By Victor Rosenthal
In 1948 the state was declared as the British colonialists finally left, and the ensuing war was called the “War of Independence.” Most wars of independence are fought directly against the former colonial power, but ours was a proxy war. The British encouraged the Arabs to attack and helped them as much as they could without actually intervening. The Arabs did the dirty work and paid a high price, particularly the Palestinian Arabs. The war was bloody; many unprepared Holocaust survivors were given weapons and thrown into the front lines. We had no choice. 6,373 of our soldiers were killed between November 1947 and July 1949, almost 1% of the Jewish population at that time.
This was the beginning of our still-running war of independence. It has been going on for 72 years, hot and warm, but never cold. Our immediate opponents have usually been the Palestinian Arabs and our Arab neighbor states, but their support has variously come from Britain, the Soviet Union, the entire Muslim world (via the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), the Gulf states, the European Union, and lately Iran.
After the cease fire of 1949, our enemies fell back on terrorism. In 1952 alone, there were about 3,000 “incidents of cross-border violence” against Israel. The Sinai Campaign in 1956 (Mivtza Kadesh) was initially planned as a raid to end the murderous attacks by the Egyptian Fedayeen who were responsible for much of the inter-war terrorism, before the British and French came up with their plan to exploit it to take the Suez Canal. Israel seized the entire Sinai Peninsula. Some 231 soldiers did not come home from that operation – not many by normal military standards, but every one of them was someone’s son, father, or husband*. In what would become a recurring theme, the American President (Eisenhower) forced Israel to withdraw from the conquered territory in return for promises, which were not kept by a later administration.
In 1967, the Arab nations were encouraged again by the Soviets to go for the prize. We crushed their badly-led forces, and in the bargain conquered enough land to finally enable us to establish the “defensible boundaries” that the UN Security Council – the UN had not yet become one of our most implacable enemies – called for in Resolution 242. The success was so great (some called it miraculous) that it engendered feelings of invulnerability.
Israel wasn’t prepared to digest what she’d bitten off, especially in Jerusalem. Instead of humiliating the Arabs so that they would fully internalize their loss and their weakness, we chose to placate them. We were so generous that we gave them control of the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who apparently disliked religion of any sort, did not understand the importance of Jerusalem to the Zionist enterprise, did not want Israel to control what he referred to as “this Vatican,” and removed our flag from the Dome of the Rock. This decision would come back to haunt us.
Israel’s enemies did not give up. They had suffered a major setback, but they immediately began planning ways to reverse their losses. They made it clear to the world at the Khartoum conference that fall that they would not accept Israel retaining one centimeter of the land she had conquered, when they enunciated the “three no’s”: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it…”
Shortly thereafter a war began which few outside of Israel remember: the War of Attrition with Egypt, in which Nasser tried to take back the Sinai. Some 1,424 Israeli soldiers (and an unknown number of Egyptians) were killed in border clashes between 1967 and 1970. A young Binyamin Netanyahu came back to Israel from the US to serve, and was wounded, almost drowning in the waters of the Suez canal. The PLO, having found terrorism against Israel ineffective, started to specialize in international terror, hijacking planes, taking hostages, and making demands. European governments, already tired of the idea of an independent Jewish state, now had another reason to wish it would go away.
Finally, in 1973, and again with Soviet encouragement and supplies, Egypt and Syria were ready for another go. This time, due to incompetence in Israel’s intelligence services, they were able to surprise us and it was only with the loss of 2,688 soldiers that Israel was able to repel the invasion. Once the tide turned, however, our forces were on their way to Cairo and Damascus. But by the intervention of Henry Kissinger, Israel was prevented from destroying the surrounded Egyptian Third Army, and Egypt exited the war without significant loss of face. Indeed, to this day they present the “October War” as an Arab victory! And perhaps, thanks to Kissinger, it was.
At this point, our enemies’ strategy shifted from direct military confrontation to a focus on the Palestinian issue. The Khartoum resolution, in addition to the “no’s,” also contained the demand for “insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.” Following the instructions of their Soviet patrons, the Palestinian Arabs were presented as a colonized indigenous people, yet another group of “natives” fighting to throw off the colonial yoke. Terrorist gangster Yasser Arafat was lionized at the UN like another Mahatma Gandhi. The process of “internationalizing the struggle” began; its high points were the “Zionism is racism” resolution passed in 1974, and of course, later, the Durban Conference on racism in 2001, in which the supposed parallel between Israel and apartheid South Africa was popularized.
The Arab oil weapon was activated in 1973, and it provided large sums to be distributed to academic institutions in the West. Whole departments of Mideast Studies were created and staffed with anti-Israel professors. Left-leaning academia, already predisposed to accept the Soviet point of view in which Israel was a colonialist entity and a tool of western imperialism, lapped it up – both the money and the point of view. Money was even made available to influence the portrayal of Islam, and of Jews and Israel in American school textbooks. But that was only part of it. Multinational oil companies lobbied the American government to be more “even-handed” in their relations with Israel and the Arabs. They told Americans that the government’s support for Israel was the reason for the shortages and high prices they were experiencing.
The oil crisis reinforced the already accepted idea, in European foreign offices and the US State Department, that Israel’s possession of territory beyond the cease-fire lines of 1949 was “unnatural” and a cause – some went so far as to call it the main cause – of instability in the region. Efforts to overturn the outcome of the 1967 war were redoubled.
