas of course, but also the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and notably Iran, which is financing Hamas and sees violence in Gaza as in its interest.

But it isn’t complicated in a moral sense. I have no problem saying that one side is defending itself against invasion, and the other is committing an act of aggression while at the same time victimizing its own people.

It’s a shame that important parts of the American media don’t get this – or don’t want its consumers to get it.


* For those too young to remember, see Kent State Massacre.

Originally Published on Abu Yehuda.

Gaza Bloodshed and the Return of the Intifada

Just before Passover in Israel, the Hamas leadership in a premeditated manner attempted push nearly 20,000 angry Gazans spread out over six camps through the Israeli border fence. The resulting clash resulted in more than 15 Gazan deaths and over 1,000 wounded. The IDF was ordered to shoot those protestors that posed a direct threat to them or civilians.

Already there is a serious outcry over the “needless” deaths from across the world.  This is to be expected.  The world has been wantonly silent on Turkish genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Kurds in Afrin.

Up until now Israel has held strong against Hamas’ aim at deligitimzing the Jewish State, but with reports that footage shows the IDF shooting unarmed civilians, the question remains on exacly how long Bibi and his cabinet can continue shutting down these sorts of protests.

Hamas was able to get the IDF to play according to their rules knowing that any death would appear “unwarranted.”  Now they have the spark to potentially set the Palestinian areas in Judea and Samaria ablaze, starting a new Intifada.

John Bolton and the Death of the Two-State Solution

Hamas has also given the new head of the NSC John Bolton enough ammunition to convince Trump to kill the two-state solution once and for all. Bolton has made it clear in the past he does not believe the Two-State solution is workable. The question really is whether this is or not Bolton prioritizes Israel and the surrounding area.

Hamas was able to use the march on the Gazan border by allowing the group to become chaotic and driven by an anger over their roll in the “Nakba.” The results are already starting to flow with the Secretary-General of the UN calling for an independent council over the protests.

“The Secretary-General calls for an independent and transparent investigation into these incidents,” said a statement by Guterres’ deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, which also reaffirmed “the readiness” of the world body to revitalize peace efforts.

If the Palestinians continue their protets and gain noterietry Israel’s typically weak PR may find itself overwhelmed, creating a wave of international attacks on the tiny Jewish state.


Will Israel keep the draft?

The conflict over drafting Haredim has given birth to a coalition crisis that may yet bring about new elections. A good account of the political twists and turns can be found here, if you really want to know the details. But what about the whole question of the IDF, the draft and its place in Israeli society?

The situation of the Haredim is a highly visible part of the problem. In 1947 Ben-Gurion made a deal with the Agudat Yisrael party, which represented the more observant elements of Orthodox Judaism in the pre-state yishuv, which established a “status quo” for matters of religion and state. In return, party leaders agreed not to oppose the declaration of the state.

The agreement was very general and Ben-Gurion promised that details would be worked out in the constitution for the state that was supposed to be written in the next few months. Needless to say, no constitution was written, and the uneasy status quo developed informally over the years. In 1948, during the War of Independence, Ben-Gurion agreed to exempt some 400 exceptional yeshiva students from the draft, as long as Torah study was their sole occupation (the torah umanuto arrangement). As time passed – and as the religious parties often held the balance of power in coalition governments – the arrangement expanded, until tens of thousands of Haredi young men were exempted(61,000 in 2010, the latest figure I could find).

The Supreme Court found the current situation unconstitutional in 1998, and the legislative and judicial wrangling has continued until today. Recent attempts to draft Haredim against their will gave rise to massive, sometimes violent, demonstrations. The latest proposed draft law, a compromise that is supposed to end the current crisis, has been described as saying “Haredim will enlist in the IDF, unless they don’t feel like enlisting in the IDF.”

One can understand why secular and national-religious people who are asked to give up three years of their lives plus the possibility of a month of reserve duty every year until they are 40, object to the free ride given to the Haredim, many of whom are by no stretch of the imagination “scholars.” For their part, the Haredim claim that the accommodations made by the army for their religious lifestyle are insufficient, and they view the draft as antisemitic persecution.

Some Haredi men are choosing to be drafted, but they are few and their communities treat them badly. The solution, however, can’t be to try to coerce them by threats of jail time, because they will find other ways to escape from service and will certainly contribute nothing until they do.

