Israelis have slipped back into a degree of complacence about the missile threat from Gaza since the war in 2015. The same could be said about their level of concern about a repeat of the 2006 conflict with Lebanon in which the terrorist group rained down missiles on northern Israel. Due to the success of the Iron Dome anti-missile system developed with the United States and the devastating counter-attacks against both Hezbollah and Hamas by the Israel Defense Forces, the terrorist groups are believed to understand they have more to lose than to gain from another war. But assumptions are no guarantee, and the Israeli government and military may not be taking into account the increase in the arsenals possessed by their enemies or whether sufficient resources have been allocated to ensure adequate civil defense in the event of another war with either or both.
That was the conclusion of a recently published report by Israel’s State Controllerabout Operation Protective Edge — Israel’s counterattack against Hamas terrorists in 2014. It pointed out shortcomings in the government and army’s response to the war as well as the possible impact on future conflicts. Up to two million Israelis don’t have access to adequate shelters in the event of missile or rocket attacks. The country’s early warning system also was found to be faulty and may not be able to detect all possible forms of attack or give citizens adequate time to seek shelter.
After extensive re-armament campaigns financed in part by Iran, both Hamas and Hezbollah may now be in possession of so many rockets that Israel’s highly successful missile defense systems might be overwhelmed. Throw in the possibility that as a result of the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah may now be in possession of at least some of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons arsenal, and the report paints a potentially fearful picture.
The report has caused considerable embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the IDF. That’s especially true since the report notes that the Cabinet has not spent much time discussing civil defense issues since the last war. But there is another conclusion to be drawn from the report. The strongest arguments mounted generally by critics of Netanyahu’s stance on the Palestinians have come from some of Israel’s former military and intelligence officers. They argue that Israelis are foolish to worry about the military threat posed by efforts to trade land for peace. These security experts assert that there is no border that can be drawn—even the 1949 armistice lines that the late Abba Eban described as “Auschwitz borders”— that can’t be defended by the IDF. In particular they point to the relative peace with Hezbollah in the North and with Hamas in the south as proof that deterrence works. Fears about replicating the dangerous aftermath of 2005 withdrawal from Gaza in the far larger and more strategic West Bank are exaggerated, they say, because Israel’s army is so strong and its missile defense so foolproof that even a hostile Palestinian state in the West Bank rather than a demilitarized one, would pose no existential threat.
But as the State Controller’s report shows, Israel’s security rests on assumptions that may be proven false if, encouraged by an Iranian regime that has been enriched and emboldened by President Obama’s attempt to appease them, Hezbollah and Hamas coordinate their next attacks and launch missiles in the kinds of numbers that might cause far more damage than the ineffectual campaign of 2014. If the West Bank were also held by a hostile Palestinian regime that refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy that had access to such weapons, that peril would be compounded.
This wouldn’t be the first time the assumptions of Israeli military leaders were mistaken—the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 2006 Lebanon War being just two such examples. The lessons of the last and the next missile war don’t just apply to those tasked with defending the Jewish state against Hamas and Hezbollah. They also apply to those who would further burden its defense by the creation of yet another potential terrorist missile launching pad in the West Bank.