Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, August 22, 2014.
The IDF and Obama are mainly to blame for the current military-diplomatic impasse with Hamas, not Netanyahu. But the Prime Minister must snap the IDF into order, and resist Obama’s pressures.
Polls show that a majority of Israelis are frustrated with the indecisive outcome reached thus far in Operation Protective Edge. Israelis were led to believe that the IDF was going to strike a much more crushing blow at the enemy; a punishing strike that would deter Hamas from attacking Israel again for a very long time, if not lead to demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.
Consequently, the public is upset with the Netanyahu government for failing to bring lasting security to the country’s south (as well as the center); for squandering the unique opportunity presented by an unbelievable, almost-unprecedented national consensus in support of a deeper military offensive; and for surrendering the initiative to Hamas in the farcical ceasefire negotiations in Cairo.
I share this disappointment and dissatisfaction, yet I don’t blame Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The main fault for the malaise in Israel’s situation lies elsewhere.
Substantial responsibility for the current stalemate rests with the Israel Defense Forces leadership, which has not sufficiently prepared the army for full-scale ground warfare against the enemy. This has greatly limited the military options available to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe (Bogi) Yaalon.
IDF chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and his team openly and unabashedly have chosen in recent years to downsize and deemphasize the ground forces, investing instead in air force, cyber, long-range intelligence, and special operations capabilities. As a result, Israel doesn’t have enough well-trained and properly-equipped troops, or truly well-developed battle plans, for re-conquering the Gaza Strip and crushing Hamas.
IDF budgets have been invested elsewhere. As a result, the armored corps and heavy combat brigades don’t have enough advanced Namer APCs to protect troops in close-quarters battle, and the main battle tanks are not fully equipped with the advanced Trophy and ALWACS defense systems.
By the army’s own admission, the training hours of regular army brigades for intense urban warfare have been greatly curtailed in recent years, and this is even truer for the reserve brigades. Integrated combat exercises, combing infantry with armored, artillery, engineering and air units – training that is complicated and expensive – have been truncated even further. It’s actually a miracle that the IDF fought as well as it did in Gaza last month.
Furthermore, the quality of IDF intelligence on Gaza has plummeted since the disengagement. Israel just doesn’t have enough information on Hamas hideouts and weapons stores in order to mount a thoroughly effective and overwhelming attack. If the IDF had better intel, Mohammed Def and his terrorist colleagues would all definitely be dead.
The fact is that when asked to present the cabinet with a plan for conquest of Gaza and decapitation of Hamas leadership, the army presented a half-baked plan and did so only half-heartedly, and then leaked to the press estimates of Israeli casualties that were sure to frighten everybody off. The ministers in cabinet understood very well that this was not a realistic option currently available to them.
A GIGANTIC GOB of responsibility for the current stalemate also rests with US President Barack Hussein Obama, who has warned Israel against deepening its ground incursion in Gaza and has pushed Israel into giving Hamas a political payoff to end the fighting. This has greatly limited the options available to Netanyahu and the cabinet.
Every Administration statement about Israel’s “right” to defend itself has been counterbalanced by hyper handwringing about Palestinian suffering, statements of horror about one or another Israeli bombing, demands for an end to the “blockade” on Gaza, and nasty side-swipes at Israel like the brief ban on flights to Ben-Gurion airport and halt in resupply of Hellfire missiles for the IAF.
Instead of leading a global diplomatic offensive that champions Israel’s “obligation” to protect itself and its need to crush Hamas, the Obama administration has acted to narrow Israel’s options and to save Hamas. The administration has played a central role in preventing Israel from finishing the fight against Hamas with a resounding, unequivocal triumph.
The result is a hamstringed Netanyahu: Trapped between his own hesitant, ill-prepared military and a strategically-confused ally in Washington. That is why I pity Netanyahu, not so much blame him, for Israel’s current conundrum.
IN THIS CONTEXT, it is worth recalling that Netanyahu is ultimately a victim of toxic Oslo-era policies, and that for many years he was scorned for predicting the situation Israel now faces.
Rabin ridiculed Netanyahu when Netanyahu warned that Oslo would lead to missiles on Ashkelon. Sharon mocked Netanyahu as a scare-monger when the latter warned that a terror state would rise in Gaza after disengagement.
Labor leaders called Netanyahu reckless and irresponsible when he tried to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashal more than 15 years ago.
The hard Left called Netanyahu an obstacle to peace when he blocked the release of additional Hamas terrorists from jail (the so-called fourth tranche), and opposed the Hamas-Fatah unity government. After the uncovering this week of the broad scale Hamas plot to undermine and overthrow Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, even Abbas knows just how lethal Hamas is to his own survival, never mind to Israel’s.
And of course, every other politician in Israel was quick to blame Netanyahu for the downturn in US-Israel relations over the past six years. By now, everybody must recognize that Obama is mainly responsible for this. The President has a worldview which does not truly include fighting global evil – especially of the Islamic kind and even when it is directed against America, never mind Israel.
This inevitably has led to real differences of opinion between the US and Israel; or “daylight” between the countries, as Obama once termed it – approvingly.
AFTER SPREADING around fault for the current impasse and giving Netanyahu hefty benefit of the doubt, it is nevertheless time to demand that the Prime Minister act to overcome the difficulties.
Netanyahu must whip the IDF into shape and snap it to order. It is Netanyahu’s responsibility to ensure that the military will be minded and more prepared to win unfalteringly in the next round against Hamas, or against Hezbollah.
The army shortcomings will take time and money to fix, plus wholesale command changes. But even now, Netanyahu can and should push for a middle-of-the-road military offensive; an IDF attack which is aimed at finding and killing or capturing as much of the Hamas military leadership as possible, without having to reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu must also rally his own ministers and the Jewish world to stand firm against Obama’s prejudicial advice. Hamas is the villain and not a legitimate political force; Israel shouldn’t aid in the reconstruction of Gaza as long as Hamas remains in power; and Israel must not negotiate away its freedom of military action against Hamas leaders and assets, under any circumstances.
Similarly, Netanyahu should reject the ruinous rush to resurrect and re-empower the unreliable Abbas, or to withdraw in his favor in the West Bank. No pressures from Obama (or from Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid) should move Netanyahu in this deleterious direction.