Another Tack: Batman and the Iron Dome (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By SARAH HONIG 03/30/12)
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Rare are the violent clashes from which all sides emerge positively
cheery. But the latest exchange of fire with Gaza was just such an
atypical conflict. When the smoke cleared, both combatants came away
upbeat and sure their respective enemy was taught a painful lesson.
We are near-giddy with gladness over the technological wonders of our
Iron Dome anti-missile missiles, while the Gazans are hoarse with
victory whoops because they managed to fire off as many rockets as
they did. We effusively congratulate ourselves because no major
catastrophes were wrought on our side of the border. Nevertheless,
the Gazans know that had we truly won, they wouldn’t be left standing
and able to spark another conflagration at another time.
What does all the sound and fury signify in real terms? Most likely
that no lessons at all were taught, that no one was punished and that
in all probability we once more critically misread the signs. It’s as
if somewhere along the line we’ve managed to lose sight of what
constitutes triumph in our peculiar immediate environment. According
to Mideastern conventions, the absence of incontrovertibly
humiliating vanquishment denotes a degree of victory.
This local logic mustn’t be dismissed out of hand.
In the Gazan view our aim should have been to entirely disable them
from striking again. Since we didn’t accomplish this, they won and we
lost. To underscore their contentions they made sure to fire the last
salvo – after the ceasefire for which they ironically begged. Thus
they had the apparent last word, imparting the impression that they
were capable of pummeling us more, if only they wanted to.
It almost doesn’t matter that we reject this interpretation of
reality. If they consider themselves undefeated, then for all intents
and purposes they indeed weren’t defeated.
Likewise, it’s hardly relevant that we never launched a wide-ranging
campaign to crush all Gazan capacity for belligerence. In Gazan eyes
if we could crush them, we would have. The very fact that we didn’t
set out to do so attests to weakness on our part and to a deterrent
strength on theirs.
However, Gazans too misread the situation. It’s not that we’re too
weak to take them on, but that we’re scared of winning. This is
something that they plainly can’t get their heads around. Nobody in
the Mideast can comprehend cerebral convolutions like ours.
Lamentably, Israel has turned itself into the unhappy real-life
equivalent of the unnerved athletes in yesteryear’s uniquely
effective episode of TV’s animated Batman series. Aptly
entitled “Fear of Victory,” this classic features the recurrent
villain Scarecrow, who slips star sportsmen an adrenalin-activated
fear-toxin. As they gear themselves up for competition, they get
scared of winning. Scarecrow then bets against them, sure that,
despite these champions’ legendary abilities and proven experience,
they cannot succeed.
Fear has come to dominate Israel’s zeitgeist ever since Oslo –
perhaps itself born of the fear to defend our interests, if need be,
in defiance of a world that keeps turning against us. Our two
relatively recent largest-scale confrontations –The Second Lebanon
War and Operation Cast Lead- illustrate the fiascos which fear-
engendered inhibition produces.
In both campaigns, Israel patently hadn’t achieved much of anything.
Israel (under Ehud Olmert’s lead) demonstrated impressive firepower
but failure of will to follow through successfully enough to inflict
instantly recognizable defeat on the enemy and amend the bad
situation which forced us into the battlefield to begin with.
Things look abysmal even without factoring in the merciless
diplomatic trashing and disastrous image-tarnishing to which Israel
When the deafening din died down, the enemy survived upright and
ready to fight another day.
We didn’t eradicate or even significantly reduce its rocket arsenals.
THE SAME was the outcome of this month’s hostilities in the South.
Though battered and bruised, Gazans were the ones who strove to
dictate terms and impose their will on Israel and not vice versa.
For a whole host of sad reasons, we’re intimidated about going the
whole hog and actually trying to rout our adversaries. They’re not
blind to the paradox that the more hi-tech, scientifically advanced
and militarily-sophisticated Israel becomes, the weaker its resolve.
In the psychological combat zone, the Arabs make mincemeat of us –
time and again.
And so, while Iron Dome may have saved lives in the short haul, in
essence it epitomizes our trepidations of a showdown. Reliance upon
defensive measures –no matter how cutting-edge- encapsulates
hesitation to fight. This hesitation deepens precisely because Iron
Dome is undeniably the stunning technological feat it’s reputed to be.
It makes the dithering tolerable and longer-lasting.
The inevitable can be postponed if in the meanwhile Iron Dome
neutralizes most rockets fired at Israeli civilians and luck spares
us in the remaining instances.
