OpinionIsrael at War

Yes to victory; No to containment and defeat

The benefits of offensive action as opposed to the massive costs of containment have been illustrated once again in the ongoing war that began with the Oct. 7 massacre.

IDF soldiers during operational activity in the Jabalia area of northern Gaza on May 20, 2024. Credit: IDF.
IDF soldiers during operational activity in the Jabalia area of northern Gaza on May 20, 2024. Credit: IDF.
Hillel Frisch
Hillel Frisch
Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on the Arab world at The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

Since 2002, we have seen repeatedly in Judea and Samaria, and again in 2005 with the disengagement from Gaza, how going on the offense pays off, while containment in the hope of stability results in massive losses in lives and resources, to the point of threatening Israel’s very existence. A comparison of eight months of war in the north and the south have hammered home this lesson once again.

Assessing the effectiveness of going on the offensive compared to adopting a policy of containment and restraint using past examples is a relatively simple exercise. In Judea and Samaria, Israel went on the offensive in 2002 against the war of terror that Yasser Arafat initiated two years earlier. Israel reconquered the major towns in the West Bank that had become sanctuaries for terrorists organizing murderous suicide bombings against Israelis in buses and restaurants and shootings in wedding halls and synagogues, most of which took place within Israel’s Green Line. Since the end of that operation, Israel has followed up on an almost daily basis with raids against terrorists and would-be terrorists.

The results are indisputable. The terrorist toll dropped from some 450 deaths in 2002 to 50 in 2006 and has more than halved since then—a bloody toll without doubt, but one that Israel has nevertheless learned to live with and even to prosper alongside.

Since then, terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria and within the Green Line have never reached an intensity that resulted in a massive and costly call-up of reserves, never closed Israel’s only international airport, schools or universities. Rarely were armor or the air force, the costliest arms of the military, required to quell Palestinian terrorism in Judea and Samaria.

In the international arena, these offensive operations never resulted in an American president threatening to withhold weapons supplies to Israel, repeated visits by his Secretary of State complete with threatening innuendos and his forced presence in deliberations of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff with the aim of curtailing Jerusalem’s freedom of action. Rarely has Israel been harassed by the dubious international courts in The Hague as it is now.

Israel never paid such costs in Judea and Samaria, but in Gaza, where it applied a policy of containment and restraint since its withdrawal from the territory in 2005, it has paid tenfold. A policy of containment never addresses the growing capabilities of the enemy. On Oct. 7, Israel paid dearly for seeking containment and stability instead of dealing with the growing capabilities of Hamas over the past two decades. Twice as many Israelis were slaughtered on that day in the communities around the Gaza border than in nearly two decades in Judea and Samaria and within the Green Line by Palestinian terrorism emanating from within the Palestinian Authority.

The benefits of offensive action as opposed to the massive costs of containment have been illustrated once again in the ongoing war that began with the Oct. 7 massacre: This is reflected in the price paid by Israel’s civilian population in the north compared to the price in the south since the start of the war. In the south Israel went on a massive offensive to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while in the north, Israel made do with a policy of containment against Hezbollah’s missiles, UAVs and mortars. The rationale was clear: Israel did not want to engage on two fronts simultaneously.

Data provided by the IDF’s Home Front Command provides ample proof of the relative efficacy of the two strategies: The number of times air raid sirens were sounded to warn of incoming attacks on both these fronts in the past eight months of war reflects, at least partially, the growing costs in the north, where Israel has adopted a policy of containment, as opposed to the sharply reduced costs in the south in the Gaza border communities.

In Sderot, the major urban center closest to the Gaza border, the number of warnings declined from 86 in the first month of the war (Oct. 8-Nov. 7, 2023) to 12 in the month ending on June 2. In Kiryat Shmona, the urban center closest to the Lebanese border, the number of warnings increased from 13 in the first month to 78 in the eighth month of the war. Most of the residents of Sderot have returned to the town and both its schools and local college have re-opened. Kiryat Shmona on the other hand has become a ghost town and its inhabitants have become internal refugees. The offensive war against Hamas compared to the policy of containment applied to Hezbollah explains these differences.

President Biden is pushing Israel into a hostage deal, cease-fire, withdrawal and defeat. Israel’s history has repeatedly shown the folly of containment and the virtue of offense. The time has come to say no to containment, withdrawal and defeat and yes to pushing ahead with the war and attaining victory. Failure to heed Israel’s many lessons imperil its national existence.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

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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