War in Gaza: Which Way Will the Dreidel Fall?

by Brian on January 4, 2009

in In the News,Living Through Terror,Only in Israel

Our friend Joan called last night just as the news broke that the IDF had begun its ground operation in Gaza. Joan was panicked. She knew a number of families in our neighborhood who had boys in combat units. “Why are we doing this?” she said. “Can’t we pull them all out now?”

My first reaction was detached, though certainly not uncaring. I had been obsessively following the geo-politics of the last week’s aerial bombardment of Hamas. While inspiring in its precision and speed, it was clear a ground operation would be ultimately required for Israel to achieve its objectives. The duration and effectiveness of the operation would in large part depend on internal Israeli decisiveness, as well as how Israel responded to world pressure to submit to a cease-fire. My initial thoughts, then, were more like those of a strategic analyst than a parent.

Joan’s call, though, reminded me of the very real dangers for the Israeli troops now heading into booby trapped roads and hidden bunkers where Hamas terrorists lie in wait. I thought of my own children: 17-year-old Amir who will be drafted as early as six months from now, and 10-year old Aviv who has eight more years to go when, we all pray, there will be no need for any re-occupation of Palestinian territory.

But what choice do we have? Israel has stood by for close to a decade now while rockets have rained down on its southern cities and towns. Children in Sderot have grown up in fear, sleeping in bomb shelters, watching their homes blown up and their friends killed while Israelis around the country feel emasculated and impotent, their government unable (or unwilling) to act.

Now the rockets from Gaza have reached Beersheva and Ashdod. In another year of unabated smuggling, they could conceivably reach Tel Aviv and even the outskirts of Jerusalem. Should we just wait, maybe accept another temporary cease-fire? Our enemies certainly won’t be standing still.

There are many who say Israel cannot win this war. That the result will be just like the ill-fated 2006 war in Lebanon where Hezbollah emerged triumphant and emboldened. That Israel hasn’t truly prevailed since 1967.

That’s not entirely true. As David Horowitz wrote in The Jerusalem Post over the weekend, “Operation Defensive Shield, carried out in the spring of 2002, was a carefully planned and effectively executed attack on the Palestinians’ suicide-bomb infrastructure in the West Bank that remade our reality in the years ever since.”

Life returned to normal in Israel not because the terrorists decided to stop trying but because the army continues to operate every single night in Jenin and Nablus and other cities across the territories, making arresting and ferreting out bomb factories. The security barrier has helped too.

That would seem to be the ideal end game for the current operation as well. An end to the rockets (the Gaza equivalent of suicide bombers) along with the ability for terrorists to smuggle in the supplies to make more. Is that achievable? I don’t know. I’m not an army planner or a politician.

The Second Lebanon War had similar goals but failed due to its poor execution (something lame duck prime minister Ehud Olmert still refuses to acknowledge). A new army chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and a more qualified defense minister, Ehud Barak (politically unloved but undeniably more experienced than his pathetic predecessor Amir Peretz), gives those of us sitting on the sidelines greater confidence in the current operation than during the summer of 2006.

That the current war has been in the planning for months represents a dramatic change from the impulsive leap to engagement that characterized the conflict in the north. So too the diplomatic initiative. The Israel Defense Forces established a YouTube channel with videos of air force bombings of weapon stockpiles, interviews with soldiers and briefings in English. As of Sunday morning Israel time, the channel had received just under 750,000 views.

As I write this, I am aware that my heart is beating faster than normal. My fingers are trembling and my eyesight is blurred after an uneven sleep. I am at once cheering the army on and terrified at what the day will bring. I know I’ll be checking the news obsessively, refreshing Haaretz and the Post and YNET all day, to the detriment of the “real” work I get paid for.

The name for the war in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, refers to the lead Hanukah dreidels that were popular before the advent of plastic. Poetic but also ironic: you never know on which side a dreidel will end up.

I have no idea how long this war will last and how hard it will be. But I know we have no choice. It has to be done. And this time, we must succeed.

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