by Moshe Arens
The Second Lebanon War seems to have thrown almost everybody into a state of confusion. All of a sudden we realize that the home front is vulnerable and insufficiently protected. There is talk of spending billions on shelters for all and exotic missile systems to intercept incoming missiles. A vision is being propagated that someday all Israelis will be fully protected – shelter over their heads and an umbrella of missile interceptors that will knock down anything coming at us.
Conferences are being held on how the home front will be sheltered and who will be protected and how all this will be paid for. Orders have already been placed for the development of horrendously expensive missile interceptors. The Meridor committee, charged with examining Israel’s defense doctrine, is calling for new strategic thinking, and the addition of a fourth element – defense – to the conventional Israeli strategic triad of early warning, deterrence and decisive victory. While all this is happening, Sderot keeps getting its daily dose of Qassams, and its residents are being told that there is no magic solution to their troubles. In other words, they better get used to it. Hezbollah has not only handed Israel a defeat on the battlefield, it has also totally confused us, giving birth to mistaken thinking, which if adopted, may very well lead to another defeat in the next round. Another victory for Hezbollah.
So what’s new here? That civilians might be at risk during a war was fully appreciated by David Ben-Gurion many years ago. He would not begin the Sinai Campaign 50 years ago until arrangements had been made for the French Air Force to keep the skies over Israel clear of Egyptian aircraft. It appears that today’s Israeli politicians and the "new strategists" have forgotten Ben-Gurion’s credo – that the civilian population must first be protected.
Rockets that can be fired from a distance at civilian targets are also nothing new. Toward the end of the Second World War, the Germans fired V2 rockets into London, causing considerable damage. The British knew that the only way to put a stop to these attacks was for Montgomery’s army to reach the V2 launching sites. And Soviet missiles were aimed at American cities during the Cold War, and it was clear that the answer was not to throw the entire U.S. population into shelters, but rather, to deter Soviet leaders from launching these missiles in the first place.
Hezbollah has had a large arsenal of rockets in its possession for years and it was clear that a massive blow at Hezbollah targets in Lebanon would unleash a rain of rockets on Israel. Now Hamas is launching rockets into Sderot. Is there really no answer to these threats other than placing everybody in shelters? That in itself would constitute a victory for them. How about doing the obvious thing and sending ground troops to the launching sites, where they can put the rockets out of range. This was not done during the Second Lebanon War, and why is it not being done now in the South?
Israel is not, and should not, be preparing for a long war of attrition. Our enemies have to be deterred, or if deterrence fails, quickly crushed. Preparations for long wars of attrition are simply a waste of resources and play into the hands of our enemies. Deterring our enemies is the best of all alternatives. There is good reason to believe that considering Israel’s massive capabilities, which can stand additional reinforcement, Syria might well be deterred from any aggressive adventures in the North. And if deterrence nevertheless fails, Syria would be dealt a crushing defeat. In the face of Syrian threats, Olmert’s talk of turning the Golan Heights over to the Syrians only weakens the image of our deterrent capability in Syrian eyes, and is counterproductive.
Terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al-Qaida cannot be deterred. They thrive on injury to their civilian supporters. There is only one option here: these organizations must be defeated. And in Operation Defensive Shield, Israel proved this can be done. But on the verge of a decisive victory against Palestinian terrorism, the disengagement reversed what was about to be a crushing Israeli victory, and provided renewed encouragement to the terrorists.
So let us go back to the old and tried Israeli defense doctrine, so successful in past years. In war, first priority must be given to protecting the civilian population and taking the war immediately into enemy territory. There is no substitute for the strategic triad – deterrence, early warning and victory. The best defense is offense.