Into the Fray: ‘Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war’


By adhering to a policy of avoiding confrontations which Israel can win, the government risks leading it into one in which it might lose. It is time for a bold new offensive – before we are overtaken by events.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, June 30, 2014 

To remain at peace when you should be going to war may be often very dangerous….Let us attack and subdue…that we may ourselves live safely for the future.– Thucydides (c. 460–395 BCE)

No government, if it regards war as inevitable, even if it does not want it, would be so foolish as to wait for the moment which is most convenient for the enemy.– Otto von Bismarck (1815–1890)

If you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival.– Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

For anyone with half a brain it should be crystal clear: The peace-with-Palestinians paradigm is irredeemably broken.

The triple murder of the abducted teenagers, together with the shower of rockets on the South, should have driven that point home, even for the most obdurate devotee of what, perversely, has become known as the “peace process.”

Cavalcade of counterproductive concessions

Over the last half decade, the Netanyahu government has made a series of humiliating and hazardous concessions in an ill-advised and ill-fated attempt to sustain an unworkable process and an egregious endeavor to curry favor with an innately inimical US administration.

Predictably, this has produced nothing but further demands for even more hazardous and humiliating concessions.

The cavalcade of counter-productive climb-downs began shortly after Binyamin Netanyahu’s return to power in 2009, when he reneged on his election pledges and accepted the idea of a Palestinian state.

This ideological capitulation dramatically transformed the debate on Palestinian statehood from whether there should be a Palestinian state, to what the characteristics of that state should be. It was followed in November 2009 by acquiescence to an unprecedented 10-month construction freeze in the hope of coaxing the Palestinians into negotiations. The only response this elicited – and only as it was just about to expire – was a demand for it to be extended.

Then, in 2012, in stark contradiction to Netanyahu’s publicly professed principle of resolute refusal to bow to demands from terrorists (which in large measure brought him much of his initial public prominence), he bowed to the Hamas conditions, releasing over 1,000 convicted terrorists in exchange for a single IDF soldier, Gilad Schalit. This was something so abjectly compliant that even his predecessor, the wildly accommodative Ehud Olmert, had resisted such an exchange.

By so doing, in a stroke Netanyahu made a mockery of his own defiant doctrine which had deemed concessions to terrorists counterproductive.

Counterproductive cavalcade (cont.)

Israel was soon to reap the bitter fruits of its misplaced “largesse” with the brutal murder this April of Baruch Mizrahi, a father of five, at the hands of a terrorist freed in the Schalit deal.

Then in 2013 came the demeaning apology to the vehemently anti-Israeli Turkish premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the action of Israeli commandos, who were defending themselves against a frenzied lynch mob aboard a Turkish vessel trying to violate a lawful maritime quarantine of the terrorist enclave of Gaza. Again, the apology was made despite strident assurances that they would not be given. Worse, Israel conceded to the payment of compensation to families of the assailants, killed or maimed during their attempts to disembowel the IDF combatants. The only tangible result of this undignified expression of contrition has been continued anti-Israel invective from Erdogan and undignified wrangling over the level of compensation.

Perhaps the most egregious act of all came later that year – wholesale scores of convicted terrorists were released to coax the Palestinians into agreeing to reenter negotiations, which they should have had a greater interest in conducting than Israel did. This gesture once again proved futile, with Israel being blamed for the failure of the talks and Mahmoud Abbas setting up a unity government with Hamas.

The fatal futility of Palestinian-peace paradigm

The fundamental reason for this depressing chain of futility is desperate adherence to a notion that some form of consensual peace deal can be struck between Israel, as the nation-state of the Jews, and the Palestinian Arabs, who seek to become self-governing.

The procession of one failed Israeli gesture after the other is a consequence of our refusal to discard the disproved paradigm of land-for-peace and the two-state principle that derives from it.

We were only able to keep the “process” from collapsing and maintain false hope that one day it might bear fruit by consenting to increasingly far-reaching concessions.

Just how far Israeli positions have been eroded can be judged from the content of Yitzhak Rabin’s last address to the Knesset in 1995, when he sought ratification for the Oslo II Accords. The Palestinian demands, which were then considered by many in Israel as excessive to an almost treasonous degree, would today evoke right-wing opposition that others would characterize as unreasonable and unrealistic “rejectionism.”

