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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A geography lesson

After hammering him just a week ago for a column that demonstrated total ignorance of history, I would be remiss if I did not praise Richard Cohen for most of his column in this morning's Washington Post:
The dire consequences of proportionality are so clear that it makes you wonder if it is a fig leaf for anti-Israel sentiment in general. Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that proportionality is madness. For Israel, a small country within reach, as we are finding out, of a missile launched from any enemy's back yard, proportionality is not only inapplicable, it is suicide. The last thing it needs is a war of attrition. It is not good enough to take out this or that missile battery. It is necessary to reestablish deterrence: You slap me, I will punch out your lights.

Israel has been in dire need of such deterrence ever since it pulled out of Lebanon in 2000 and, just recently, the Gaza Strip. In Lebanon, it effectively got into a proportional hit-and-respond cycle with Hezbollah. It cost Israel 901 dead and Hezbollah an announced 1,375, too close to parity to make a lasting difference. Whatever the figures, it does not change the fact that Israeli conscripts or reservists do not think death and martyrdom are the same thing. No virgins await Jews in heaven.

Gaza, too, was a retreat. There are many ways to mask it but no way to change the reality.


It's clear now that those boundaries -- a wall, a fence, a whatever -- are immaterial when it comes to missiles. Hezbollah, with the aid of Iran and Syria, has shown that it is no longer necessary to send a dazed suicide bomber over the border -- all that is needed is the requisite amount of thrust and a warhead. That being the case, it's either stupid or mean for anyone to call for proportionality. The only way to ensure that babies don't die in their cribs and old people in the streets is to make the Lebanese or the Palestinians understand that if they, no matter how reluctantly, host those rockets, they will pay a very, very steep price.
Unfortunately, there are some things that Richard still doesn't seem to get:
The government of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon concluded that Israel was incapable of controlling [Gaza,] a densely populated area full of people who hated the occupation. Israel will in due course reach the same conclusion when it comes to the West Bank, although the present war has almost certainly set back that timetable. The fact remains that for Israel to survive, it must withdraw to boundaries that are easily defensible and hard to breach.
First, even assuming the purity of Ariel Sharon's motives for the unilateral disengagement surrender of Gaza and expulsion of its Jews, an assumption that I believe to be highly questionable, it cannot be argued that Israel was 'incapable' of controlling Gaza. Rather, many Israelis were unwilling to control Gaza, due to years of indoctrination with post-Zionist drivel, seasoned with the Jewish guilt complex, about how it was more important to 'empathize' with an artificial image of 'poor Palestinians' rather than be concerned about our own survival. Many 'Palestinians' recognized even before Israel's abject retreat from Gaza that 'Palestinians' were better off under Israeli rule than they are under 'Palestinian' rule, regardless of whether Fatah or Hamas is in power. Israel did not make the 'Palestinians' into refugees, and it certainly has not kept them imprisoned in 'refugee camps' for the last fifty-eight years. The fact that many Israelis have adopted the 'world view' that regards Gaza as a massive 'refugee camp' created by Israel, and for which Israel is responsible, is a tribute to the lack of proper education in this country and not indicative of an inability to 'control' Gaza. The creation of an artificial "demographic problem" by Israel's left also does not grant legitimacy to the surrender of Gaza, nor does it make Gaza "uncontrollable."

Second, I hope that Israel never reaches the 'same conclusion' about Judea and Samaria that Cohen claims it reached about Gaza. If surrendering a fenced in corner that is bounded by the sea on one side was an enterprise fraught with risk, surrendering an area that includes most of the high ground and nearly all of the fresh water resources on this side of the Jordan River, to a people that has shown that its goal is destroying the Jewish state rather than building a 'Palestinian' one, is sheer insanity. As Albert Einstein said, "Insanity means doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." We have had enough insanity here, thank you.

Third, Cohen says that to 'survive' (survive!), Israel must withdraw to boundaries that are "easily defensible and hard to breach." Cohen himself acknowledges that "a wall, a fence, a whatever -- are immaterial when it comes to missiles." I think if Cohen learns a little bit about the history (oops - there's that word again!) of wars, he will discover that the most effective and defensible boundaries are natural boundaries such as bodies of water and mountain ranges. The Jordan River, for example, is an easily defensible and hard to breach boundary, because of the difficulty in bringing personnel and equipment across it to attack Israel (or Jordan for that matter). The boundary is made even more defensible because Israel controls the high ground of Judea and Samaria just a few miles west of the river. Similarly, until 1967, when the Syrians controlled the Golan Heights (yes, they are high - you should come and see them sometime Richard!), Israeli towns in the valleys below were subject to constant gunfire and attack. With Israel sitting atop the Heights for the last thirty-nine years looking down into Syria, we have enjoyed peace and quiet - and so have the Syrians when they have wanted to enjoy it. So if Cohen wants us to have "easily defensible, hard to breach" boundaries, the last thing Israel should do is to withdraw from its current borders. Parenthetically, one of the reasons that Hezbullah has been so successful in attacking Israel from Lebanon is that the area just north of the Israeli - Lebanese border is a mountainous area that looks down into Israel. That is one reason that Israel enjoyed relative quiet in the north until it retreated from Southern Lebanon in 2000.

In conclusion, I am glad to see that Richard Cohen understands that a 'proportionate response' to aggression invites more aggression (another Washington Post columnist this morning doesn't even understand that). Unfortunately, he still needs a geography lesson to make him an informed opinion maker about our region. Hopefully, he will read this blog and learn the lesson. Maybe next week he can tackle economics.


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