Over the years, geopolitical and technological changes have resulted in a reduction of the period of regular service, a lowering of the age at which one is released from reserve duty, and a reduction in the amount of reserve duty. When I served in the 1980s, I was called for six weeks every year with no exception; two weeks of training and four weeks of duty. Today, most men and virtually all women are not called in any given year and the number of days they serve when they are called is smaller.

Especially during periods of mass immigration, army service has served to integrate new arrivals into Israeli language and culture, exposing young soldiers to elements of the population that they might not otherwise meet, and serving as an object lesson in the costs of defending the nation. Universal service guarantees a degree of military literacy which makes it possible for Israelis to understand security-related issues, and vote more intelligently on them. Compare this to the US, where many citizens don’t even know anyone who serves in the nation’s professional army. And in opposition to criticism that calls Israel a “militaristic” nation, the first-hand knowledge of war that most Israelis have make it the opposite, a profoundly peace-loving nation.

But there are some downsides to universal conscription, and as time goes by they are becoming more serious. Not every draftee belongs in the military or can be of use to it, and the IDF has to spend a great deal of time and money finding something useful for them to do, warehousing them, or getting rid of them. One can only imagine the difficulties of integrating tens of thousands of unhappy Haredim who can’t eat the kosher food provided by the army and who can’t interact with women as in secular or even non-Haredi Orthodox society, assuming that it were possible to draft them.

Because the number of recruits is so large compared with the needs of the IDF, the length of regular service has been reduced to 32 months for men and two years for women. This means that resources have to be expended on training of new recruits for jobs that they will only be qualified to do for a few months.

Many observers have said that Israel would be better off with a fully volunteer, professional army. The money that would be saved by reduced training of new recruits could be spent on better equipment and good pay for soldiers who would do their jobs for long enough that their expensive training would be justified. It’s argued that modern warfare requires more highly trained specialists and fewer “grunts” who can be given a rifle and pointed in the general direction of the enemy.

One objection to this is that Israel can’t afford a large enough standing army to protect it in the event of an emergency. In the past, virtually the entire able-bodied male population could be called up to fight. But if conscripts were replaced with a professional army, then there would no longer be a pool of trained reservists who – as happened in 1973 – could join their units at a moment’s notice, ready to fight.

On the other hand, with the reduction in training of reservists in recent years, the mass emergency call-up may already be a thing of the past. And perhaps those who believe that in present-day conditions it will not be needed are right.

Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing religious politician who is nevertheless a strong libertarian, makes this suggestion:

The solution is simple: Israel must stop funding tens of thousands of soldiers who are not really needed and do nothing but make more work and expense for the system. Everybody should be drafted for a brief training period of one or two months. The IDF will choose the cream of the crop, who will remain in the army of their own free will for a long period of time. Those soldiers will get the best training and will receive excellent salaries.

The universal training period will at least produce some familiarity with military life, terminology and capabilities, even if it will not produce a supply of “grunts” to be called up in an emergency.

Any changes in this area would have to be made very slowly and thoughtfully. Today, army service is connected with almost every aspect of everyday life in Israel. Unlike the US, students usually defer their studies until they finish their service, and therefore take them more seriously. Employers hire people that they knew during their service, or who served in particular units. Young people often meet their future spouse during their time in the army. The first thing someone asks about a man who wants to work for them or marry their daughter is “what did he do in the army?” (No, they do not ask that about women – yet).

Paradoxically, some of the best things in Israeli life come from the years of compulsory servitude dictated by universal conscription. But the IDF is already moving in the direction of professionalization. The combination of increasing population size and the evolution in the nature of warfare make it unavoidable. Perhaps the revolt of the Haredim will speed up the process.

Originally Published on Abu Yehuda

Syria with Russian Backing Shoots Down Israeli F-16 over the Golan

The reports streaming out of Israel and Syria paint a clear turning point in the tense relationship between the two countries. Despite differences in reports and who is repsonsible, what is clear is that an Iranian military drone took off from a Syrian base that is also manned by Russian soldiers and flew into Israeli airspace.

The Israeli airforce (IAF) shot down the drone and then went on to destroy the UAV base it took off from.

Watch below:

The drone incident led to a barrage of Israeli airstrikes on Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Syria responded with heavy anti-aircraft fire that set off multiple warning sirens in Israel. Syria used its Russian supplied S-200 air defense system and fired at Israeli F-16s downing one. The two pilots ejected and landed in Israeli territory. and managed to down an Israeli F-16 in Israeli territory, seriously wounding a pilot.

