OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Explaining Israel’s security establishment

The conflict with the Palestinians has changed the IDF into a police force with a defensive mentality viewing stability as a goal in itself.

An Israeli soldier performs a body search on a Palestinian man in Hebron, Nov. 4, 2016. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90.
An Israeli soldier performs a body search on a Palestinian man in Hebron, Nov. 4, 2016. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90.
(Wikimedia Commons)
Daniel Pipes

We who argue for Israeli victory watched with dismay as Qatar’s government threatened Israel with ending its financial donations to Gaza, insinuating that Hamas will resume its incendiary balloons attacks. Where, we wonder, are those extraordinary armed forces that defeated three states in six days, pulled off the Entebbe raid and heisted Iran’s nuclear archive?

Israel’s security establishment, it turns out, has a doppelganger, an uncelebrated, defensive, reticent counterpart that emerged after the 1993 Oslo Accords to deal with West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, the one that needed 50 days to end a minor military operation in 2014 and cannot stop burning balloons coming out of Gaza. The classic IDF seeks to win but the Palestinian one just wants calm.

What accounts for this? Here are six factors:

Israeli governments consist of multi-partner coalitions which tend, in Jonathan Spyer’s description, “to avoid focus on long-term strategic issues, in preference for addressing immediate threats.” Why deal with a problem like Gaza when you can kick it down the road?

Similarly, Israel’s security services take pride in dealing with the here-and-now, not the misty future. In the apocryphal order of an Israeli officer to his troops, “Secure the area until the end of your shift.” Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s wife, Leah, once explained his mentality: “He was very pragmatic, hated to deal with something that would happen years down the road. He only thought of what would happen now, in the very near future.”

Similarly, Einat Wilf explains, the IDF encourages Qatari funds going to Gaza because it thinks that this buys it calm: “It will do anything possible to ensure that the funds keep flowing, even if that means that the calm is purchased at the cost of a war that will go on for decades.”

Just as police see criminals as incorrigible troublemakers, so wizened Israeli security chiefs view Palestinians as irredeemable adversaries and reject the idea that these adversaries can learn a lesson; can lions reform hyenas? Security types oppose a tough approach because they want to avoid troubles. This outlook may make them sound like leftists, but they are not; long and bitter experience, not misty idealism, explains their reticence.

Israeli security services do not want again to rule directly over the West Bank or Gaza; fearing a collapse of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, they treat these deferentially. They see the P.A. under Mahmoud Abbas, for all its deficiencies, as a useful security partner. True, it incites murder domestically and delegitimizes the State of Israel internationally, but better to endure these aggressions than to punish Abbas, induce his downfall, and relive the nightmare of walking the streets of Nablus. So, he gets away with literal murder.

A combination of Palestinian military weakness and intense international scrutiny has caused Israel’s security establishment to see Palestinians more like criminals than soldiers; dealing with them has morphed the IDF into a police force, with a defensive mentality viewing stability as a goal in itself. Generals do not enter battle with the goal of saving the lives of their soldiers; but police chiefs want the struggle with criminals to break no laws and leave no one harmed. Generals seek victory, police chiefs seek quiet.

Finally, an exaggerated sense of morality interferes with effective action. In 2018, IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot justified passivity vis-à-vis the balloon arsonists for the eye-popping reason that “dropping a bomb on people flying balloons and kites” runs counter to his “operative and moral position.”

This security establishment, and not a weakened left, mostly stands in the way of resolving the Palestinian issue; time and again, its appeasing views have prevailed. Fortunately, the security establishment has dissidents and they speak out, especially after leaving active service. Gershon Hacohen calls for political leaders not to let the military leadership make their decisions; Yossi Kuperwasser calls for an Israel victory; Uzi Dayan wants the military giving the country’s leaders the means to achieve victory. Even the trio of chief-of-staffs who formed the Blue and White Party called for tough action.

Resolution of the Palestinian problem requires an end to the split in Israel’s defense establishment and the return to a unitary force dedicated to winning, to convincing the Palestinians that the conflict is over, they lost, and they should abandon their war goals.

Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is president of the Middle East Forum.‎

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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