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Hamas in the Gaza strip has launched more than 1,000 deadly rockets at Israel, reaching as far as the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Because the Hamas rockets are not too accurate, and thanks to Israel’s extensive civilian defense system, based on warning alarms and hardened shelters, Israel has not suffered too great a loss of life.
Iron Dome, Israel’s home-grown air defense system, has knocked out between 90% and 95% of the Hamas rockets that could have hit populated areas or sensitive infrastructure.
Yet some in the Israeli press, and the Jewish press outside Israel, have been raising questions about Iron Dome. The questions are not about the effectiveness of Iron Dome as an air defense system, but rather question if owning Iron Dome has caused Israel to confidently parry rocket attacks by Hamas and not do much about the threat Hamas poses.
Now, in the latest massive attacks by Hamas, Israel needs to decide whether its air power is enough to stop Hamas, or whether it needs to use its ground army. As this was written, Israel had called up some reservists and is posting forces along the Gaza border.
To a certain extent, the critics are right. Iron Dome, along with Israel’s other air defense systems, has given the Israeli government confidence that it could manage terrorist threats.
To a degree, this permitted some complacency by Israeli leaders to the extent that, Hamas and Hezbollah both have been systematically bolstering their rocket and missile capabilities, with supplies pouring in from Iran.
It isn’t that Israel has not tried to blunt the supply of missiles, especially newer models that are far more accurate and have longer ranges than before. Frequent efforts to interdict supplies, on the high seas in the case of Gaza, and by bombing warehouses and transport sites in the case of Syria, have been carried out.
The cycle repeats again
Unfortunately, it is clear these efforts have fallen short of the mark and both Hezbollah and Hamas have very big arsenals.
Beyond the policy of trying to stop the supply of weapons, Israel has also retaliated from time to time when Hamas or Hezbollah have used their weapons against Israeli targets.
Israeli towns near the Gaza border, most notably Sderot and Ashkelon, have been repeatedly attacked over the past few years. Typically Israel retaliates, Hamas “relents” and asks for, and gets, a cease-fire until the cycle repeats again.
What is different now is that the attacks are not just near the border but well into central Israel, including Tel Aviv and its suburbs but, even more importantly, that the Hamas attacks are synchronized with an intifada by Israeli Arabs – sometimes called Israeli Palestinians even though they are Israeli citizens.
Israeli intelligence, which is world-class, seems to have failed to grasp the level of domestic insurrection and its links to Hamas. If they were under some illusions, they only need to look at the al-Aqsa Mosque where Hamas flags are flying.
While this is truly a changed situation from prior Hamas attacks, it is a formidable challenge. During Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarkable 12 years in office, he and his cabinet have resisted any ground attack against Gaza. They have considered the Hamas threat “manageable” and they have relied on Iron Dome and counter-air operations to maintain public confidence.
Why did Netanyahu resist frequent calls to attack Hamas in Gaza? There are three main reasons: one is that the attacks caused minimal damage and only a few casualties, making them far below the line of being an existential threat.
A second reason is that keeping ground troops out of Gaza would keep the support of the United States, which Israel felt might be endangered if they took “strong” military action. And the third reason is that a big land attack would end any possible peace deal with the West Bank Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s red line
Of the three reasons, the first one, minimal damage and few casualties, has now been crossed because much of Israeli is under attack. Netanyahu calls this a “red line.”
The third reason, a peace deal with the Palestinians, also is a lost cause now, essentially because the Palestinian Authority has been encouraging Israeli Arab citizens to revolt.
Thus Abbas and his unpopular West Bank regime have gone beyond their purview in trying to set Israel aflame. Whether he is replaced, by whom and under what circumstances, isn’t clear, but any hope in Washington that some deal could be worked out is, for now, by the boards.
The second reason has to do with a general war and Washington’s support. There was little doubt that under the Trump administration Israel could have carried forward a bigger attack or taken other defensive measures.
The Biden administration is far less friendly to Israel, despite whatever rhetoric flows out of President Biden’s mouth. Biden wants to cut a geopolitical deal with Iran.
And there’s the rub, to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The true enemy of Israel, when all is said and done, the perpetrator of the rocket attacks and violence, is Iran. All the weapons come from Iran. Even money, laundered by Qatar, comes from Iran.
Thus the real question is should Israel deal with the Iranian threat forthrightly? You can beat down terrorists, blow up arsenals, kill terror leaders, but in the end, it is the supply of money and weapons that puts democratic Israel under severe threat.
Will Israel opt for a local solution, agree to a ceasefire until the next time, or decide to make Iran pay a price? The Israeli security cabinet no doubt is weighing these options.
Israel’s policy decision on what to do has nothing to do with Iron Dome. Iron Dome is not a policy – it is an air defense system that, no matter what Israel’s government decides, will go on saving lives and protecting the country.