Change the Disc

Given the complex reality around us, we should reconsider whether the almost-automatic response of an Israeli strike after an enemy missile attack is really the appropriate course of action. A column by the former head of Israeli Military Intelligence

Change the Disc

Several days ago, four rockets were launched from around Tyre in Lebanon into Israel. One of the rockets was intercepted by the Iron Dome system, another landed inside an Israeli settlement, causing damage but no casualties, and two more landed outside Israeli territory. The Israeli defense authorities made the right decision and, wishing to avoid escalation, called upon the public, almost immediately, to resume their normal routine.

A few hours later, during the night between Thursday and Friday, IAF aircraft attacked targets in Lebanon. I assume that a brief consultation b the IDF Chief of Staff Gantz, Defense Minister Ya'alon and Prime Minister Netanyahu preceded this air strike. It is possible, although I doubt it, that the head of the National Security Council also took part in that discussion. Israel has been responding in this way for years, as the Defense Minister said yesterday: "We will not allow any party to disrupt our life and will respond to any offensive originating from across the border."

I do not intend to criticize the Israeli reprisal strike. It is definitely difficult for Israel to accept missiles being launched at us from Lebanese territory, from the Golan Heights, from the Gaza Strip or from the Sinai. I do have a problem, though, with the almost-automatic response – one that ignores the reality that has changed.

Israel became entangled in the Second Lebanon War as a result of the implementation – by the military echelon – of the standing order "Hannibal", an order intended to respond to an enemy attempt to kidnap IDF servicemen, which includes the option of a hot pursuit across the sovereign border. The conclusion I reached back then, which is even more valid today, is that we must not react and operate without a deliberate and responsible examination of the situation that has evolved and the possible implications of our response.

My recommendation to the decision-making echelon is to "change the disc". A new situation appraisal is required – one that conforms to the newly developed reality. I refer here to two major changes that characterize this new reality, as outlined below.

The first change involves the fact that for nearly three years, we have been facing a new Middle East, a reality that has changed profoundly. We do not know what the region would look like in ten or in fifty years, but today's characteristics clearly indicate that the stability of the past has been lost, and the most important and dominating factor, beyond our borders, is "massophobia" – the power of the agitated, excited masses to respond and act while completely ignoring the decisions and will of their political leadership.

The other change involves the importance of the diplomatic system, the delegitimizing campaign against Israel and the difficulty in raising support among parties that had stood beside us in the not-too-distant past.

I do not know whether the State of Israel intends to file a formal complaint to the UN Security Council against the government of Lebanon. Even if we do so, however, a complaint submitted pursuant to our air strike will carry very little weight. Since the days of Levi Eshkol, Israel's Prime Minister in the 1960s, no other Israeli leader has been able to respond using a short, nine-word phrase like Eshkol's eloquent: "The notebook is open and the hand is writing". We must first build the 'case' that would justify our strike.

Analyzing the background of the rocket launch is equally important: how it fits into the broader domestic picture of Lebanon; how it should be interpreted against the background of the Syrian civil war and the involvement of Hezbollah troopers in that war; and how an Israeli counter-strike could be received in the context of this special reality.

Violent acts, originating from across almost all of the borders around us, have become a daily routine. It is a new reality with which we have to cope – and that is why a new disc is required.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Shlomo Gazit served as Head of the IDF GHQ Intelligence Division immediately following the 1973 Yom-Kippur War. He took part in the peace talks with Egypt, served as President of the Ben-Gurion University and as Director General of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Today he is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).


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