Defending Israel in an Age of Missile Terror
An Interview with a Member of the Knesset
By C. Hart
The latest missile attack on an Israeli military base in the western Negev may force Israel into a ground offensive that overshadows any diplomatic efforts between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli opposition leaders are calling for more than precision strikes on terrorist targets, with some seeking a repeat of the IDF’s 2002 Operation Defense Shield: the largest military operation in the West Bank since the Six Day War.
However, the Israeli government is hesitant to take action before the Jewish holidays and is already dealing with numerous terror plots and warnings in the West Bank, Tel Aviv and other parts of the country. Olmert is also concerned that Israel is on the verge of war with Syria in the north and worried that Iranian proxy Hizballah is likely to join a future confrontation by launching missiles from its posts in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the seventh annual conference on global terrorism is being held in the coastal town of Herzliya. Many of the world’s leading experts on terrorism are gathered together to compare notes and seek more effective ways of fighting terrorism in Israel and internationally.
Likud party MK, Yuval Steinitz, who is a member and former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, gave an assessment at the conference, drawing parallels on successes and failures both locally, and worldwide.
ThreatsWatch was able to interview Steinitz on issues related to both Lebanon’s Second War in the summer of 2006 and the war against terrorism in general.
With regards to Hizballah and their rocket attacks against Israel last year, Steinitz opines,
I think they did try to use their full capacity. You never shoot all your ammunition, but some percent of it always, and this is exactly what they did. I think they tried to use their full capacity with some significant achievements last time.
Steinitz believes that missile warfare will be the future of warfare in the Middle East:
The issue of ground-to-ground missiles; missiles against missiles; and missile defense is becoming very prominent. We have to understand that, if in the past it was essential for Israel to intercept airplanes, and to gain air superiority in order to defend the Israeli state, now you have to add to it missile interception capacity, because this is a main threat. This is a new era.
Asked if Israel can handle two fronts, Hizballah in the north, and Hamas in the south, Steinitz replied,
It’s better to have one front, but if necessary we can handle two fronts. Yet, Hamas is not a real front. A state might produce a more severe military threat than a terrorist organization in case of war. Hamas and Hizballah are half a front.
Asked if Israel has gained the deterrence they lost during the Second Lebanon War, Steinitz explained,
Our deterrence was badly damaged following the last war, vis-a-vis Hizballah, and it will take time before we re-gain it, using different methods of course.
Steinitz also expressed concern that although Israel’s security organizations have had significant successes in taking out key Hizballah and Hamas personalities, they have not been able to stop either organization from building their capacity to wage war, in particular their ability to launch missile attacks.
We have to ask ourselves whether what we do -- even if we can be very proud of tactical success – is it succeeding or failing [strategically]? We are failing because if Hamas force-building is on the rise, this is proof of an Israeli failure. This is good for Hamas and bad for us. So, we have to change and understand that without an overall operation against terrorist infrastructure, against Hamas leadership, against the weapons industry in Gaza, we are losing this war, despite the tactical achievements.
In his assessment at the Herzliya conference, Steinitz also address terrorism writ large. He detailed the importance of examining terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, asking conference attendees to draw conclusions as to whether the terror group is getting stronger or weaker; whether it is increasing in its overall capacity; and whether it is meeting its expectations.
The U.S. succeeded in preventing arms from reaching Al Qaeda. Today, Al Qaeda has less arms and weapons than they used to have before September 11. But, with Hamas it’s exactly the opposite. This is because we failed to do two things which are necessary. One is to conduct a massive general ground operation in Gaza, and in Lebanon (vis-a-vis Hizballah). And, secondly, unlike the U.S. it is more difficult for us to pressure countries like Syria, or Iran, or Egypt to cooperate against terrorism.
Steinitz complained of Israel’s failure in pressuring Egypt to stop the smuggling of arms and explosives into Gaza. Because of this failure, Steinitz thinks that Israel must repeat what its military forces did during Operation Defensive Shield five years ago. He believes the solution is massive ground operations against the terrorist infrastructure that is hurting Israel despite the great collateral damage that might occur during such an operation.
And, what if Syria takes advantage of Israel’s focus on a ground offensive in Gaza?
If Syria attacks us, we can defend ourselves, even if we have some battalions inside Gaza. We have to go in there to clean the area, to destroy the weapons industry, to destroy the Hamas leadership, and pull out after a few weeks.
Steinitz agrees with military analysts who assess that Israel’s failure to conduct an immediate and massive ground operation in south Lebanon during the start of the Second Lebanon War was a mistake,
If we would have gone beyond the Litani (River) as we did in 1982, vis-a-vis the PLO, there would be no Hizballah military presence in Lebanon today.
Despite elements of the Israeli population that are reluctant to go to war, Steinitz says they have little choice,
Otherwise, in one or two year’s time, Ashdod and Beersheva will also come under the range of Hamas rockets.
Steinitz further stresses that global leaders can do much more to put pressure on countries like Iran and Syria to stop the sponsorship of terror, and on Egypt to stop tolerating terrorism. Whether such a diplomatic offensive will be successful is unknown. What is known is that Israel’s defense forces have a rocket-borne terror war to contend with now, and its leaders need proven military capability and strength to stop it.
C. Hart reports for ThreatsWatch from Jerusalem, Israel.