David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of « Still Life with Bombers » (2004) and « A Little Too Close to God » (2000) and co-author of « Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin » (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).
On one of the most harrowing nights in recent Israeli history – with hundreds of Hamas rockets hitting the country, and a violent minority of Israeli people targeting their Jews – the most troubling moments were those that showed the nation how deeply surprised our political and security leaders were.
Hours after Hamas launched what appeared to be the most concentrated rocket attack on central Israel and 130 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, the prime minister, defense minister, army chief and Shin Bet chief called a joint press conference late Tuesday, the targets of which were clearly to reassure an attacked nation and to urge the population to observe life-saving safety precautions.
The call to the public to go to safe rooms and air raid shelters on orders came through loud and clear. Not so the reassurance.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hamas would pay a high price for its aggression and that the « blood of its leaders » is on their heads – the kind of language he used in the past in far less threatening situations has used. Routine words for a situation that was anything but was.
IDF chief Aviv Kohavi sounded even further out of touch, telling the concerned observing nation that the army « is using our air defenses fully to thwart the missile fire, with great success, if not hermetically » (emphasis added).
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Israel’s amazing Iron Dome missile defense system has indeed achieved great success, reportedly hitting up to 90% of the incoming missiles it was aimed at. However, the evidence of the past few hours had shown that Hamas and its fellow terrorist groups could still sustain their attacks almost at will, firing so often and so intensely that they could occasionally evade even the most elaborate defenses. Less than four hours later, Hamas proved the point and unleashed another colossal rocket fire across southern Israel north of Tel Aviv.
Of the political and security quartet, only Shin Bet boss Nadav Argaman tacitly stated that Hamas, instead of Israel, set the agenda in an escalation that Israel’s intelligence ratings had not predicted. Argaman kept his remarks to a minimum, saying curtly that it was « intolerable » for a terrorist group to threaten Israel and that « now is not the time for discussion ».
As soon as the leaders left the stage, they were asked to tackle a second, related, grave crisis that they obviously had not foreseen – what Israel’s police commissioner called an unprecedented outbreak of Arab mob violence on the streets of Lod, which quickly spread to more of the Arab community.
There had been Arab violence in Lod on Monday evening, in which an Arab man was shot and killed by a Jew in hotly controversial circumstances, but on Tuesday rioting broke out in a different order, with Jewish residents reporting to Arab gangs television studios called young people marauding through the streets, setting fire to cars, throwing Molotov cocktails into Jewish houses, smashing shops and, in three cases, setting synagogues on fire. « The police are nowhere to be seen, » accused one resident.
Mayor Yair Revivo, sounding desperate, told Channel 12 that « civil war » was about to break out in his city. Decades of coexistence efforts went down the drain. Restoring and maintaining order was « a mission too big for the police, » he lamented, and so he called Netanyahu to call for a state of emergency and the invasion of army units. Revivo compared the situation to Kristallnacht. President Reuven Rivlin called it « a pogrom » on Wednesday and criticized Israel’s Arab leadership for its « shameful » silence.
This crime has been largely uncontrolled in the Arab sector. that serious violence and murder have become inconspicuous; that a feeling of discrimination and alienation is pervasive in much of Israel’s 23% Arab minority; that an angry minority Arab-Israeli youth were involved in the recent riots and clashes on the Temple Mount and around the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem; This hostility has been exacerbated by Jewish extremist groups that now have representatives in the Knesset. that the northern branch of the Islamic Movement has been arousing anti-Israel sentiment among its supporters for years, and Hamas has tried to do the same: all of this and more has long been known to the government and the Security Institute.
A request for help from Revivo – a former Likud campaign leader and strong ally of the prime minister – on Tuesday evening highlighted that the authorities have not fully internalized where all these trials could lead. When parts of the Arab sector broke out overnight on Tuesday – with Lod at the helm, but also with violence in Jaffa and Acre and other Jewish Arab areas – the police were unprepared and the government, like rockets, was forced to react desperately to events that started others.
This current conflict could become even more complex for Israel. Hezbollah, the other quasi-state terrorist army across our northern border, has far greater missile and missile capabilities than Hamas and is ready to fire the moment Iran gives the signal. In relative terms, despite the best efforts by Hamas, the West Bank has so far been conspicuous in its residents’ reluctance to enter the confrontation. One of the many reasons the government and the IDF have chosen not to engage in major conflicts with Gaza for years is precisely the concern that it could lead to major conflict on multiple fronts.
The events of the past two days and the obvious surprise with which the government and the military were met underscore the long-lamented consequences of our years of political dysfunction, characterized by endless election campaigns, close arguments and a transitional government – a crippling invention in the Contrasted with strategic thinking and clear policy making.
With regard to Gaza, « there is no policy, » said former Mossad officer Sima Shine on Tuesday afternoon. For years, said former national security advisor Giora Eiland, there has been no serious strategic government discussion about options for Gaza.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was pleased to have temporarily closed the Knesset, disrupted Jerusalem Day and defended half of the country, and on Tuesday said his terrorist group ruling Gaza had « a new balance of power » created with Israel. As the Shin Bet argaman said, this is « unbearable ».
At the leadership’s disturbing press conference, Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned the Israelis: « We must not reject the situation we are in. »
** This editor’s note was posted in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel community on Wednesday. Join the ToI community here to receive the editor’s notes as they are published.
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