Israel’s ‘war between wars’ backfires

A self-fulfilling prophecy is playing out in the north.

After nearly eight years of quiet, Israel’s northern border got stormy over the past week. The culmination of the tit-for-tat violence was a bomb placed on the border with Syria that wounded four Israeli soldiers, one seriously, which was followed by an Israeli air strike on a Syrian military base that killed a soldier and wounded others. Amos Harel, Haaretz’s military affairs correspondent, wrote the following:

There has been no such series of events in the north since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The pace is starting to resemble the days when the IDF maintained the security zone in southern Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s. If the current escalation continues, Israel is liable to be drawn into a more forceful response.

The fear is that the escalation will continue, whether by design or miscalculation, and Israel will end up with soldiers fighting in Lebanon and Syria while rockets are falling on its civilians.

And what set off this first serious, sustained clash between Israel and its enemies to the north in nearly eight years? Everyone agrees: Israel’s lethal February 25 attack on a convoy carrying advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah. Not only the relatively dovish Harel, but Yedioth Ahronoth’s hawkish military affairs commentator Alex Fishman acknowledges that:

The change in behavior by Syria and Hezbollah along the border began after the attack on the weapons convoy in the Lebanon Valley on February 25.

That Israeli air strike followed at least six others last year, some of them fatal, on sophisticated weapons in Syria that were evidently meant for Hezbollah. There were no retaliations after any of those attacks, so Israel kept going until Syria and Hezbollah finally hit back this past week, and now everyone’s worried.

But nobody here is suggesting that Israel shouldn’t have attacked those weapons sites and killed those Syrians and Hezbollah members in the first place. Nobody here is saying Israel brought this on itself, that it provoked the new fighting by dropping bombs on other people’s countries and killing other people’s soldiers when those countries weren’t attacking Israel. And nobody here is saying, God forbid, that the blood of those four wounded Israeli soldiers is ultimately on Israel’s hands.

People in this country don’t say that sort of thing anymore. They did once, during the Lebanon War in the early 80s, and during the First Intifada in the late 80s, but no more. Now Israelis think it doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do, the Arabs are always going to try to kill us, so let’s just bash them up as much as we can to weaken them for the next round, which is inevitable. If they don’t hit us back, good for us; if they do, it was going to happen sooner or later anyway. So we have no choice but to go on bashing.

To the outside world, this may look like Israeli aggression. To Israelis, though, it’s pure self-defense.

The army has a semi-official name for these continual attacks – the literal translation is “the military campaign between military campaigns,” but a simpler one is “the war between wars.”

The next war is inevitable, Israelis believe, because our enemies hate us, they’re fanatics, they don’t care about dying, they like to die, etc.

What’s fascinating, though, is how people here completely overlook these last eight years of peace and quiet on the northern border, which the air force did everything in its power to disrupt until finally, this week, it succeeded. How can anyone say the next war is inevitable, that we’re fighting “the war between wars,” after nearly eight years of tranquility on the border with Hezbollah and Syria?

How? Because the great majority of people in this country don’t notice it when the Arabs aren’t killing us, only when they are. They have this idée fixe that the Arabs have one purpose in life, to kill Jews, and when they’re not doing it, they’re preparing to do it. So no matter how long the Arabs take a break from killing us, it doesn’t change the general Israeli view of them, nor does it change their view of how Israel should deal with them.

And it’s not just on the northern border with Syria and Hezbollah; very few Israelis have any idea that the Palestinian Authority has been working with the Israeli army and Shin Bet for 10 solid years to shut down violence in the West Bank. If you mention that to them, many if not most Israelis will get irritated. They don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear that the Arabs are afraid of us and our army, and that if we leave them alone they’ll leave us alone – even after eight years (Hezbollah), 10 years (Palestinian Authority), 30 years (Syria), 40 years (Egypt) or nearly 50 years (Jordan) of Arabs doing just that.

We’re addicted to war – because with the enemy glaring at us all the time, the kind of stillness we had in the north makes us very nervous. We can’t stand being so fearful and do nothing about it, so we do something. And now they’re doing it back to us up there, so we do it back to them, and whatever will be, will be. Do we have a choice?