The IAF said the battle began with the Iranian drone violating Israeli airspace before being destroyed by a combat helicopter over the city of Beit Shean, near the Jordanian border.

In retaliation to the downing of its F-16, the IAF attacked 12 known Iranian installations in Syria. Many of these bases are acknowledged by Russian military to be used by the Iranian Al Quds forces.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said the following about today’s incident:

“I have been warning for some time about the dangers of Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. Iran seeks to use Syrian territory to attack Israel for its professed goal of destroying Israel. This morning Iran brazenly violated Israel’s sovereignty. They dispatched an Iranian drone from Syrian territory into Israel. And this demonstrates that our warnings were 100% correct. Israel holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible for today’s aggression. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our sovereignty and our security.”

Clear Russian Involvement Should Worry Everyone

With Russia’s involvement in allowing an Iranian drone to take off from a UAV base it commondeers with Syria, the prospects for aregional conflagration spiralling out of control have increased considerably. More than that, Moscow has seemingly decided to push back against the US strike that took place on February 8th against Shiite troops in Eastern Syria that killed Russian troops as well.

Russia seemingly thought that the IAF would not reatliate as it did, which triggered a serious knee jerk respinse from Syria. The deeper issue is Putin’s move to back up his erstwhile ally Syria against Israel.  This renders Bibi Netanyahu’s private agreements with Putin null and void.

The Middle East is fast being broken down into proxies that are either connected to Russia or the USA. This air battle between Israel and Iran/Syria may blow up into a major conflict or at the very least spell the beginning of a far more chaotic situation.

IDF Eliminated Terrorist Who Murdered Rabbi Raziel Shevach

Security forces caught and eliminated Ahmed Nassar Jarrar, the murderer of Rabbi Raziel Shevach in Jenin early this morning (Tuesday, 6 February 2018).  The complex intelligence and ground operation begain immediately after the January 9th attach.

“I praise the security forces for the determined and complex operation they carried out last night to apprehend the terrorist, who was ultimately eliminated. Several days ago I told Rabbi Raziel Shevach’s widow that we would catch the murderers and last night the mission was completed,” Prime Minister Netanyahu stated after the news was cleared for publication.

Jarrar was the main operative in the terrorist cell that carried out the January 9th shooting near Havat Gilad. He personally participated in the attack.

Security forces tracked Jarrar to Yarmoun where he was hiding. During the attempt to arrest him, Jarrar emerged armed from the structure he was hiding in and was shot by the security forces. An M-16 and a pack with explosives were discovered on his person. There were no injuries to the IDF forces who participated in  the operation.

With the elimination of Jarrar and the government’s recognition of Havat Gilad as an actual community, focus is shifting to finding the murderer of Itamar Ben-Gal, who was stabbed last night by an Israeli Arab in Ariel.  Ben-Gal is a father of five and well respected teacher from Har Bracha.

“The security forces will catch whoever tries to attack Israeli citizens and we will deal with them to the fullest extent of the law. So it will be with the murderers of Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal,” the Prime Minister said in connection with the ongoing manhunt in the Ariel area for Ben-Gal’s murderer.

Israel Strikes Near Damascus

According to Syrian sources, the Israeli airforce attacked targets just outside of Damascus early on Tuesday morning (Jan. 9th) .  The official statement by the Syrian government said “that at 2:40 local time Israeli warplanes launched few missiles at targets near Damascus from the Lebanese airspace. The missiles were intercepted and one Israeli warplane was targeted by air defense forces.”

Despite damage to the military base in Syria, the government was able to utilize its new Russian made defense systems and intercepted most of surface to surface missile strikes.

Following the initial attack, at 4:00 local time, two surface-to-surface missiles were launched from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. They were also intercepted.

At 4:15 local time, Israeli forces launched 4 other missiles from the Golan Heights. One missile was intercepted and the others hit a target causing damage to positions of Syrian force

The damaged base was a known warehouse of scud missiles and other deadly weapons the Israeli government has vowed to keep from being used against its citizens.

The Israeli government has yet to issue an official response.

Despite this, the attack demonstrates that either Putin is allowing these sorts of pinpoint strikes according to his personal agreement with Bibi Netanyahu or the Israeli military has continued to find a soft spot in the upgraded Russian defense system.

