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OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

The war on terror: Offense or defense?

Seeking to avoid a multi-front war, Israel pursues a policy of containment that erodes its deterrence, bringing such a war closer but under much worse conditions.

Israeli forces operate in Judea and Samaria, March 5, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Israeli forces operate in Judea and Samaria, March 5, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

Islamic and Palestinian terrorists consider Israel to be a critical beachhead—and proxy—of the United States in the Middle East, and a significant collaborator with the pro-U.S. Arab regimes. They perceive the war on “the infidel Jewish state” as a preview of their more significant war on “the infidel West” and attempts to topple all pro-U.S. Sunni Arab regimes.

Therefore, Islamic and Palestinian terrorists have been engaged in intra-Arab subversion, while systematically collaborating with enemies and rivals of the United States and the West (e.g., Nazi Germany, the Soviet Bloc, Ayatollah Khomeini, Latin American, European, African and Asian terror organizations, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba). The more robust Israel’s war on terrorism, the more deterred the terrorists in their attempts to bring the “infidel” West to submission.

Islamic and Palestinian terrorism has targeted Jewish communities in the Land of Israel since the late 19th century, adhering to an annihilationist vision as detailed by the Fatah and PLO charters of 1959 and 1964 (eight and three years before 1967), as well as by the hate-education system installed by Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas in 1993 following the signing of the Oslo Accord.

Neither Palestinian (Hamas and the P.A.) nor Islamic terrorism (Iran and Hezbollah), are preoccupied with Israel’s size, but rather object to its very existence; they seek to erase the “infidel” Jewish state from “the abode of Islam.”

Both Palestinian and Islamic terrorism are inspired by 1,400-year-old Islamic values, still being spread today via K-12 hate education, mosque incitement and official and public idolization of terrorists.

Terrorists have astutely employed 1,400-year-old Islamic tactics such the taqiyya, which promotes double-speak and dissimulation as a means to mislead and defeat enemies—and the “hudna,” which misrepresents a temporary, non-binding ceasefire with “infidels” as if it were a peace treaty.

Islamic and Palestinian terrorism is politically, religiously and ideologically led by despotic and rogue regimes that reject Western values such as peaceful coexistence, democracy, human rights and good-faith negotiation.

Such terrorism is not susceptible to financial or diplomatic incentives (moreover, terrorists bite the hands that feed them.) This terrorism is driven not by despair, but by hope–the hope to bring the “infidel” into submission. The terrorists view goodwill gestures, concessions and hesitancy as weakness, which inflames the violence.

The terrorism is not driven by a particular Israeli or U.S. policy but by a fanatic vision. Thus, Islamic terrorism afflicted the United States during the Clinton and Obama Democratic administrations, as well as during the Bush and Trump Republican administrations.

The U.S. State Department has embraced a “moral equivalence” between Palestinian terrorists—who systematically and deliberately target civilians—and Israeli soldiers, who systematically and deliberately target terrorists. It emboldens terrorism, which threatens all pro-U.S. Arab regimes, undermining regional stability, and benefiting U.S. rivals and enemies, while damaging the United States.

War on terrorism

The bolstering of deterrence—rather than hesitation, restraint, containment and goodwill gestures, which exacerbate the violence—is a prerequisite for defeating terrorism and advancing the peace process.

The most effective long-term war on terrorism—operationally, diplomatically, economically and morally—is not a surgical or comprehensive reaction, but a comprehensive and disproportional preemption, targeting the gamut of terroristic infrastructure and capabilities; draining the swamp rather than chasing the mosquitos.

Containment produces a false, short-term sense of security, followed by a long-term security setback. Far from mitigating terrorism, it adrenalizes it, providing time to bolster its capabilities—a tailwind to terror and a headwind to counter-terrorism. It shakes confidence in the capability to crush terrorism. Defeating terrorism mandates the obliteration of capabilities, not co-existence or containment.

Seeking to avoid a multi-front war (Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Hezbollah and Iran), a policy of containment erodes Israel’s posture of deterrence, which brings Israel closer to a multi-front war under much worse conditions. Israel’s posture of deterrence is also eroded in the eyes of the relatively-moderate Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, Jordan and Egypt), which have dramatically enhanced cooperation with Israel due to Israel’s posture of deterrence against mutual threats.

A policy of containment also derives from White House and State Department pressure, subordinating national security to diplomatic priorities. It undermines Israel’s posture of deterrence, which plays into the hand of anti-Israel and anti-U.S. rogue regimes. Precedents prove that Israeli defiance of U.S. pressure yields short-term tension, but long-term strategic respect, resulting in expanded strategic cooperation. On a rainy day, the United States prefers a defiant, rather than appeasing, strategic ally.

The comprehensive 2002 Israeli counter-terrorism offensive, and the return of Israel’s Defense Forces to the headquarters of Palestinian terrorism in the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria (West Bank)—and not defensive containment and surgical operations—resurrected Israel’s effective war on Palestinian terrorism, which substantially curtailed terrorists’ capabilities to proliferate terrorism in Israel, Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula.

A policy of containment intensifies terrorists’ daring, feeds vacillation and the self-destructive “don’t rock the boat” mentality. It erodes steadfastness and feeds the suicidal perpetual retreat mentality.

The addiction to containment is one of the lethal byproducts of the 1993 Oslo Accord, which has produced a uniquely effective hothouse of terrorism, highlighted by the import, arming and funding of some 100,000 Palestinian terrorists from Tunisia, the Sudan, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria to Gaza, Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, who have unprecedentedly radicalized the Arab population of pre-1967 Israel, established a K-12 hate education system, launched an unparalleled wave of terrorism, and systematically violated agreements.

The bottom line

The 30 years since the Oslo Accords have featured unprecedented Palestinian hate education and terrorism. It has demonstrated that a retreat from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria has boosted terrorism; that the Palestinian Authority is not committed to a peace process, but to the destruction of the Jewish state; and that terrorism requires a military, not political, solution.

A successful war on terrorism requires preemptive offense, not defense, containment and reaction; fighting in the terrorists’ trenches is preferable to fighting in one’s own. No Israeli concessions could satisfy international pressure; and diplomatic popularity is inferior to strategic respect. Avoiding a repeat of the critical post-Oslo errors requires a comprehensive, disproportional, decisive military campaign to uproot—not to coexist with—terroristic infrastructure.

The historic and national security indispensability of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria—which dominate the 8-mile to 15-mile sliver of pre-1967 Israel—and the necessity to frustrate Palestinian terrorism, requires Israel to eliminate any sign of hesitance and vacillation by expanding the Jewish presence in this most critical area. This will intensify U.S. and global pressure, but as documented by all prime ministers from Ben-Gurion, through Eshkol, Golda Meir, Begin and Shamir, defiance of pressure results in the enhancement of strategic respect and cooperation.

The Palestinian track record during the 30 years since the 1993 Oslo Accord has highlighted the violent, unpredictable and anti-U.S. nature of the proposed Palestinian state west of the Jordan River, which would force the toppling of the pro-U.S. Hashemite regime east of the river. It would transform Jordan into an uncontrollable, chaotic state in the vein of Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, triggering a domino scenario into the Arabian Peninsula (south of Jordan), which could topple the pro-U.S., oil-producing Arab regimes. This would reward Iran’s ayatollahs, China and Russia, while severely undermining regional and global stability and US economic and national security interests.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

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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