The refusal to acknowledge the futility of such efforts to reach a durable peace accord has had a calamitous effect on both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives on policy options/imperatives that Israel can/must undertake.

Degrading deterrence 

This policy has, in effect, precluded any prospect of inflicting strategic defeat on the Palestinians – (see my “Redefining (failure as) victory,” January 3, 2013) – since it would, in all likelihood, terminate any chance of sustaining the “peace process,” and subject Israel to international censure .

However, as Palestinians sense Israeli reticence, it stiffens their political demands and emboldens them to persist in operations of armed attrition, secure in the knowledge that they will not be subjected to unacceptable losses.

Accordingly in 2012, despite the impressive display of the IDF’s military prowess, Operation Pillar of Defense was terminated prematurely – leaving Hamas with what could be portrayed – not unconvincingly – as a strategic victory, gaining them enhanced international standing, and winning important concessions for its farmers and fisherman. (The subsequent degradation of Hamas’s strength had little to do with Israeli policy and much to do with that of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.) The continued bombardment of the South from Gaza makes a mockery of any claim that Hamas and/or its radical spin-offs have been deterred by previous Israeli military operations. Yes, like Hezbollah in the North, it has been perhaps forced to regroup, redeploy and rearm – but clearly its will to engage remains undiminished and its operational capabilities has been greatly enhanced.

Tactical containment vs strategic victory

After all, the capabilities of the weaponry at its disposal have increased dramatically. Thus, while earlier the range of the Palestinian rockets was barely 5 km., and the explosive charge they carried weighed about 5 kg., today their missiles have a range of 75 km. and warheads of 90 kg.

Not too long ago, if anyone dared to predict that greater Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would be in danger from missiles launched from Gaza, he would have been dismissed with disdain. However, now that the unthinkable has occurred, it is time for a radical reassessment of the policy paradigms Israel has tethered itself to for far too long.

The nation has bound its military to a doctrine of tactical containment rather than of strategic victory. This is no longer a viable approach – neither operationally, nor intellectually.

Indeed, it is not only the continued shelling in the South that underscores that the Palestinians’ determination to harm Israelis remains largely unimpaired. It was also the recently emerged, information that they have initiated dozens of abduction attempts, all of which were foiled—until inevitably one was not.

Clearly, then, if Israel cannot effectively impact the Palestinians’ motivation and dissuade them from hostile activities that endanger the lives and limbs of Israelis, the government is duty bound to protect its citizens by curtailing the enemy’s ability to achieve their goals.

In other words, we must inflict strategic defeat, and impose strategic surrender, on the Palestinians – which implies taking control of the territories where the attacks are planned, prepared and perpetrated.

The perilous path of ‘conflict management’

To achieve this, we must forsake the vain hope of ever reaching an agreed and lasting peace with some Palestinian partner in exchange for any configuration of territorial concessions.

This clearly requires a sharp discontinuity in the mindset of the Israeli leadership, for even those skeptical about the land-for-peace principle and Palestinian sincerity/ability to conclude a durable peace agreement subscribe to the concept of “conflict management” instead of “conflict resolution.”

This is a perilous path to tread as the dramatic erosion of Israeli positions and the equally dramatic enhancement of Palestinian capabilities, discussed previously, vividly illustrate.

Indeed, with tumultuous convulsions engulfing the Mideast and pushing ever closer to Israel’s borders, old assumptions as to alleged allies and alliances are no longer relevant. These developments make any agreement concluded with any Palestinian totally meaningless.

For as I pointed out last week, even under wildly optimistic assumptions that some Palestinian partner were found who could conclude an acceptable accord with Israel, and even if he had the requisite authority to implement its terms, and the requisite sincerity not to renege on them, and even if he were not replaced by some more radical successor who would repudiate the accord, external forces in the region could render it worthless.

A micro-mini demilitarized Palestinian state will be a flimsy foil indeed between Israel and an Islamic State-controlled regime in Jordan.

Will abduction prove a transformative event?

By adhering to a policy of avoiding confrontations which Israel can win, the government risks leading it into one which it might lose.