If Israelis as far north as Gedera stay under cover, our forces can
avoid actual contact with the enemy. Taking Gaza on by remote control
isn’t only more sanitized; it’s less risky. The downside is that
jihadists of whichever affiliation across the Green Line are
emboldened, while we grow increasingly leery of the real battlefield.
Content as we are with the Iron Dome, the most a defensive posture
can achieve is a return to the status quo ante. It means that for a
given duration the bigger and more distant urban targets inside
Israel will enjoy conditional respites from Gaza’s launching pads,
whereas the areas adjacent to the border will continue to be
subjected to daily doses of mortar attacks and occasional Kassam
rockets –unremitting terror which we euphemistically dub a “trickle.”
That’s the “normal” state of affairs to which we incredibly acquiesce
and to which the international community remains chillingly
It’s nothing new. It was so when the Iron Dome was still in the realm
of science fiction. Then too we sought a variety of defensive cure-
alls. Among them were concrete cubes. These were all the rage right
after we disengaged from Gaza.
As ever, folly breeds peril and Ashkelon, which pre-disengagement was
out of Kassam range, had been rendered vulnerable thanks to the
ruthless uprooting of settlements at the edge of the northern Gaza
Strip (nobody then dared predict the rocketing of Beersheba, Ashdod,
Yavne or Kiryat Gat).
The Gaza-perimeter settlements were set up to deliberately form
physical barriers between the Strip and Ashkelon’s outskirts which
contain some of Israel’s most sensitive targets (among them the
Rutenberg Power Station, the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, huge fuel
storage facilities, a major desalination plant and plenty more).
But the infallible autocrats who sold us the disengagement bill of
goods threw that logic to the wind, as they did the logic of holding
onto the Philadelphi Corridor to prevent the arming of Gaza to its
carnivorous teeth. The antidote came in the shape of prefab
fortifications of assorted sizes.
Concrete desks, for example, were the product of deadpan earnest IDF
These were proposed as a safety feature for un-reinforced classrooms.
Pupils were directed to cower underneath the novel constructions
whenever Gazans unleashed tokens of their appreciation for Israel’s
This wasn’t all. In anticipation of the very tangible benefits of
disengagement, our civil-defense experts promoted a project to
install large concrete cubes all around Sderot streets to offer the
citizenry shelter in case Gazans failed to interpret our conciliatory
overtures as we intended. The local citizenry was instructed to run
to these unsightly structures and hide within them whenever they
heard rockets coming.
In hindsight, and in comparison to the Iron Dome’s astounding
exploits, these low-tech post-disengagements solutions seem
primitive. But on closer examination we must concede that their basic
concept is identical to the Iron Dome – i.e. passive protection.
And passive protection begets paralysis. It’s not enough to express
gratification that no rocket crashed into a schoolyard full of kids.
Despite the Iron Dome, schools were hit and only the fact that their
pupils were shielded at home prevented carnage.
This is the sporadic scenario. With each flare-up, life stops
throughout Israel’s South. Hardly anyone goes to work or school or
any place else. A full third of the country lingers in suspended
animation for as long as Gaza decrees. This in itself buoys Gazan
Even the fact that they force us to reduce available Iron Dome
stockpiles should delight them.
They might not cause casualties but they wreak economic havoc.
Yes, the syrupy slogan is that no price is too high to save lives,
which -considered strictly on the moral plane- is indisputable.
However, we need to keep in mind that it costs peanuts to manufacture
a Kassam and that Gaza’s arsenals boast untold thousands of these
crude versions of Nazi V-1 and V-2 rockets (all murderously
indiscriminate). The upgraded Katyushas called Grads are supplied
gratis, compliments of Iran.
In contrast, each Iron Dome interception costs $100,000. Since Iron
Dome batteries cover a comparatively small area each, many more than
now deployed are needed. The missiles themselves take a long time to
be produced and there can never be enough of them to take down every
contraption hoarded in Gaza.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that many communities under
Kassam threat are too close to the border for sufficient warning
time. The Iron Dome system requires 15 seconds to identify an
incoming Kassam. Yet these projectiles can (and have in the past)
slammed down after being airborne for shorter intervals. The Iron
Dome, furthermore, doesn’t offer protection against mortars.
With their own earthy good-sense commoners throughout Israel’s South
recognize that the best defense is offense and that good offense
isn’t shelling vacant lots, eliminating the odd miscreant, and
generally trying not to get IDF hands too dirty, so as not to offend
sanctimonious European sensibilities.
They know that the only way to defend is to win and that you win by
breaking the enemy’s spirit and will to fight.
We’ve got to conquer our fear of winning because neither Iron Dome
nor Batman will rescue us from the Scarecrow of our own making.(©
1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 03/30/12)
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