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Blog: Blog2
  • Mark Lavie

Have the mass protests weakened Israel?

The latest Israel-Gaza mini-war appears to be over, but where does that leave Israel, the anti-government protests, and its military? Here's my article on The Media Line:

The latest flare-up between Israel and Islamic Jihad in Gaza emphasizes the dispute over this assumption: The mass demonstrations against the government show Israel as weak, and they embolden its enemies to gang up and attack from all sides.

Rockets flying into Israel and Israeli airstrikes in response are a painful routine by now. In this case, Israel set it off, perhaps justifiably, by killing three Islamic Jihad leaders in an airstrike. The IJ response, and Israel’s as well, follow the old script—nothing has changed.

So if nothing has changed, what about the “new weakness” theory? There are three possibilities:

· Israel’s enemies are misinformed.

· The promoters of this theory are misinformed.

· The government knows the charge is false, but it’s politically useful.

Let’s take these from the bottom up:

Many of those making these dire warnings are representatives of Israel’s right-wing government, aiming to frighten their minions into support while tarring the demonstrators with the brush of endangering the nation’s security. There are those who speculate that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu benefits politically from a security crisis, and even welcomes it.

It goes to counter the impression that the Israeli military has been decimated by mass refusal of reservists to serve under the current government. Hasn’t it? Well, considering the amount of ink and TV time devoted to the threats of a tiny number of reservists, including air force pilots, you’d think Israel’s military is indeed coming apart at the seams.

The reality is the opposite, and in answer to the second point, the fear-mongers know it: There has not been a single confirmed case of a reservist failing to report because of opposition to the government. That includes air force pilots. The only actual step some reserve pilots took as in their role as civilians was refusing to fly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife to Rome for a few talks and a lot of relaxation. In the end, even that “crisis” was solved.

There have always been small numbers of conscientious objectors who have preferred serving time in Israeli military prisons instead of putting on a uniform. There are no reports of any increases in their numbers—or any reports at all about conscripts refusing to serve.

According to law, most Israeli men and women are required to serve in the military, and after their stint in the regular army, many do yearly reserve duty. Back when I was in a front-line reserve unit, we’d send military police out to round up the few stragglers who failed to report.

But that was in the 1970’s. In recent decades, many units send out twice as many callup notices as they need, assuming that large numbers of reservists won’t show up. It’s not political, it’s not a protest—it’s just that many Israeli men have better things to do than stand guard at an army base and other routine tasks some reservists do. The important reservists, like pilots, know who they are, and all of them report.

There is no reason to fear that Israel’s military is less prepared today to deal with the challenges facing the country than it was six months ago. So let’s move to the first point: Do Israel’s enemies think this is a good time to attack?

Of course they do. Especially for terrorists, any time is a good time. They may say that their attacks are retaliation for this or that atrocity, real or imagined. But this is the truth: The only thing terrorists need in order to attack is opportunity.

There’s concrete evidence that Israel’s enemies, primarily Iran, understand the serious consequences of that reasoning. They set an elaborate trap, Israel fell right into it, and then—nothing.

Here’s what happened: At the beginning of April, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Palestinians piled weapons and firebombs inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the holiest Muslim site here and the focus of Ramadan prayers. The idea was to provoke an Israeli response, and sure enough, Israeli police stormed the mosque, to the delight of the strategically placed men with cell phones to record the whole operation.

The scenes of the Israeli assault went viral on Mideast antisocial media, and within hours there were rocket attacks against southern Israel from Hamas in Gaza, and in a new development, a barrage of rockets from south Lebanon.

Israel hit back with limited airstrikes—and that’s where it stopped. The flare-up with Islamic Jihad appears to be heading the same way. If Iran and its allies were planning that all-out attack against a “weakened” Israel—that was their chance. But they know better.

Israel’s deterrence against an Iranian attack does not depend on which government is in power in Jerusalem or who’s on the streets protesting against it. It is a given. For example, foreign experts believe Israel has a nuclear weapons submarine capability. Naturally Israeli military officials won’t comment on that, but they don’t have to. So no, Israel’s enemies are not misinformed.

Does this mean there is nothing to worry about? Just the opposite. The same challenges that faced Israel six months go still face Israel. There’s Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, antisemitism, hatred, boycotts—nothing has changed.

Israel is likely to face periodic terror attacks and rocket barrages. That’s how it is here. It has nothing to do with who is in power. The right-wingers are learning—again—that tough talk and even harsh measures will not, cannot, stop all the hostility. What the protests may have changed is the tendency of Israelis to vote according to security issues. Now a large bloc is set to vote on domestic policy.

Despite repeated attempts by some politicians to frighten Israeli voters and Jews abroad, cooler heads realize that in today’s world, Israel is the safest place for Jews to live. The challenge is to make it a better place to live, too.

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