The Israeli government would never tolerate a nonchalant, less than maximum deterrence approach by other governments to Jewish communities the world over. Citizens of Israel should expect the same from our government here.
A few years ago, during reserve duty training, we received word that a soldier had been killed during a training accident and that all training maneuvers across the IDF would be halted until the next day. I was upset, and voiced my concern because as reservists, we don’t train that frequently and taking advantage of the time we have is crucial for being as prepared as possible in the event of war. Our deputy battalion commander explained that the IDF cannot accept the fact that a soldier dies during training and thus, as a rule, when a death occurs, all training is halted for the day. He contrasted this rule with the US Army who he said, unfortunately, calculate that there will be a few training deaths per year, and thus when it happens, training and maneuvers continue.
Yet, while the IDF may not be able to accept a training related death, it seems that the same standard doesn’t apply to Israelis being murdered by terrorists. Ari Fuld’s tragic murder was yet another needless death that should not be tolerated. Fuld was stabbed in the back, just like Itamar Ben Gal, who was stabbed in the back a few months earlier at the Ariel Junction. Terrorist attacks have also claimed the lives of Raziel Shevach, who was murdered while driving back to his house, and Adiel Kolman, stabbed and killed in the Old City, Yotam Ovadiah, stabbed while going to the grocery store, all since the beginning of 2018.
Some would say that in theory, five civilian deaths in nine months are not so bad. While we are saddened and heartbroken by the deaths, the temperature of tolerability still exists. The temperature hasn’t risen enough that our government feels a forceful response is needed or that something ‘needs to give.’
Tolerating a few terrorist attacks each year is not however, an isolated issue. It’s the outcome of a much broader policy or outlook that our political and military leaders have adopted. Manifestations of this policy also include the development of Iron dome and parts of the current IDF ethics code. The policy is a mix of hyper-morality, fear of the international community and inferiority. Or to sum it up: Israeli deaths due to terrorist attacks are something that is tolerable.
While Iron Dome is an amazing technological achievement by great Israeli minds, and it certainly plays a role in defending the country and should play a role in any defense doctrine, the problem is when the main goal is to ‘kick the can down the road’ and alleviate the need for politicians from having to make tough decisions about what needs to be done to properly defend the country. Because if a few rockets are fired and then shot down before doing any damage, all’s well, it’s as if rocket fire didn’t happen.
Aspects of the IDF ethics code are a hyper-moral abomination that indoctrinates soldiers to believe that enemy civilian lives exceed the worth of an Israeli soldier’s life. Thus, when planning an operation, we let the Palestinians know where the IDF will be attacking, we equivocate property damage of the enemy with the lives of our soldiers, and we force our soldiers to fight in various urban settings which place them in grave danger for the sole reason of avoiding Palestinian civilian casualties, while we bury our nation’s finest.
This devaluing of Jewish lives also manifests itself when we allow Sderot to be attacked by rockets on a regular basis over the course of twelve years, with minimal response. Because as long as it’s ‘only a few rockets here and there,’ not too many deaths, only trauma issues and damage to physical structures, it’s all tolerable and the needle on the thermometer of tolerability has not moved enough to generate a response.
Though a more severe response would certainly be welcome, what is really necessary is a change in policy, a new approach – a paradigm shift. Instead of fighting our enemies with themes like “sending them a message”, “quiet will be met with quiet”, “they killed one Jew, we destroy one house”, “they fired two rockets so we fire four” – our government should begin to fight against our enemies to win.
The goal of Israel against its enemies should be maximum deterrence, and if that fails, and war is necessary, then entering a war with only one goal: complete destruction of the soul of the enemy. This isn’t only relevant vis-à-vis the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, rather it should be relevant to all our enemies.
For far too long our wars and military operations have put our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters in harm’s way for the sake of sending a message, hitting them hard and postponing the next major military operation for another two years. Consider how weak our deterrence against the Palestinians is today: a teenage Palestinian lingers outside a Jewish supermarket without a worry in the world, waiting to prey on the first person who turns his back for a few seconds. This Palestinian doesn’t worry about being questioned about what he is doing, he doesn’t worry what might happen to him after the attack, he doesn’t worry about what might happen to his family, nothing. He came from a culture where there are no worries as to the penalty of attacking a Jew, so much so that he didn’t even hide in the dark, he didn’t shoot with a rifle from a distance, he simply stood in a heavily populated Jewish area and just waited for the right moment.
The reports are that he wasn’t connected to a ‘terrorist organization’, rather it seemed that he just woke up in the morning, made a decision and acted on it – that easy! And if it’s that easy, are we just a group of zebras grazing in the Savannah, at the mercy of hungry lions and tigers. Should we be subject to such conditions – where a person has to be on 360 degree guard whenever he is not in his house? I remember when the stabbing attacks were at their height in 2014-2015, I wouldn’t let anyone get near me while waiting for a bus.
Sure, our government has made the necessary preparations, so that if we are attacked, the Jewish State won’t be destroyed, but what about the single Israeli life, what about the few Israeli lives here and there, do they fall by the wayside in the face of negative international press, frowns from Europe, or an inferiority complex?
We are living in a period of unprecedented support from the US, the world’s most powerful country. There can no longer be any excuses for our government not shifting its policy and outlook towards enemy countries and terrorists. Just as the Israeli government would never tolerate a nonchalant, less than maximum deterrence approach by other governments to Jewish communities within their borders, citizens of Israel should expect the same from our government here in Israel.
Ari Fuld was a black belt in karate, on his community’s armed civilian response team, nothing less than a super fighter. If this can happen to him, then it could certainly happen to any one of us. And if our government doesn’t change its outlook (or we the people don’t demand it) about the value of a Jewish/Israeli life or rid itself of its hyper-moral inferiority complex, then it’s just a matter of time until the next zebra gets picked off.
Gideon Israel is the President of the Jerusalem Washington Center and can be contacted at Gisrael@jw-center.org