The recent Gaza hostilities against Israel constitute a continuation of an intractable conflict with seemingly no end in sight. Ultimately, it is rooted in the Jewish people’s unique relationship with power and its unwillingness to use it.
Israel and the Israel Defense Forces have effectively neutralized two main predicaments plaguing the Jewish people for 2,000 years: homelessness and defenselessness. Against all odds, the Jewish people created one of the finest and best fighting forces in the world, the IDF, which, like other Western militaries, was established to fight conventional military threats. However, in an era of asymmetric warfare, terrorist organizations like Hamas have successfully exploited Israel’s high moral standards by embedding itself within Gaza’s civilian population.
Russia and even NATO have shown little compunction in using massive military force in densely populated urban areas, despite the high likelihood of substantial civilian collateral damage. As a result, countless civilians were killed in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Chechnya. By contrast, Israel has been reluctant to use massive force against terrorist enemies hiding in civilian urban areas like Gaza.
The same Jewish state that is regularly slandered for using “disproportionate force” has frequently aborted military missions that were considered jeopardizing the safety of enemy civilians. The former British commander Richard Kemp, who studied Israel’s Gaza operations firsthand, concluded that no army in military history has done more to minimize enemy civilian casualties than the IDF. Other respected military officers, including former senior U.S. General Martin Dempsey, share this sentiment. In fact, Israel has even risked the lives of its own soldiers in order to save enemy civilian lives.
During the Battle of Jenin in 2002, Israel lost 23 soldiers in fighting Hamas and Fatah terrorists inside the dense and booby-trapped urban environment. Unlike NATO in Iraq and in Afghanistan, Israel’s leadership was unwilling to jeopardize enemy civilian lives by using massive force and bombing its adversaries from the air.
Being humane towards an inhuman enemy has not, however, prevented Israel from being demonized worldwide as a “war criminal.” Many people worldwide, including senior Western officials, initially embraced Palestinian propaganda lies of the “Jenin massacre.” By the time Ramallah’s libel against Israel was proven false, Israel’s enemies had already moved on to concocting the next libel against the Jewish state. In the 21st century, Israel increasingly focuses more on fighting anti-Israel propaganda than defeating its adversaries in the military field.
Israel’s ethical policies have tied the hands of IDF to effectively perform its most fundamental task: defeating Israel’s enemies who are deliberately embedded in civilian areas. Israel has moved from problem solving to problem management. Undeniably, Gaza constitutes a complex security challenge for Israel. However, this does not mean that “mowing the lawn” is Israel’s only option in Gaza. Critics have warned that toppling Hamas would be costly, and that it would eventually be replaced with another Gaza regime equally hostile towards Israel.
Israel’s Gaza policy has been to prevent Hamas from importing advanced weaponry. However, Gaza rockets and other weapons are merely tools. Jerusalem has largely ignored to address the fundamental Gaza challenge: a vast infrastructure of lethal Jew-hatred on Israel’s doorstep. Gazans are not born Jew-haters. They are products of a sustained Nazi-style brainwash by a Hamas regime bent on Israel’s destruction.
Liberals in Israel and abroad have often sarcastically noted that Israel cannot expect its neighbors to become Zionists. Demonization of neighbors are as old as human history. Countries like France, Germany and Britain used to be bitter enemies. Hitler’s Nazi ideology unleashed the Second World War. It was the de-Nazification of Germany that ultimately ended it and secured European peace.
Israel cannot enforce peace on its hostile neighbors. However, the Jewish state can substantially improve its security situation by focusing on removing the ideological evil weed that sustains the conflict. Israel must deny a safe haven to its enemies hiding behind civilians. This requires untying IDF’s hands to defeat Israel’s enemies in the military and civilian battlefields.
As long as children in Gaza and Ramallah are taught to hate and murder Jews, the conflict will continue with no end in sight. Instead of passively waiting for her neighbors to embrace peace, Israel should actively use military and non-military tools, preparing the ground for future peace by winning the war to end all war.