In 1977, Anwar Sadat went to Jerusalem, and in 1979 the Camp David Accords were signed. Israel would withdraw from every centimeter of the Sinai, and in return there would be peace and normal relations between the countries. In 1981 Sadat was assassinated by a Muslim extremist, and in 1982 Israel withdrew from Sinai. It’s impossible to say what would have happened if Sadat had lived, but in fact the “peace” turned out to be a cold one indeed. Although there hasn’t been another war between Israel and Egypt, anti-Zionist and antisemitic incitement in Egyptian media – including official government media – has continued apace, and trade and tourism has been minimal. While Israel has made significant concessions regarding the demilitarization of Sinai – in order to allow the Egyptians to fight Salafist terrorism – Egypt’s military buildup often appears to aimed in a different direction, including armor, artillery, antiaircraft and antitank weapons, and numerous airfields, which would be more suitable for war with Israel than with suppressing irregular guerrilla fighters. One wonders.
In 1982, the PLO had established itself in southern Lebanon, which it used as a base for terrorist attacks against Israel. When it became intolerable, Israel invaded Lebanon to root out the PLO. It was a short, vicious war, and ultimately the PLO forces in Beirut were surrounded. The PLO negotiated an American escort out of the city, and about 6,500 of them were taken on US Navy ships to Tunis, where they rebuilt their headquarters. Arafat was targeted for assassination, but a desire to avoid civilian casualties prevented it. After the war, Israel retained a presence in southern Lebanon until 2000, when it withdrew as a result of continuing casualties at the hands of the newly ascendant Hezbollah. The war itself cost Israel 657 dead, while dozens more were killed in the period between 1982 and 2000.
What remains of the territories conquered in 1967 are Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. And here we come to what was probably Israel’s greatest strategic mistake in its history, the Oslo Accords.
The idea behind Oslo, at least as envisioned by Yitzhak Rabin after he was sandbagged into accepting it by the borderline-traitorous actions of Yossi Beilin, Shimon Peres, and others, was not unreasonable. Israel did not want to absorb all the Arabs in the territories, and the Arabs did not want to be under Israeli control. So we would draw borders of autonomous Arab areas in Gaza and Judea/Samaria by mutual agreement with the Arabs, who would get “something less than a state” – a demilitarized entity in which they would be able to govern themselves except in areas that would impact Israel’s security. Israel would retain areas like the Jordan Valley which were essential for defense. Both sides would agree to mutual recognition and to work together for peace.
The only problem was that no Palestinian Arab leadership existed that would – or could – accept such terms. For decades, they had been promised a “return” to “Palestine,” where they would regain all the land that had fallen into the hands of the Jews (indeed, they would throw out or kill the Jews and inherit all their wealth). The very raison d’être of the PLO was the destruction of Israel by violent “resistance,” and the conquest of “all of Palestine from the river to the sea.” In 1974, the PLO had approved its “phased plan” to use any territory it could obtain in the land of Israel as base for terrorism. The idea that the PLO, and its treacherous and murderous leader, Arafat, would accept such an agreement in good faith was absurd.
And in fact, Arafat broke every commitment that he made in the Accords. The PLO did not recognize Israel, it did not renounce terrorism, and it did not stop incitement. On the very first day of the agreement, Arafat smuggled terrorist operatives that he had agreed would not be allowed into the country in the back seat of his car. He made speeches in Arabic that explained his signing the agreements in terms of the phased plan to “liberate all of Palestine,” and he compared the Oslo Accords to the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, when Mohammad broke a treaty and betrayed his partners. All anyone had to do to know that he wasn’t interested in peace was to listen.
Israeli officials were familiar with the career of Arafat, his history of lying, killing, betrayal, and corruption. And yet they believed that this time would be different. Even after he made his intentions clear to his followers in Arabic, they did not lose faith in him. And even after the years of terrorism and incitement that followed, they did not tear up the treaty. As a result, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza have become in effect enemy states inside the Land of Israel, from which have come countless acts of terrorism that have claimed the lives of more than a thousand Israeli Jews.
In 2006, Hezbollah had built up its forces in southern Lebanon where Israel had maintained control between 1982 and 2000. After a border incident in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed, rocket attacks caused hundreds of thousands of residents of the Galilee to flee, and more to live in bomb shelters for almost a month. The Second Lebanon War lasted for 34 days, cost 117 soldiers and 43 civilians, and ended with a UN-imposed ceasefire. UNSC Resolution 1701, which officially ended the war, and provided for UN troops to prevent Hezbollah from rearming. Unfortunately, Hezbollah ignored the UN, which did nothing, and today Hezbollah has some 130,000 rockets aimed at Israel.
I could go on, but the pattern is clear. Since 1967, our strategic position has deteriorated, and at the same time, our image in most Western minds has changed from generally positive to that of a rogue state. Of course there are many reasons, but one stands out: the failure of Israel to destroy her enemies when she has the chance, sometimes because she is restrained by external powers, and sometimes because – out of a mistaken belief that generosity will be reciprocated, she pulls back.
Now we are in a position to take bold steps to reduce the danger from Judea and Samaria and to protect our eastern border: applying sovereignty to Israeli communities in Judea/Samaria and to the Jordan Valley. At the same time we are facing increasing threats from Iran and her proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. I believe that the next year will be decisive in either establishing Israel as the preeminent regional power, or in weakening her so that the Iranian predictions that she will not survive will come to pass.
There are important lessons to be taken from history if we want the former outcome rather than the latter: one extremely important one was enunciated by Ben-Gurion back in the 1950s, when he said that “it doesn’t matter what the goyim say, but what the Jews do,” a remark that is dearly hated by the Left that above all wants to be liked in places like Brussels and New York, but which is relevant when we consider what to do about the Jordan Valley. Another is one from Machiavelli, who said “never do an enemy a small injury,” advice that we have failed to take over and over with regard to Hamas and Hezbollah. And finally, my favorite: si vis pacem, para bellum: if you want peace, prepare for war.
* Women served in the IDF during the 1956 war, in non-combat roles. I do not believe any were killed in that war.