With the cessation of Operation Tzuk Eitan, there has been a lot of 'chesbon hanefesh' (soul-searching) in Israel over it. Was it successful? Did we win, lose, was it a 'draw'? While I was formulating my own attempt at these questions, I came across two pieces in the B’Sheva newspaper which really spoke to me. One is by Prof. Arieh Eldad, who deals with Netanyahu and his government; the second is by Moshe Feiglin, who deals with the military echelons. They are my own translation from the Hebrew, anyone who can handle reading the original Hebrew is urged to do so. B’Sheva can be found here.
On February 3, 2009, a few weeks after Operation Cast Lead and a week before the election, Binyamin Netanyahu arrived, as leader of the opposition, in Ashkelon. The man for whom it was so convenient to forget, and have others forget how he had voted in favor of the expulsion from Gush Katif and the abandonment of the Gaza Strip to Hamas, knew well how to rant and fiercely criticize the Kadima government, who had stopped the operation before toppling Hamas: "I want to say here and now that we will not stop the IDF. We will complete the task - we will topple the Hamas terror regime."
Only fools or cynics can always say, "Things you see from here you don't see from there." Perhaps from his seat in the opposition, Netanyahu did not know the military difficulties, or the external international pressure, which are 'revealed' to a leader as soon as he becomes Prime Minister? But Netanyahu, when he undertook this, had already been Prime Minister previously (1996-1999), and perhaps because of this deception of the Israeli public, also won it again a week later.
Netanyahu is not stupid, Heaven forbid. And therefore he must be cynical as he watches the Nationalist electorate who forgot his support for the uprooting of Gush Katif, and the Bar-Ilan speech in which he declared his support for a Palestinian state, and has forgotten how in 2012 during Operation 'Pillar of Cloud' already violated his commitment to topple Hamas and complete the task.
This public again gave him the premiership in 2013 elections, because they not realize that this Likud leader is an empty vessel. He is all posturing, and no leadership, and best of the Land of Israel faithful continue to run about the communities of Judea and Samaria and sign up residents for Netanyahu's Likud, to move the Likud rightward. They, with their own hands, gave Netanyahu added power to win the election, and placed as the leadership of Israel a hollow leader, whose weakness in the face of international pressure now leads him to execute the current plan: after recognizing Hamas by negotiating with them, and strengthening the stance of Mahmoud Abbas as a recognized intermediary (even after he formed a unity government with Hamas), Netanyahu intends to resume negotiations to establish a Palestinian state within the '67 borders, more or less. The Saudi initiative, aimed at destroying Israel, is now openly supported by Lieberman. Naftali Bennett sits in the cabinet and washes his hands by opposing a cease-fire, which was never even registered for the record. But they are all equally responsible for the failure of Tzuk Eitan, even if they run to tell the media what we should have done and didn’t.
And the public - which apparently ignores all this - is dumb, says Netanyahu to himself, and so the public will pay.
Question of the week: Is it appropriate and legitimate to criticize the defense leadership during combat?
War is a total mobilization of all national forces to achieve one single goal: victory over the enemy.
War is [by its nature] not democratic. Therefore to have a unity government (which is nothing but a cartel on the market of ideas) not during wartime is something which is fundamentally wrong. During wartime, principles such as free media and economic policies are deferred. Therefore, criticism of the military during wartime is very wrong.
Does Operation Tzuk Eitan (Mighty Cliff or Defensive Edge) meet the definition of a war? Does the word victory appear anywhere in the concepts of the General Staff? Is there even an enemy? This is clearly not so.
'Tzuk Eitan' was never defined as a war. While this was apparently for economic reasons, there is also a deeper issue here. Since the Oslo Accords, we have [only] "peace." Here and there occasional threats arise which need to be addressed, including the threats of rockets and tunnels - but a declaration of war would mean the collapse of the [entire] conception. So we don't draft all of the nation’s forces; but rather strive to maintain a semblance of normalcy: cafes remain open, and most of all, the school year must begin as usual [on time].
'Tzuk Eitan' was a 'war' that was not allowed to be won. Because victory would mean a return to Gaza. The purpose of fighting was [only] the weakening of Hamas. But Hamas fully understands that we are afraid of victory and a return to Gaza, much more than [the] withdrawal [from there]. So it's clear to them that when they stop firing, we stop too; which leaves them in complete control over the level of weakening that they allow upon themselves, in exchange for bringing Israel to its knees.
Last, but not least, in 'Tzuk Eitan' there was no enemy. There were only threats. Hamas is not an enemy, but rather a kind of intractable partner that controls Gaza for us, and occasionally needs to be restrained.
It is important to note that since Oslo, all of this distortion has become deeply embedded in the [military] High Command, which does not only carry out the political decision, but has a great influence on its direction. My own feeling is that this campaign's strange and vague aims, deeply based on the Oslo concept - were drafted by the military establishment.
In light this reality, is it still proper to refrain from criticism? On the one hand, our heroic soldiers risked their lives on the battlefield, and pain of the families of the fallen is too much to bear. On the other hand, without any criticism, the situation will only worsen and, G-d forbid, will collect additional victims.
During the fighting I found myself torn between these extremes and tried to hold onto both of them. However, once the treatment of the tunnels was over and our troops had moved out of the area, it is very important to criticize the basic principles of military conduct, in a responsible manner.