“Conflict management”: The Collapse of a Concept

While Israel has been “managing the conflict”, its non-state adversaries have been enhancing their capabilities so dramatically that they now a grave strategic threat

…to remain at peace when you should be going to war may be often very dangerous. ..–Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, 431 BCE

This week, Israel conducted its largest military exercise for almost two decades code named “Or Hadagan” (“the Light of the Grain”), reportedly in honor of the late Meir Dagan, former director of Mossad.

Far reaching shift in threat perception

The drill, which took place in the north of the country, and involved tens of thousands of troops from all branches of the IDF, was intended to prepare the Israeli military for a possible future confrontation with Hezbollah.

This, in itself, reflects far-reaching changes in the realities on the ground and the resultant shift in Israeli threat perception and hence in the armed forces’ operational focus and strategic outlook  that have taken place since the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Thus, while the Syrian army has been almost totally eroded by six-and-a-half years of civil war; Israel now considers Hezbollah as the primary and most immediate threat, and the Lebanese front, the one of most pressing concern.

In many ways, the recognition of the ascendant threat from Hezbollah comprises a grave indictment of the conduct of the 2006 War—and an admission (at least implicitly) of its gross mismanagement.

This is significant, because the calm that has generally prevailed in the North since 2006 has —despite wide acknowledgment of the disappointing IDF performance in that engagement—led numerous pundits to applaud the deterrent effect that the massive damage inflicted on Lebanon at the time, allegedly produced.  In some cases, this prompted suggestions that a more favorable retrospective assessment of the war and its execution might be called for.

Sadly, there is little to support this benign attitude—and emerging realities serve only to underscore the long term detrimental impact, which  that indecisive encounter—and its subsequent political and strategic ramifications—have had (and are still likely to have) on Israel’s security.

“To defeat, not deter…”

But changing threat perception was not the only major shift in military thinking associated with the drill.  For the reported definition of its objectives seem to indicate an emerging awareness that the approach adopted over the last few decades has been both dysfunctional and detrimental.

Thus, in a recent opinion piece in Haaretz, entitled Israel Dare Not Allow Hezbollah to Strike First veteran commentator Israel Harel wrote: “For many years, including (or especially) the Second Lebanon War, the IDF did not truly aspire, as an army going to war must aspire, to defeat the enemy once and for all, in other words to neutralize its capacity to further endanger the lives of Israel’s citizens, soldiers and infrastructure.”

This time” he noted “the military commentators wrote and broadcast, the “intention” is clear: to finish (the word expressly used by the exercise’s commander) the enemy.”

Articulating the  move towards this new (or rather renewed) aspiration to defeat, rather than deter, the enemy was a report by Haaretz’s military correspondent, Amos Harel (not to be confused with previously-mentioned Israel Harel) in which the sub-headline declared: “Military says it will no longer settle for deterring Hezbollah, which replaced Syria as No. 1 threat on Israel’s borders.” Referring to the professed goal of the “Or Hadagan” drill, Harel wrote“ The objective is to defeat Hezbollah. This time the talk is not of inflicting significant harm to Hezbollah, to deter it, or to quash its desire to fight until the next round of violence.”

Conflict management: A concept discredited

The conceptual paradigm that forms the basis of the IDF’s aversion to victory-oriented strategies is the idea of “conflict management”. One of the prime proponents of this approach has been the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.

A synopsis  of “months of debate in BESA seminar rooms”  published about a year ago, reported that a consensus  had emerged among the  center’s experts that “Conflict management is currently the least-worst option”, and that it  “is wiser for Israel to defer action than to take steps that threaten to make a bad situation worse”.

Arguably, one of the most explicit advocates for the idea of conflict management is Prof. Efraim Inbar, formerly BESA’s longstanding director, who declared: “Israel’s recent governments are left, willy- nilly, with a de facto conflict-management approach, without foreclosing any options.” He conceded that: “there are costs to this wait and- see approach”, but counselled “…this was the approach favored by David Ben-Gurion. He believed in buying time to build a stronger state and in hanging on until opponents yield their radical goals …

In a 2014 policy paper entitled Mowing the Grass in Gaza and coauthored with Eitan Shamir, he set out the essence of this conflict management approach as it pertained to Hamas in Gaza:  “Israel is acting in accordance with a “mowing the grass” strategy. After a period of military restraint, Israel is acting to severely punish Hamas for its aggressive behavior, and degrading its military capabilities…The use of force… is not intended to attain impossible political goals, but rather is a long-term strategy of attrition designed primarily to debilitate the enemy capabilities”.