This cannot and must not continue. What is needed is a proactive initiative to preempt the emerging perils before they descend upon us. In this regard, the government must resign itself to the unpalatable fact that Israel is unlikely to win international affection. The most we can realistically hope for is to be grudgingly respected; the least it must unequivocally ensure is to be greatly feared.

Undoubtedly, for such a drastic metamorphosis in the perceptions and policy preferences of Israeli leadership, some sort of dramatic transformative event is required.

It is still too early to assess whether the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teens will become such an event. There are, however, increasing signs that it has ignited considerable public outrage and anger, and is precipitating a perceptible stiffening of public attitudes toward the Palestinians, and impatience toward the government – and what is increasingly seen as its ineffectual impotence.

It is time for a bold new offensive – before we are overtaken by events. If the tragic deaths of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah act as a catalyst to galvanize the public into compelling the government into effective action, their murders may well come to symbolize a turning point in the salvation of the nation.

‘Cry “havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war…’ 

The government must seize the moment and act in the spirit of the call by Mark Anthony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. With much of the Arab world in disarray and enmeshed in internal turmoil, Israel must:

1. Disavow the “peace process,” disengage from contacts with the Palestinians as a national collective, and declare them to be what they themselves declare themselves to be: An implacable enemy of the Zionist entity.

2. Launch a $1 billion strategic public diplomacy offensive (1 percent of the state budget), focusing on delegitimizing the Palestinian narrative and highlighting the depravities of the Arab world, in general, and of Palestinian society, in particular, while contrasting them with the moral merits and scientific, technological and other accomplishments of Israel.

3. Coercively dismantle and disarm the Palestinian security forces.

4. Refrain from any support for the unsustainable Palestinian economy, withhold any services hitherto rendered to it and allow it to collapse, as it inevitably will.

5. Offer generous relocation grants to any individual Palestinians wishing to extricate themselves from the hardships that will inevitably result from the forgoing measures and build a better life for himself/his family in a third party country of their choice.

In weighing the implementation of this program, Israelis should bear in mind: If you will it, it is no fantasy.

Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (

July 5, 2014 | 6 Comments »

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  1. @ woolymammoth: Who is the leader in a political party that is in the coalition that has endorsed or will endorse Sherman’s plan. Because without this the plan is not going anywhere. I also want the Arabs to leave but how in the world of reality?

  2. Netanyahu’s weaknesses have brought Israel an Arab intifada in Israel’s capital that is gaining strength by the hour and a massive Hamas rocket barrage on Israel’s South. In the face of grave danger, Israel’s government talks, seeks to buy time and does nothing. Jewish impotence is not lost on the Arabs who have lost their fear of the Jewish State and its much vaunted police and army. They are now a broken reed.

  3. Martin Sherman very articulately outlined the shocking and disturbing failures on Mr. Netanyahu’s part to actually do anything he assured and promised the electorate should he be given a second chance in The PM’s seat. It is even more worrisome as the entire world is counting on him to follow through on his promise to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. The world waits while Netanyahu pontificates, as if his strong conviction is the same as having actually done something. Yet after making a strong case for Netanyahu’s ouster, Sherman makes a list of “must do” items, conjuring up the image of Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, which do not include anything with respect to The PM. Well…I can’t say I knew Shakespeare, or that “Bill” was a friend of mine,however; I feel comfortable asserting, Martin, you are no Bill Shakespeare. One billion dollars Israel should spend to convince who, the half brained, that Israel is justified in declaring the peace process is dead? The fact is, it’s dead. All one has to do is listen to Martin Indyk on you tube, the interview with Jeffrey Goldberg at Aspen.
    As he stated himself earlier in the same article, “…For anyone with half a brain it should be crystal clear:The Peace with Palestinians paradigm is irredemably broken…”
    This is number one on his list? How about calling for new elections. Are we married to Bibi Netanyahu. Does ISRAEL have to file for divorce to pry Bibi’s fat keester out of The PM’s seat. The solution to this “conundrum” is obvious. Let Netanyahu succeed Shimon Peres as President of Israel. He can travel the four corner of the world giving great speeches and doing nothing else. Well that is what he is doing now, and he does it expertly.