Commentary Magazine


Topic: rockets

‘The Biggest Political Mistake of the War So Far’

On Friday, the always perceptive Walter Russell Mead termed the FAA’s decision to suspend flights to Israel last week “the biggest political mistake of the war so far.Mead was referring to the decision’s impact on a cease-fire, but it actually has far larger political implications. In one fell swoop, it destroyed the main diplomatic return the Obama Administration hoped to earn on its years of generous support for the Iron Dome anti-missile system: increased Israeli willingness to withdraw from the West Bank. 
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On Friday, the always perceptive Walter Russell Mead termed the FAA’s decision to suspend flights to Israel last week “the biggest political mistake of the war so far.Mead was referring to the decision’s impact on a cease-fire, but it actually has far larger political implications. In one fell swoop, it destroyed the main diplomatic return the Obama Administration hoped to earn on its years of generous support for the Iron Dome anti-missile system: increased Israeli willingness to withdraw from the West Bank. 

While Congress’s motive in supporting Iron Dome was mainly to save Israeli lives, the Obama administration always had an additional motive: countering Israeli fears that ceding the West Bank would lead to “rockets from Nablus, Ramallah and Jenin onto Ben-Gurion Airport,as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon put it, just as leaving Gaza resulted in massive rocket fire on Israel’s south. If Iron Dome could protect Israel from rocket fire, the argument went, then Israel needn’t fear a West Bank withdrawal.

Until last week, that argument might have had a chance: True, Hamas was sending rocket barrages all over Israel and forcing Israelis into shelters several times a day, but the combination of Iron Dome and civil defense measures kept Israeli casualties negligible.

Last week, however, Israelis learned that even Iron Dome can’t keep their main airport open when their neighbors are launching rockets at it. No anti-missile system is foolproof, and one intentionally missed rocket proved enough for most of the world to suspend flights to Israel. 

As Mead correctly noted, the discovery that Hamas’s rockets can threaten its main transportation link to the outside world makes it much harder for Israel to end the fighting without eliminating Hamas’s rocket capabilities. But it also makes it much harder for Israel to quit the West Bank as long as there’s any chance of it turning into a rocket launching pad like Gaza has.

The vast majority of Israel’s foreign investment and trade comes from the West, and Israel’s geographic distance from the West means this commerce depends on aerial traffic. With its airport shuttered, investors can’t come in and time-sensitive exports can’t go out. Thus Israel simply cannot afford to have its air links with the West at the mercy of a terrorist organization. Its economy wouldn’t survive.

Whether the FAA’s decision was actually political I don’t know. Perhaps the agency was merely spooked by the previous week’s downing of a commercial airliner over Ukraine. Yet the fact that the ban was reversed two days later even though the security situation hadn’t changed, combined with the fact that major airlines like British Airways never suspended flights to begin with, support the contention that the decision, as Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel put it,had no substantive professional basis,” and was intended primarily to browbeat Israel into accepting Secretary of State John Kerry’s completely unacceptable cease-fire proposal. 

If so, to quote Harel again, it reflected “a fundamental lack of understanding of the Israeli mindset”–and not just about the cease-fire. That single FAA decision did more than any political argument ever could to ensure that Israel won’t be leaving the West Bank anytime soon. 

Having long argued that such a withdrawal would be untenably dangerous, I’m certainly not sorry. But for the Obama administration, it was definitely an own goal.

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Facts About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict You Won’t Read in Your Local Paper

Here’s a fact about the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up you probably won’t read in your local paper, as it contradicts the preferred narrative about the conflict: Even as every school in southern Israel was closed for four days, keeping tens of thousands of students home, children in the Gaza Strip continued going to school as usual.

The preferred narrative, of course, is that Israel uses “indiscriminate and excessive force” against Palestinian civilians. But it turns out real live Palestinians know better: They know Israel actually makes great efforts to avoid hitting civilian targets, and therefore, it’s perfectly safe to send their children to school. In contrast, Israelis can’t safely send their children to school, because Palestinian terrorists really do use indiscriminate force, making a school full of children an invitation to a mass-casualty incident. Indeed, a rocket hit an (empty) school in Beersheba on Sunday, and rockets have also struck (empty) schools during previous rounds.

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Here’s a fact about the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up you probably won’t read in your local paper, as it contradicts the preferred narrative about the conflict: Even as every school in southern Israel was closed for four days, keeping tens of thousands of students home, children in the Gaza Strip continued going to school as usual.

The preferred narrative, of course, is that Israel uses “indiscriminate and excessive force” against Palestinian civilians. But it turns out real live Palestinians know better: They know Israel actually makes great efforts to avoid hitting civilian targets, and therefore, it’s perfectly safe to send their children to school. In contrast, Israelis can’t safely send their children to school, because Palestinian terrorists really do use indiscriminate force, making a school full of children an invitation to a mass-casualty incident. Indeed, a rocket hit an (empty) school in Beersheba on Sunday, and rockets have also struck (empty) schools during previous rounds.

And here’s something else you probably won’t read in your local paper: Palestinian terrorists take cynical advantage of Israel’s efforts to avoid hitting civilians by launching their rockets from heavily populated civilian areas. For them, it’s a win-win situation: If Israel refrains from shooting back for fear of hitting civilians, they live to launch again another day, and if Israel does shoot back, it risks civilian casualties that provide the terrorists with wonderful propaganda. After all, they know neither the international media nor the “human-rights organizations” will bother asking why terrorists were launching rockets from civilian areas to begin with.

But don’t take my word for this: Just read what a genuine human rights activist from Gaza, Mahmoud Abu Rahma, wrote in an article posted on two Palestinian websites in December. After describing various incidents in which Palestinian civilians were killed or wounded in Israeli counterstrikes on terrorists who had ignored the civilians’ pleas not to fire rockets near their homes, he demanded: “Who will protect the citizen from the harm caused to him by the government or the muqawama [armed resistance]?”

“There are many instances of citizens falling victim to the muqawama‘s lack of consideration for them and their lives,” Abu Rahma continued. “And what’s more, there is nobody who is accountable for the muqawama‘s intolerable activities.”

Abu Rahma suffered the predictable penalty for his truth-telling: He was viciously attacked by masked men who stabbed him repeatedly. But don’t expect to see international journalists or human rights activists lining up to join his crusade against the muqawama: They prefer the old familiar narrative that it’s all Israel’s fault.

And of course, the muqawama has plenty of fans in Gaza. Asked why Palestinians support the rocket fire despite knowing Israel will retaliate, a Palestinian “friend” told Haaretz reporter Amira Hass: “The mission of the rockets is not to liberate Palestine or win the battle, but to hurt, to cause the Israelis suffering.”

Causing Israelis suffering, it seems, is a goal worth any number of Palestinian casualties. But don’t expect to read that in your local paper, either: It might spoil the narrative of innocent, peace-seeking Palestinians being wantonly attacked by Israel.

 

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