Mar 10 2010

Little Bombs, Big Bombs and Washing Machines

Published by at 12:26 am under Rediscovering Israel

From the sort of media coverage about Israel we get back in Canada, you might think the country was in a constant state of war. While this is true at a strategic level, actual fighting is practically nonexistent right now. Still, the long term prospects for Israel look even worse than I imagined.

We met up with New Republic contributing editor Yossi Klein Halevi last night for wine, cheese and a big picture view of the Israel’s security situation. The briefing was less than optimistic.

International efforts to delegitemize Israel’s existence haven’t yet affected the Jewish state’s international standing in a significant way, Halevi says. Indeed, a backlash against Islamist-left propaganda overreach seems to be occurring.

But long term, this is a huge existential threat. Israelis are feeling betrayed and abandoned by representatives from Western nations that don’t even seem to have their best interests at heart.

Israel is the neglected canary in the coal mine. Will anyone notice when the chirps suddenly stop?

There are a few Jewish Israeli human rights activists who do not believe in the legitimacy of their own country are the lunatic fringe.

To my mind, they have something in common with the type in Canada who believe that all immigrants who have arrived in Canada since the 1600s ought to go back to their own lands (eg. I would go back to Ukraine, even though no one in my family has lived there for three generations) and hand over the territory to First Nations). While they are rejected by all centrist parties, they’re getting a lot of play in the international media and among academics. "These people are collaborators," Halevi says, evoking the worst possible meaning of the word. Halevi called these people "collaborators". 

Later, the conversation turns to the larger scope of Middle East politics and one belligerent in particular. "Iran won’t get the bomb because Israel won’t let it get the bomb", Halevi says. His contention is that since the USA and international community likely won’t be able to enforce sanctions or go to war to stop the Iranian nuclear program, Israel may have to do it.

Indeed, Halevi believes that even delaying an Iranian nuke by one or two years may be worth a pre-emptive strike.

I’m shocked by Halevi’s stance. Perhaps it’s my North American perspective coming out, but it seems to me that any effort to stop Iran with military force would be futile as well as suicidal. As hard as it sounds, we must prepare to live with the Iranian bomb.

Why can’t Iran abide by principles of deterrence that seem to work for other maniac regimes such as Soviet Russia, North Korea or, to a lesser extent, Pakistan? I hope that his view is not shared by top military planners for Israel.

Halevi seems more optimistic on threats closer to Israel’s borders. Hamas and Hezbollah are deterred for now, with Operation Cast Lead confirming Israel as the new "crazy man" of the Middle East. Still, Palestinians in particular have figured out pretty well how to terrorize Israel successfully without raising the condemnation of the international community.

Halevi’s son serves in the IDF. His son’s take is that it doesn’t matter if they fire innaccurate mortars or missiles that only hit someone once every couple of years. They could be lobbing washing machines with a catapult every other day for eight years and have precisely the same effect. Civilians are driven from their towns. When Israel responds to these provocations, the nation will be taken to task for disproportionate response.

"The real damage to peace and stability between Israel and the Palestinians occurred not because of the scale of the response to terror, but by how long it took to finally deal with it," Halevi says.

I agree in part, though I know hindsight is always 20/20. There are no good solutions to ensure Israeli (and Palestinian) security — only less bad options.

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