Back in December I warned in these pages of the "winds of war" blowing in the Middle East. A few days ago, the far-left Israeli politician, MK Naomi Chazan, echoed my warning in these same pages, down to using that same English expression.
But we understand the dangers a bit differently. For her, the danger stems from "the failure of the cease-fire and the absence of any movement on the diplomatic front." In contrast, I emphasized "Israeli demoralization over the past seven years, [which has] reignited Arab overconfidence."
Not surprisingly, we recommend polar opposite policies. Chazan's solution lies in Israel resuming what I call the "Oslo niceness" - overlooking Palestinian violence, promoting the Palestinian economy, withdrawing forces from the territories, and now also recognizing a Palestinian state.
But haven't we already seen this movie? Oslo niceness between 1993 and 2000 brought Israel to its present predicament. Arabs and Iranians watched as a majority of Israel's population clamored to hand over territory in return for scraps of paper and (correctly) concluded from this that morale in the Jewish state had deeply eroded.
They also (wrongly) concluded that the state was therefore militarily vulnerable. With this, the grudging acceptance that Israel had won from many Middle Easterners, via six wars and six victories, was rapidly undone. As Arabs and Iranians smelled blood, their ambition to eliminate Israel, previously in remission, resurfaced rapidly and widely.
Survey research shows its extent. The (Arab-run) Jerusalem Media and Communication Center revealed in June that 46 percent of Palestinians want the current violence to lead to the "freedom of all Palestine" - code words for the destruction of Israel. A nearly simultaneous Bir Zeit University poll found an even more resounding 72 percent of Palestinians supporting the "liberation" of Israel.
These vaulting hopes have spawned an Arab war fever reminiscent of the terrible days of May 1967. Ze'ev Schiff, dean of Israeli military correspondents, finds that, just as "on the eve of the Six Day War, Arab leaders are issuing threat after threat against Israel, stirring their own passions and those of their audiences." A few sober-minded Arabic-speakers share this concern. "It's 1967 all over again" is the title of a dissident's article coming out of Damascus, full of worries about a repeat disaster.
Unless Israel sends clear signals of strength, the current bout of saber-rattling could, 1967-style, lead inadvertently to another all-out war.
Although elected to send precisely those signals of strength, Ariel Sharon began his prime ministry by unexpectedly continuing his predecessors' passive response to Palestinian violence (though this has changed somewhat in recent days).
Whatever Sharon's reasons for inaction - win Western favor, maintain his coalition government, redeem his reputation - such a soft policy has major implications. If even this most feared of Israeli leaders absorbs the death of 21 young people without retaliation, it confirms the belief that Israel is nothing but a "paper tiger." Or, in the evocative metaphor of Hizbullah's leader, it is "weaker than a spider's web."
To combat this perception, Israel needs to take more active steps. With a nod to Brig.-Gen. (res.) Effi Eitam and Haifa University's Steven Plaut, here are a few suggestions.
- Bury suicide bombers in potter's fields rather than deliver their bodies to relatives (who turn their funerals into frenzied demonstrations).
- Freeze the financial assets of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, the PLO, and the PA.
- Prevent PA officials (including Arafat) from returning to the PA.
- Permit no transportation of people or goods beyond basic necessities.
- Shut off utilities to the PA.
- Implement the death penalty against murderers.
- Seize weapons from the PA and make sure no new ones reach it.
- Re-occupy areas from which gunfire or mortars are shot.
- Raze the PA's illegal offices in Jerusalem, its security infrastructure, and villages from which attacks are launched.
- Capture or otherwise dispose of the PA leadership.
- Destroy the PA.
- Reach separate deals with each Palestinian town or village.
Sharon, in short, has no lack of choices. The hard part is finding the political will to act on them.
The stakes are high. Unless Israel take steps to deter its potential enemies by reasserting its strong image, today's war fever could lead to tomorrow's war.
To help avoid such a war, the outside world (and especially the US government) should do two things: end its repetition of the illogical mantra that "there can be no military solution to this conflict" and, instead, urge Sharon to take the steps needed to resurrect Israel's once-fearsome reputation.
Aug. 21, 2013 update: In a ceremony for Yitzhak Pundak, who belatedly yesterday was made a major general in the Israeli army at age 100, he explained how to take care of the missiles from Gaza.
I'm sorry – we are not dealing with the Gaza Strip in the right way. In the 1970s – '71, '72 – I was governor of the Gaza Strip. In these two years the Strip calmed down completely. If they played soccer, I kicked the first ball. I presented the prize. They held 12 farewell parties for me. Today, they fire missiles and we reply by using the Air Force against tunnels. I'm sorry... If we [choose to] sit in shelters then we will sit in shelters our whole lives. What should be done? For every missile they fire, we reply with 20 artillery shells. If we kill 500, they'll calm down immediately.