By Ron Jager
Over the past week, pundits in Israel have lost no time in labeling Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu as the big losers in the latest round of rocket terror by the Hamas terror organization occupying the Gaza Strip adjacent to the southern border of Israel. Their scoreboard of winners and losers being spewed out minute by minute had only one goal—to create an atmosphere that will weaken Netanyahu politically and topple his right-wing government.
This past week, Hamas fired nearly 500 rockets and assorted projectiles into Israel over a period of 24 hours. Around 60 Israelis were treated, most suffering from anxiety and trauma, but several were wounded critically, and one civilian was killed. Several homes were damaged and some will need to be rebuilt. For the sake of comparison, during the same week, a fire in California decimated 100,000 acres of prime residential communities; over 60 residents in the area died a horrible death, thousands of homes burned to the ground, and 600 residents are still missing and unaccounted for as firefighters go through the burned-out hulls of some of California’s most prestigious real-estate communities.
Many in Israel are resonating a sense of frustration in response to the Israeli government’s decision to walk away from a war with Hamas and accept a ceasefire negotiated by the Egyptian government. They do not understand why Israel did not respond with far greater force and teach Hamas and the Islamic Jihad a lesson that would keep them quiet for an extended period. The government of Israel sufficed with a few hundred pinpoint air attacks and then opted for a ceasefire.
Trying to understand the strategic thinking behind the government’s decision demands first that we accept some basic assumptions. Israel is the strongest nation in the Middle East and her military capabilities are far superior to any nation or non-state organizations surrounding her. Second, many of Israel’s homegrown offensive military technologies are unknown to her enemies and have been developed clandestinely to respond primarily to the rocket and missile threats of Hezbollah, Iran, and other non-state threats in the region. Third, the political and military leaderships of Israel are neither irresponsible nor cowards; they operate within defined strategic objectives.
Hamas is a terrorist organization that has political control over the Gaza Strip. Hamas wants to achieve relevance after 12 years of governing Gaza with nothing to show for it other than undrinkable tap water and 40% unemployment. They are funded and controlled to a certain extent by outside sources, primarily the Republic of Iran that uses Hamas as a proxy agent against Israel. The use of rockets and missiles against Israel has been largely ineffective yet allows the Iranians to understand Israel’s defensive capabilities and ability to respond to this threat. During the past week, as almost 500 rockets rained down on southern Israel, the Iranians learned that Israel’s anti-missile defense system was portrayed as deficient in responding to this massive barrage. Iran uses Hezbollah, the terror organization in Lebanon, in a similar manner, the major difference being that Hezbollah’s rocket and missile arsenal is reported to number around 150,000 missiles and rockets, ten times the rockets held by Hamas. The Iranians have developed their missile-attack doctrine based on lessons learned from the repetitive attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israel, including this past week.
Despite the sheer quantity of rockets and missiles aimed at the State of Israel, the current anti-missile defense system employed by Israel provided a sufficient protective umbrella to protect and destroy most of the rockets that could have reached populated areas, yet for the Israeli public in the south, it wasn’t enough. This was the perception that was amplified repeatedly by the media and social media so as to erode Netanyahu’s and the Likud’s support in the south. The narrative adopted by the media and the opposition political parties only enflamed the residents of the south and enshrined the perception that Hamas won and Israel lost.
It also empowered the Iranians to make all the wrong assumptions and operational conclusions about Israel’s true capabilities. A significant psychological warfare success for Israel.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the Hamas conflict in the south is a strategic sideshow and should not be confused with the major strategic threats challenging Israel. The guiding principle behind Israel’s “meek” response this past week was to keep her potential military cards unexposed. A known veteran military columnist this past week wrote an article about Israel’s new generation of anti-missile technology, largely unknown to the public. It is based on laser technology and operationally able to provide the necessary umbrella to deal with tens of thousands of missiles threatening Israel. Netanyahu’s real concern is the Iranian threat and especially Iran’s role in Syria and Lebanon. Exposing this capability in a strategically insignificant conflict with Hamas would have been a strategic blunder. Netanyahu is astute enough to avoid this trap even at the cost of the erosion of political support among the Israeli public that ensued.
Today’s wars are not only fought on the battlefield, but also—and at times primarily—in the virtual world of social media. Terror organizations have a commanding advantage since all their actions are choreographed towards eliciting media outlets and social media to convey their perspective in a sympathetic light. The false narrative projected makes the strong weak and the weak strong, the aggressor a victim and the victim an aggressor, blurring the distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad. Yet when push comes to shove, reality kicks in and Israel does not have the luxury of making strategic mistakes.
Given the Iranian focused regional strategy, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government must never be sidetracked from this existential threat. Rather than giving Israel’s democratically elected government the benefit of the doubt, Israel’s political opposition has no hesitancy in sacrificing Israel’s strategic capabilities while using this tactic to gain electoral support. At the same time, Israel’s government must continue providing the residents of the south maximum protection and the necessary financial incentives to soften the effects of the ongoing reality that they have to endure for the near future.
Tomorrow, Israel may not have the option of walking away as occurred this past week. When that time is upon us, Israel must be ready to decimate her enemies and prevent serious damage to the State of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu understands this and managed to retain Israel’s potential strategic capabilities unknown to our enemies.
Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic adviser to the chief foreign envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.ronjager.com. Read more of Ron Jager’s articles here.