Clearly, this prescription has failed dismally both with regard to  Hamas and Hezbollah, neither of whom have had their capabilities “debilitated”, nor have forgone their “radical goals.

Conflict management discredited (cont.)

After all, not only is there any sign of either of these organizations moderating their radical rejectionist approach towards Israel, but the periods of inter-bellum calm have been consistently used by both to dramatically upgrade their capabilities.

Thus, when Israel left Gaza (2005), the range of the Palestinian rockets was barely 5 km., and the explosive charge they carried about 5 kg. Now their missiles have a range of over 100 km. and warheads of around 100 kg.

When Israel left Gaza, only the sparse population in its immediate proximity was threatened by missiles. Now well over 5 million Israelis, well beyond Tel Aviv, are menaced by them. To this alarming tally, add the massive array of attack tunnels that Hamas was able to develop since the evacuation while Israel was “mowing the lawn”, making any suggestion that its capabilities have been “debilitated” utterly ludicrous.

This is even more so  in the case of Hezbollah, who, since 2006, has reportedly increased its then-already formidable arsenal in South Lebanon, abandoned to them, courtesy of the hasty 2000 unilateral IDF withdrawal mandated by Ehud Barak, tenfold—to anywhere between 100,000 to 150,000!

Moreover, the improvement has not only been in the quantity of the missiles trained on Israel’s population centers, as well other civilian and military targets, but in the accuracy and the explosive charges of the war-heads. Likewise, the ranks of its fighters has more than doubled, and their operational capabilities greatly enhanced, among other things, due to the combat experience acquired through their participation in the Syrian Civil War.

Mistaking “regrouping” for “deterrence”

In light of all these daunting developments, it is clear that successive bouts of limited fighting have done little to deter either Hamas or Hezbollah in the sense of breaking their will to engage in battle. Rather, after every round, they have been forced to regroup, redeploy and rearm—only to  re-emerge spoiling for a fight, ever bolder, with ever-greater (indeed, once inconceivable) capabilities.

In this regard, a far from implausible claim could be made that it was not the consequences of the 2006 war that dissuaded Hezbollah from entering the fighting in 2014 to support Hamas against the IDF during Operation Protective Edge. Rather the fact that the organization was bogged down in the Syrian civil war, propping up their patron Bashar Assad—a fortuitous outcome that cannot really be ascribed to the efficacy of Israeli deterrence policy.

Accordingly, it is difficult to refute the recent cocky taunts of Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, that “Every time an Israeli official refers to Hezbollah’s growing power, he admits Israeli defeat in the summer of 2006”.  Well, at least if not defeat, denial of victory.

Indeed, just how appallingly the Second Lebanon War was conducted can be judged by the fact that, according to Israeli estimates, the number of missiles liable to rain down on Israel in any future confrontation with Hezbollah is somewhere between 1000 to 1500 a day—ten times that which fell in the previous war, and which kept millions of Israelis huddling in shelters for weeks on end.  Now imagine an assault ten-fold larger, factoring in the greater accuracy and greater explosive power of the missiles today—coupled with a possible auxiliary attack from Gaza…  

These are the bitter fruits that conflict management has produced.

There but for the grace of God…

Against this grim backdrop in Lebanon, the developing realities in Syria must be taken into consideration: The deployment of Russian forces and the growing dominance of the Iranian presence in the country.

If the ominous developments in Lebanon can, in large measure, be ascribed to the flaccid policies of the Olmert government; in Syria, they are due  to those of the Obama administration.

The former,  shackled to its political doctrine of territorial concession and compromise, could not take the necessary and timely action to bring Hezbollah to its knees in a humiliating defeat—and end the fighting with a white flag of surrender over the Hezbollah positions and Hezbollah combatants being led into Israeli captivity.

The latter, unshackled from a traditional view of American national interest, created a vacuum into which Russia and Iran inserted themselves. Of course, the Iranian activity in Syria (and elsewhere) has been greatly facilitated by the appallingly naïve (or is that nefarious?) agreement orchestrated by the Obama administration in July 2015 over Tehran’s nuclear program, which greatly empowered the Iranian theocracy, enriched it economically and entrenched it politically.

One of the many menacing aspects of this is that the strong Iranian presence in Syria will allow the deployment of its proxies—including Hezbollah—along the border in the Golan, effectively increasing the length of the front along which Israel will have to confront such forces in any future military encounter.

