Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have some explaining to do.
On Sunday, Israel was invaded along its border with Syria. More than 100 Syrians successfully infiltrated the country and rioted violently in Majdal Shams for several hours.
The IDF was reportedly surprised by these events. It was more prepared for violent riots along the borders with Lebanon and Gaza. And security forces were deployed more or less effectively in Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Negev, Judea and Samaria on Sunday.
Jerusalem, a focal point of the unrest since Friday, witnessed rioting in several Arab neighborhoods, which reached its peak with an assault on Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus.
But the government and the IDF were surprised by the invasion from Syria.
What can possibly explain this surprise? And what does it tell us about the defense establishment’s ability to cope with the swiftly expanding and changing threats facing Israel?
Before we consider that issue, we need to understand the nature of the new assault now underway.
Sunday’s events were fully anticipated. In 1998, at the height of the so-called peace process, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and PLO/Fatah chieftan Yasser Arafat invented a new Palestinian holiday – the Nakba.
That year, for the first time, Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza rioted on May 15 – the secular date of Israel’s establishment in 1948. The purpose of Israel’s “peace partner’s” initiative was to escalate anti-Israel sentiments of Arabs on both sides of the 1949 armistice lines. And indeed, the next year, for the first time, the Nakba – or catastrophe – of Israel’s birth on May 15, 1948 was marked by Israel’s Arab citizens.
In the years since, the Palestinians and their brethren throughout the Arab world have consistently escalated their May 15 attacks, with anti-Israel mass demonstrations now common fare throughout the Arab world.
In recent months, Hamas and Fatah have been ratcheting up their incitement and calling for their followers to descend on Jerusalem on May 15. Millions worldwide participated in social media campaigns calling for a third Palestinian intifada to begin on May 15.
Regionally, in recent weeks, as Syrian anti-regime protesters have escalated their calls to overthrow the Assad regime, Hezbollah and the Syrian media have been joining the Nakba incitement efforts. In Egypt as well, as the Muslim Brotherhood consolidates its power, the calls for invading Israel and avenging the Nakba have escalated daily.
Politically, the Nakba campaigns couldn’t be an easier target for an Israeli information counteroffensive.
The assertion that Israel’s establishment was a catastrophe for the Arabs makes clear that the Palestinian leadership has no interest in living at peace with Israel. This goes for both Fatah, which popularized the term, and Hamas, which was happy to adopt it. If Israel’s existence is the Palestinian catastrophe, then obviously, every patriotic Palestinian must seek Israel’s destruction.
Actually, the Palestinian and pan-Arab embrace of the Nakba myth doesn’t merely demonstrate that they aren’t interested in peaceful coexistence. It proves that their true aspirations are nothing short of genocidal.
The declared goal of the Arab armies that invaded the infant State of Israel on May 15, 1948 was to throw every Jewish man, woman and child in the country into the sea. By calling the Arab failure to carry out that plan a catastrophe, today’s Nakba rioters and mourners are saying they support the genocidal purpose of the 1948 Arab invaders.
And of course, by making the issue Israel’s establishment in 1948, the Palestinians and their supporters are showing that the popular myth that they have no problem with Israel existing within the 1949 armistice lines, and seek only the “liberation” of Israel’s heartland of Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem is a complete fabrication. Those areas were lands the Arabs successfully conquered and emptied of Jews in 1948. The Arab occupation of these areas only ended in 1967 because they again invaded Israel with the declared purpose of throwing every Jewish man, woman and child in the country into the sea.
In short, the entire notion of the Nakba is proof that the Palestinians specifically and the Arab world as a whole remain dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the genocide of Jewry.
Netanyahu and the rest of Israel’s leaders have the duty to point out this glaring, yet totally ignored fact. And yet, they have been silent.
The most Netanyahu could muster in the lead up to Nakba Day was a true but irrelevant mention of the fact that as full citizens of Israel, Israeli Arabs enjoy more freedoms than citizens of any Arab state.
As for the IDF, it’s hard to know where to begin describing its failures to understand or prepare for Sunday’s events.
Perhaps the oddest aspect of the IDF’s treatment of the mass infiltration from Syria was the IDF Spokesman’s Unit’s response.
First, IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai blamed the events on Iran. He called the events an “Iranian provocation aimed at creating friction.”
Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Certainly Iran is always interested in drawing Israeli blood and weakening the country. But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t order the rioters to cross the border. Syrian President Bashar Assad did.
As for Assad, an unnamed military source told the media that Assad ordered the whole thing in order to divert world attention from the fact that he is butchering his citizens. As the official said: “This is a cynical and transparent act by the Syrian regime to create a crisis on the border with Israel in order to distract public opinion from the very real problems at home. Syria is a police state; this sort of thing could not happen without the support of the regime. It is clear they wanted this to play the Israel card in order to silence their own democratic opposition.”
Well said. But this brings us to the next question: If the IDF understands why this happened, why weren’t there sufficient forces along the border armed with riot-control gear to block the infiltrators? Not only was the regime’s rationale for the attack easily understandable, the IDF could see the rioters coming. They saw the them get on the buses. They saw the buses coming to the border. There were enough forces along the border to stop a similar penetration from Lebanon.
Why weren’t there enough to prevent the Syrians from entering Israeli territory? Why weren’t there enough soldiers on the ground to prevent them from entering Majdal Shams, vandalizing the village and flying the Syrian flag inside Israel? Moreover, what does its abject failure to deploy adequately tell us about the defense establishment’s ability to properly understand regional developments and trends, and prepare the IDF to protect the country in the face of them?
Here, two aspects of Sunday’s events must be borne in mind. First, in general, the events of Nakba day are simply an escalation of the suicide protest campaign that has been ongoing since 2001. The most famous suicide protester to date is Rachel Corrie. And the most successful suicide protest to date was last year’s Mavi Marmara suicide flotilla.
Suicide protests have two aims. The first is to humiliate the IDF and Israel. If unarmed suicide protesters are able to take control of a military target for any length of time, their achievement will harm the reputation of the IDF. This goal was achieved on Sunday, when Druse villagers in Majdal Shams were allowed to mediate between the Syrian infiltrators and the IDF.
The second aim is to force the IDF to use lethal force against the protesters and so portray the IDF as a criminal army that kills unarmed civilians. This goal was also partially achieved on Sunday along the Syrian and Lebanese borders.
Since the IDF has already faced suicide protests, it is inexcusable that it has not yet managed to put together a coherent doctrine for contending with them. For instance, why weren’t there water cannons along the border with Lebanon?
The other aspect of Sunday’s Nakba riots worth noting is that they were the first suicide protests to have taken place on a regional scale since the popular rebellion began in Syria, and since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt.
IDF sources interviewed on Sunday claimed that since the Syrian border has been quiet since 1973, they didn’t expect it to be active on May 15. What this means is that the IDF failed to recognize ahead of time what its officials were able to recognize after the fact. Namely, that the populist upheavals in the Arab world give Assad (and a lot of other Arab leaders who have kept out of the direct fight against Israel in recent years) good reason to attack. And this new impetus to attack should have led the IDF to deploy forces along the border in sufficient numbers to prevent infiltration.
So why was the IDF unprepared?
The person most responsible for the IDF’s poor handling of events on Sunday is Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And his incompetence is not surprising. Barak is a serial bungler. He is the same man who armed the naval commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara with paintball guns, even though it was known that the Turkish IHH, which organized the pro-Hamas flotilla, had links to terror groups.
In recent months, Barak has been too busy warning about the widely exaggerated diplomatic “tsunami” at the UN in September, when the Palestinians declare their independence for the second time, to notice events in the Middle East in May.
And that leads to the last disconcerting thing about the defense establishment’s surprise at Sunday’s events. Commentators and military officials alike are claiming that the Nakba day events are likely a dress rehearsal for even larger riots in September. And this may be true. But it is equally likely that they are the beginning of a new campaign that started this week and will escalate in the weeks and months to come. In this vein, of course we should note that a new, expanded Turkish government-organized pro-Hamas flotilla is set to sail next month with thousands of suicide protesters on more than a dozen ships.
This brings us back to Netanyahu and his relationship with Barak. It is hard to explain Netanyahu’s failure to condemn the Palestinians and their supporters for mourning the Arabs’ failure to annihilate the Jews of Israel in 1948 without placing it in the context of his close relationship with Barak.
There are many explanations for why Netanyahu gives so much weight to Barak’s consistently and dangerously incorrect assessments of regional developments. If they serve no other purpose, Sunday’s dismal events must cause Netanyahu to finally reconsider his attachment to Barak.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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