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Forty years ago Israel won the Six Days War the Arab states imposed on her. The danger Israel faced then was so severe, many were afraid Israel will not survive. Now Israel is again in a very difficult period. Not only its political leadership lacks public support, it is facing serious military challenges from all directions. A weak government is dangerous: it may feel a need to over act, or under act militarily to satisfy internal political pressure. A strong government is also better able to face external political pressure; as anti Israeli attitude around the world is continuous and powerful. The recent election of new leadership of the Labor party may lead to new election. The sooner the better.
British Military historian Michael Howard said: “It is hard to think of any nation-state, with the exception of Norway, that came into existence before the middle of the 20th century which was not created, or had its boundaries defined, by wars, by internal violence, or by a combination of the two.” Yet Israel is single out negatively on these grounds much of the time as it tries to protect its borders and its citizens from external and terrorist attacks. This singular targeting I would call anti Semitic.
Although international leaders may not acknowledge it, many have begun to grasp the level of violence prevalent in the Arab world. The war in Iraq demonstrated it clearly, and the infighting in Gaza confirmed the inherent propensity to violence in the Arab world. Compromise solutions are not a language that they know or care for. Every group for itself, every clan for itself. The values of the Western world based on equality, human rights, freedom of religion and tolerance, live and let live attitude, is basically foreign to the Arab world. Democracy is not around the corner there unless it is introduced by external forces, as we are trying to do in Iraq, unsuccessfully. Let us hope that the slight measure of democracy in Lebanon will flourish and the benevolent monarchy in Jordan will continue in the right direction. Unfortunately both of these states (and some small Arab states in the Gulf) are too small to insure their own survival because they are easily subjected to external and internal destabilization.
The West can not force a democratic way of life on the Arab world. The internal struggle in the Arab world (Sunni- Shiite, modernism- fundamentalism, Fatah – Hamas, etc.) will continue and we can not be certain who will win. Right now I believe that a benevolent dictatorship is often better than attempt at democracy and free election- as the Hamas political victory has demonstrated.
Militarily Israel is facing danger from all sides: Hizbullah is fast rearming in Lebanon and a weak Lebanese government is unable, and may be unwilling to curtail them. Syria is both helping Hezbollah and is massing its own troops near the border and concentrating on missile attack strategy possibly similar to the one Hizbullah used.
The technique that the Arabs are using is both simple and clever; there is no address to the attacking terrorists, be they the 9/11 attackers, Hizbullah or Hamas. If a country attack you have a possibility of responding and hindering them; you have an address to damage their military, way of life and sometime their civilians, as the West did in Yugoslavia not long ago. Without clear address attackers do hide behind civilians, which may or may not support those attacks. No country would tolerate the type of rocket attacks emanating from Gaza and would attack the civilian infrastructure as we did in Yugoslavia. Israel does not even stop the water and electricity it supplies Gaza. And to add to the irony, Israeli supplied electricity is used by Hamas to manufacture the Kassam rockets it uses to kill Israeli civilians.
Gaza is lawless (over 600 Palestinians were killed in the last two years by other Palestinians) and several groups are increasing the number of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. The Arab civilians who support these attacks are immune from Israeli attacks for international and humanitarian reasons. No useful solution available short of retaking Gaza with large number of Israeli casualties or wider counter attack that may kill Palestinian civilians. The West Bank is relatively quiet as long as Israel controls the area. Secretary Rice again is pushing Israel to reduce its control there, the same mistake she did by forcing Israel to give its control of the borders of the Gaza strip. Her direct order to eliminate Israeli control of the border with Egypt allowed Hamas and other terrorist groups to import explosives, weapons and rockets into Gaza in a large number.
Iran is speeding its nuclear weapon development and no political or economic measure are developing of significant nature to slow their nuclear ambition.
Any of these fronts can cause a serious damage to Israel. The problem is not military strength; it is international support of the Arab side. It is generally unacceptable to cause a massive number of civilian casualties. But that may be the only way Israel can protect itself since in most cases civilian cover allow attacks against Israel.
No doubt Israel is preparing counter measures, from training to preplanning of different scenarios of counter attack, including nuclear weapons if needed, but Israel is boxed in. It seems that the main problem is that there are few addresses to counter attack. None in Gaza is obvious. Hizbullah is hiding behind civilians and will continue to do so. Syria is the only vulnerable entity since both its military and civilian targets can be destroyed with little international political feedback.
Israel ability to destroy much of Iran is insufficient deterrence since Iran leadership may not care about counter attack.
“The Iranians have a clear goal to combine their long-range missiles with their developing nuclear technology. We are living in the final years before Iran goes nuclear. Listen carefully to Ahmadinejad. He is not insane. He embodies very accurately the nature of the Iranian regime and he is gaining popularity among Muslims.” Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs, Israel Ministry of Defense.*
We may be continuing the millennia old struggle between the Christian and Muslim civilizations, according to a recent, and very important, speech by the respected, senior historian of the Muslim World, Bernard Lewis**. To us in the West, the past is past, but the Muslim world has clearly demonstrated that the belief in the past is of significant importance in their current world.
None of these possibilities and events can leave us in a peaceful state of mind. However, Israel emerged victorious from the danger it faced before the Six Day War. Let us do out best to help it emerge victorious from any danger it is now facing.