All this should cause us to shudder with dread at the thought that, had the “enlightened” voices of moderation, reason and understanding of the “Other”, carried the day, and Israel had withdrawn from the Golan, all these perils would be perched on the heights overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the city of Tiberias and much of northern Israel.

There but for the grace of God…

Backing away vs. backing into confrontations

For several years now I have been warning against clear and present dangers inherent in conflict management—cautioning that it is little more than “kicking the can down the road” into a risk fraught future.  I expressed growing concern that by adopting a policy of avoiding confrontations. which Israel could win, the government  may well back the nation  into a confrontation so severe that it may not—or only do so at devastating cost.

Now, faced with a prospect of thousands of rockets (many accurate and high explosive) being launched daily against Israel  along two possible fronts – an extended one in the north and one in the south; faced with the threat of an array of yet to be discovered terror tunnels—both in the north and the south; with these forces operating under the auspices of near-by Iranian troops and with the possibly inhibiting presence of Russia in the region,  we can only hope that such a crucial confrontation is not upon us.

But  should such a conflict erupt, our fervent wish must  be that the  IDF is not tempted to attempt to “manage” it, but be true to the declared aims of the “Or Hadagan” drill–and strive for unequivocal victory in it…


The PLO’s IDF Lobbyists

Not only did Abbas reject their demand, he reportedly accused the presidential envoys of working as Israeli agents.

Should the United States pay Palestinian terrorists? For the overwhelming majority of Americans and Israelis this is a rhetorical question.

The position of the American people was made clear – yet again – last week when US President Donald Trump’s senior envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt met with Palestinian Authority chairman and PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas and repeated Trump’s demand that the PA cut off the payments.

Not only did Abbas reject their demand, he reportedly accused the presidential envoys of working as Israeli agents.

Abbas’s treatment of Kushner and Greenblatt was in line with his refusal to even meet with US Ambassador David Friedman, reportedly because he doesn’t like Friedman’s views.

The most amazing aspect of Abbas’s contemptuous treatment of the Trump administration is that he abuses Trump and his senior advisers while demanding that Trump continue funding him in excess of half a billion dollars a year, and do so in contravention of the will of the Republican-controlled Congress.

Abbas’s meeting last week took place as the Taylor Force Act makes its way through Congress.

Named for Taylor Force, the West Point graduate and US army veteran who was murdered in March 2016 in Tel Aviv by a Palestinian terrorist, the Taylor Force Act will end US funding of the PA until it ends its payments to terrorists and their families – including the family of Force’s murderer Bashar Masalha.

The Taylor Force Act enjoys bipartisan majority support in both the House and the Senate. It is also supported by the Israeli government.

Given the stakes, what could possibly have possessed Abbas to believe he can get away with mistreating Trump and his envoys? Who does he think will save him from Congress and the White House? Enter Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), stage left.

CIS is a consortium of 260 left-wing retired security brass. It formed just before the 2015 elections. CIS refuses to reveal its funding sources. Several of its most visible members worked with the Obama administration through the George Soros-funded Center for a New American Security.

Since its inception, CIS has effectively served as a PLO lobby. It supports Israeli land giveaways and insists that Israel can do without a defensible eastern border.

Last Wednesday CIS released a common-sense defying statement opposing the Taylor Force Act.

The generals mind-numbingly insisted the US must continue paying the terrorism-financing PA because Israel needs the help of the terrorism-incentivizing PA to fight the terrorists the PA incentivizes. If the US cuts off funding to the PA because it incentivizes terrorism, then the PA will refuse to cooperate with Israel in fighting the terrorism it incentivizes.

If you fail to follow this logic, well, you don’t have what it takes to be an Israeli general.

Moreover, if you fail to follow this logic, and you defy the position of Israel’s retired generals, then you may well endanger Israel.

After all, they know what’s best even better than the Israeli government because they are retired Israeli generals.

The CIS group would be bad enough for Israel on its own. But unfortunately, the radical politics of its members – and their anonymous funders – are all too resonant inside of the IDF itself.

And just as CIS members use the ranks they received in the past to undermine the powers of the government today, so the current crop of serving generals use their positions to advance policies that are contrary to the expressed position of the government.

This is nowhere more evident than in the behavior of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria.

Until Israel formed the PLO-controlled PA in 1994, the Civil Administration was responsible for governing Judea and Samaria as the governing arm of the military government that Israel set up in the area after the Six Day War.

