New Definition of Victory

Within hours of last week’s ceasefire, media analysts in Israel were tripping over themselves to blame the political and military leadership for mismanaging Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

“In a normal county … we would have expected the prime minister to … submit his resignation,” writes Shimon Shiffer, a respected columnist in Yediot Aharonot.

What sparks Shiffer’s ire is that Israel didn’t succeed in its stated goal of demilitarizing Gaza and imposing an inspection regime that would make it impossible for the terror group to re-arm. Also infuriating, in his mind, is that the massively out-armed Hamas managed to hold out for 50 days in a battle with the IDF, killing some 70 soldiers and civilians, wreaking havoc with the local economy and, mainly, “harming Israel’s honor and prestige.”

Criticism, self-examination, investigation of a military operation as large as Operation Protective Edge are certainly in order, especially considering that Israel continues to be threatened by terrorists armed with long-range missiles. It is important and constructive to ask questions about how decisions were taken, whether goals were met, and at what price, but it is inappropriate for journalists with a clear political agenda to use a war to advance that agenda.

The angle taken by many in the media, that Israel lost the war — despite having dealt Hamas a powerful blow, destroyed more than 30 tunnels and killed a thousand terrorists — is unfair to the soldiers who fought in Gaza and demoralizing to the residents of the south who are being made to worry whether it is safe to go home.

It also reflects a misunderstanding as to how wars are won or lost on today’s assymetrical battlefield, which pits sovereign countries against terror groups armed with missiles and prepared to fire them indiscriminately at the civilian populations.

As former Israel Air Force commander Maj. Gen. (res.) David Ivry notes in a recent article, Israel needs to rethink David Ben-Gurion’s concepts of “deterrence,” “early warning” and “decisive victory,” which “are no longer fully valid,” writes Ivry in a paper for the BESA Center. “These concepts should no longer be used as the only or main criterion when evaluating military and political moves made in the context of the new situation.

“While ‘deterrence’ remains relevant to preventing total war, we may lose the ability to deter violence in specific situations, such as launching rockets at Israel by terrorist organizations. In the context of limited-scale conflicts, partial military victories are attainable even if no decisive victory is achieved.”

In other words, while a conflict between two sovereign countries is only resolved when one of them concedes, a conflict between a country and a terror group won’t end in surrender as long as the terrorists have one rocket battery left to fire. Thus, to say that Israel “lost” the war is to misunderstand the nature of today’s new battlefield.

Moreover, it will be years before we understand the outcome of this war. As Ivry noted, Hizbullah fired 250 rockets on the last day of the 2006 Second Lebanon War and declared victory. But it has held its fire for the past eight years, providing Israel’s north with unprecedented quiet.

Finally, in their rush to blame Israel for agreeing to a ceasefire before bringing Hamas to its knees, the media’s back-seat generals fail to take into account that Israel faces more than one threat in the region and can’t afford to expend all its resources on conquering Gaza and uprooting Hamas.

As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu explained on the weekend to Channel 2 News, “Today, when I look around and I see al-Qaida on the [border] fence, and ISIS galloping into Jordan and already in Lebanon, and in Lebanon there is Hizbullah that is a little larger than Hamas, and Iran that backs it, and Iran [itself] — and I say, in the face of these combined threats, we set a goal in the Cabinet, to deal Hamas a very severe blow, and we did this, with the thousand terrorists we killed, the senior commanders, the tunnels, the rockets … I decided not to put all of our resources into this single arena and not into other arenas.”

What emerges is a growing recognition that military might is not enough to achieve deterrence. In the case of Hizbullah, for instance, the quiet of the past eight years had to do with the terror group’s fear of losing its political influence in Lebanon and its preoccupation with the civil war in Syria.

Last week’s parashah offered a number of insights. On the passukTzedek tzedek tirdof, le’ma’an tichyeh v’yarashta es haaretz” (16, 20), Rashi points out that in the merit of appointing fitting dayanim, we can live in Eretz Yisrael in peace.

Along the same lines, Rashi later points out (20,1) that if there is mishpat tzedek, justice, then we are promised that, if we have to go to war, we will prevail.

Finally, on the passuk,v’amar aleihem shema Yisrael” (20, 30), Rashi notes that “even if all you have is the merit of Kriyas Shema , you are worthy of being saved.”

Our fervent tefillah is that this war, which saw an unprecedented spiritual lift that crossed all lines, will lead Am Yisrael to embrace the only genuine form of deterrence, and win the only genuine victory.