Israel’s tepid response to the latest stream of missiles launched against us from Gaza is chillingly reminiscent of our failure to adequately respond to this threat since the advent of the primitive Kassam missiles over a decade ago. The world was trained to take for granted the idea that the launching of missiles against Israeli civilians was an acceptable fact of life in this region. Since then, the missiles have become infinitely more lethal, especially now with the employment of Russian-made Grad multiple rocket launchers mounted on small trucks possibly originating from the Libyan arsenals of Gadhafi.
The source of this latest exchange was again a totally unprovoked Islamic Jihad attack from Gaza under Hamas jurisdiction. For a number of days, 1 million Israelis came under missile fire, forcing the closure of schools for 200,000 children and the postponement of university studies for 40,000 higher education students. Other activities were also curtailed and residents were required to stay close to shelters.
On this occasion, an Israeli father of four got out of his car in Ashkelon and was killed by a missile. Eight others were injured in other attacks; a rocket exploded into an empty school in Ashkelon; a Grad missile blew up nine cars in a multistory building in Ashdod.
Our initial response killed a number of Islamic Jihadists, including a senior officer, engaged in the launches, but close to 40 missiles were subsequently launched in retaliation against us. We then failed to respond with force and instead, the IDF exercised “restraint,” effectively making a tit-for-tat response with IDF officials even stressing that responses would be “gradual.” The standard empty threats and dismal statements were made about not tolerating aggression.
Instead, we left it to the Egyptians to renew a truce at a time when an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood group was making its first visit to its fraternal ally Hamas in Gaza — an organization that they take pride in having created.
It would seem that we have not learned our lesson from the past. We are again failing to display genuine deterrence and act with restraint as the terrorists gauge our response and resolve. This will unquestionably once again lead to a situation in which the quality of life for Israelis in the south will be determined by the tactical considerations of Hamas who will continue to probe until they deem it expedient to unleash their full potential and missiles will fall throughout the entire country, including on Tel Aviv.
Only then will we respond and the probability is that this will lead to an all-out conflict.
It is now surely time for our government to make it clear that it will implement its prime responsibility for ensuring the safety of its citizens.
We should tell our allies and warn our enemies that we will no longer engage in a debilitating series of restrained and proportionate responses to suit Hamas. It should be made clear that if Israel continues to be bombarded by missiles, like any other normal nation, we will employ the full might at our disposal to bring an immediate end to such lethal assaults on our citizens.
Failure to halt missile attacks and restricting ourselves to responding on a case-by-case basis will in the long term guarantee the inevitability of a full scale and costly conflict, something none of us seek.
The regional situation is worsening daily, as Islamic extremists become more powerful in the neighboring states. Conditions are likely to further deteriorate over the next couple of years as the new regimes become established. We are in a better position to act now than we will be in two years, at which time the Muslim Brotherhood could be in control or have a greater influence in Egypt.
We live in a tough world, but unless we revert to genuine deterrence, the writing is on the wall and all the alternate scenarios are far worse.
The Shalit exchange encouraged a flow of delusionary interpretations suggesting that this would ease the tensions between Hamas and Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today Hamas leaders are more determined than ever and have deluded themselves into believing that we are weak and can be destroyed in stages over a period of time. They will continue launching missiles, obtain more lethal armaments and will act in concert with the Iranians, employing their full arsenals, when they consider it is to their best advantage. We cannot accept such a state of affairs.
Our government is now obliged to display leadership and strength. Hamas is flagrantly breaching international law but there will be no censure of the missile attacks from the United Nations and we can be certain that when we do respond we will be condemned. But this must not deter us one iota from taking whatever action is required to ensure that our citizens are protected.
The leaders of Hamas in Gaza who enable these attacks on Israeli civilians must be made aware that if this carries on they too will become legitimate targets for the IDF. Yesterday an Israeli was killed and others were wounded. Do we need to await a major disaster, God forbid, before we defend ourselves? Are Israelis living in the south inferior to those in Tel Aviv? If missiles were to reach Tel Aviv, our response would be different. Do we need to wait for this to happen before we act?
(Isi Leibler is the former head of the Australian Jewish community and a former senior official at the World Jewish Congress. He lives in Jerusalem and is a regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom. This column first appeared in Israel Hayom.)