In 1996, Israel transferred all Palestinian population centers in Judea and Samaria to the PA. Since then, the Civil Administration has been responsible only for Area C where all Israeli communities are located and where between 100,000 and 200,000 Palestinians also live.

The question of what the ultimate disposition of Area C will be is the top issue on the national agenda today. The majority of government ministers and the majority of the public support applying Israeli law to all or parts of the area.

Yet while the government debates the issue and formulates policies to advance whatever policies it adopts on this issue, the Civil Administration has for the past several years been acting independently to undermine and constrain the government’s ability to make strategic decisions relating to Area C.

Among other things, the Civil Administration has been independently initiating Palestinian settlement projects in Area C that undermine Israel’s ability to govern the areas. By the same token, the Civil Administration has used its powers to scupper, delay and prevent Israeli construction projects in the area.

The story of the Civil Administration’s rogue policy making was catapulted to the headlines last week when Channel 2 reported that it was advancing a plan to massively expand the Palestinian city of Kalkilya into Area C. Among other things, the plan endangers Israeli communities whose territory abuts the expanded boundaries of Kalkilya advanced by the plan.

Channel 2 reported that the Netanyahu government’s security cabinet had given the Civil Administration a green light to begin construction.

The story caused a political outcry not only from Likud voters but from the security cabinet members themselves. Led by Minister Ze’ev Elkin, the Likud ministers insisted that they had been misled by the Civil Administration which deliberately hid the nature of the plan from them when it brought it to the cabinet for approval.

The ministers’ protests ring true because the Civil Administration has a history of acting in this manner.

In 2008 for instance, the Civil Administration initiated a building scheme in the Jordan Valley that would have taken land from Moshav Tomer to build Palestinian settlements.

The head of the local council complained to the government only to discover that the ministers had no idea what he was talking about. The Civil Administration had undertaken the plan, which undermined Israel’s control over a strategically vital area, without government knowledge or approval.

In contrast, and again against the wishes of the government, the Civil Administration has repeatedly acted to block Israeli construction in Area C. For instance, the IDF insists that no land deal between Israel and Palestinians is final until the IDF approves it. The policy harms Israeli construction in two ways.

First, it gives the Civil Administration the power – which it uses – to delay Israeli construction indefinitely.

Second, by forcing parties to land deals to come forward publicly, the Civil Administration intimidates Palestinian land sellers. They know that if their land deals with Israelis become public they will face execution by the PA.

Returning to Abbas for a moment, the PLO chief may have overplayed his hand by insulting Trump and his senior envoys. All the politicized retired and currently serving Israeli generals together cannot convince Trump to send US tax dollars to a terrorism supporting leader who trashes him and his senior officials. Consequently, there is every reason to believe that the Taylor Force Act will soon be signed into law and the US will end its financing of Palestinian terrorism.

But even if Washington cuts off funding to the PA, Israel is still left to deal with its radicalized generals who exploit their rank to undermine the government.

The best way to end this situation is for the government to shut down the Civil Administration and get the IDF out of the governing business in Judea and Samaria. So long as the government continues to empower unaccountable generals to administer civilian areas instead of its accountable, civilian bureaucracy, we will continue to be confronted with the surreal spectacle of Israeli generals lobbying for Palestinian terrorists.

If the government applies Israeli law to Area C, it can still negotiate with the PLO, just as it has negotiated about the Golan Heights and Jerusalem. But in the meantime, it will remove one of the most corrupting and corrosive forces preying on our generals and our democracy for the benefit of the Israeli and Palestinian residents of Area C alike and indeed for Israel as a whole.

Originally Publised in Jerusalem Post.

SYRIA CRISIS, BREAKING: IDF Fires Back at Syria After Getting Hit With Mortars

The IDF announced that reports they retaliated to Syrian mortars were in fact true.

The IDF has instructed farmers to stay out of open areas. Furthermore, the IDF has closed Highway 98, which runs near the Golan Heights border, due to exchanges of gunfire across the border in Syria.

Israel has gone out of its way to stay directly out of the Syrian Civil War. However, it has become clear that Israel has funneled supplies to militias friendly to the Jewish State in order to keep Syrian and Iranian forces far from the border. Israel Rising reported last week as Daraa falls to regime forces, the Syrian government and Iranian militias will put heavy pressure on the Free Syrian Army in the Golan area.