Our Sages taught: “Who is wise? He who sees what is foreseeable” (Masechet Tamid 32a).
To be able to anticipate the consequences of one’s actions, both short-term and long-term, would seem at first glance to be an obvious function of any thinking being and not at all a definition of wisdom or the wise person. In fact, such thinking is rare and therefore precious, and the hallmark of the bright and usually the successful. It is desperately needed now. While wartime is an inopportune occasion for retrospectives, Israel’s decisions – especially those made under the gun and to facilitate past cease-fires – have often engendered the problems that made subsequent conflicts more intractable and subsequent tragedies unavoidable. The examples are numerous.
As a result of the last cease-fire with the murderous Arab terrorist group Hamas, Israel relaxed its embargo on Gaza’s importation of steel and cement. Israel had rightly banned those imports after previous engagements knowing full well that Hamas would use that material to strengthen its military capacity rather than build housing complexes for its “refugees.” But under pressure from Hillary Clinton’s State Department in December 2012, Israel’s government succumbed and allowed Gaza to be flooded with steel and cement. Of course, rather than build even one hut to house even one of its decrepit civilians (and the flood of crocodile tears these days shows how much Hamas cares about those civilians), Hamas used its bounty to build sophisticated underground tunnels and bunkers from which it now seeks to terrorize Israeli citizens and from which it has been able to extract such a heavy toll in IDF casualties.
A little forethought – and a little more steadfastness – against an unsympathetic American government would have been wise and would have saved lives.
Not long before that, another concession wrung out of Israel helped create the circumstances that greased the wheels for another recent tragedy. Several years ago, Israel was agreed as a good-will gesture to remove many of its checkpoints in Judea and Samaria so as to not impede Arab traffic and freedom of movement. Naturally this has sparked a dramatic increase in the number of stonings and shootings along those roads, but more pointedly: isn’t it likely that had there still been checkpoints between Gush Etzion and Hevron that the three Israeli teenagers, Hy”d, kidnapped and murdered in cold blood a little over a month ago, could not have been transported so easily and might not have been killed – that their vehicle would have been stopped en route to Halhoul? Is that at least possible? Did it make sense to facilitate the movements of an enemy population when it should have been obvious that too many of them would exploit that freedom in order to kill Jews? Was that not foreseeable?
Of course, the third return to Gaza in nine years recalls the great national crime of the 2005 expulsion of 9000 Jews from Gush Katif and the destruction of their homes and settlements. Many opponents of that catastrophe explicitly predicted the barrage of missiles and rockets that would yet emerge from that territory, and especially the difficulty Israel would have in re-entry. The greatest benefit of the Expulsion was the short-lived propaganda victory it gave Israel, but it was short-lived. Rather than perceive the sacrifice, the hardship and the yearning for peace on the part of Israel, the “world” simply saw an occupier relinquishing its illegal conquest, and, to add insult to injury, still considers Israel an “occupier” anyway. As predicted, Gaza became nothing more than a terror entity – a proxy for Iran with its finger sticking into Israel like a dagger – whose only purpose in existence is to harass Israel out of existence. The expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif remains one of the greatest, most suicidal, strategic disasters ever inflicted by a nation on itself.
The murder of Baruch Mizrachi Hy”d on Pesach eve by one of the bloodthirsty terrorists released in exchange for Gilad Shalit again underscores the folly and short-sightedness of these swaps. Roughly 30-40% of freed Arab terrorists return to terror and the murder of Jews. They really can’t help themselves. It is not only what they were trained to do, and not only what they are ideologically driven to do, but the murder of Jews is also both a lucrative and honorable profession in Arab society. These exchanges ensure that it will remain so, and the price paid for killing Jews will laughably cheap. They also guarantee that more Jews will be kidnapped and killed but none of the should surprise anyone. These exchange incentivize terror and make government of Israel complicit in the death of Jews. Was this not also predicted?
This fact should especially be borne in mind with the reports that Hamas is holding (and rejoicing over it) the body of a dead Israeli soldier, which it will undoubtedly try to ransom for hundreds of live terrorists. How about a new approach? No cease-fire until the body is released, and no humanitarian Red Cross visits to Gaza until the Red Cross verifies the status of that Israeli soldier. That should be followed in due course by a complete cutoff of electricity, fuel, food and water to all of Gaza – section by section – until the soldier’s remains are returned. Starve them with a good old-fashioned siege. War is war, and an enemy is an enemy. No displays of compassion are warranted until the enemy begins to display – not compassion, that is too much to expect from barbarians – but simple humanity.
And need we recall the original sin of the Oslo Accords, which brought Arafat to Gaza, and who was then provided with weapons by the sophisticated strategists of the Israeli government 20 years ago? Hmm….bring your sworn enemy in to your heartland and give him offensive weapons, sign treaties with him that he will never honor, etc. How’s that worked out? It was all so bloody predictable that one wonders if anyone thought beyond the day after.
If we go back even further, one stain on Menachem Begin’s record was his acceptance for the 1978 Camp David Accords of the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.” Sure, he was opposed to it, and of course, consummate wordsmith that he was, he talked himself into believing that the words meant nothing , that they had “legitimate rights” to breathe air, drink water, etc. Nevertheless, what he did, in actuality, was commit Israel to accepting the false narrative of the Arab enemy. In effect, he created a Palestinian people when, in reality, history had never known such an entity. (Really. Name a “Palestinian Arab” from the 19th century or the 15th century. Suffice it to say that the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, the world was as yet unaware there was such a thing as a Palestinian Arab people. Every major sport is older than the “Palestinian people.” But Begin signed on to it.)
Words matter. Actions matter. And what is even more significant is that the law of unintended consequences is one of the most fundamental aspects of politics, war, interpersonal relationships and life itself. But how painful is it when those consequences, while perhaps unintended, are readily foreseeable and should have been reasonably anticipated?
Finally, in the department of “words matter,” few writers can compete with the level of despicability of NY Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman, who I stopped reading years ago (this piece was sent to me) and who has won more Pulitzer Prizes than the number of times he has been right about something in the Middle East. His last Sunday column began thusly: “From Ukraine to the Middle East, some bad actors — Hamas, Vladimir Putin and Israeli settlers to name but a few — are trying to bury the future with the past and divide…” What followed was some forgettable piffle about globalization, an electric car company, or something. But note the odious comparison.
The dictator Putin aside, are Hamas and Israeli settlers really comparable? Only the twisted, distorted mind of a self-hating Jew could possibly compare Hamas – a radical Islamic terrorist group that has murdered thousands of its own people, whose charter calls for both the destruction of the State of Israel and the extermination of every Jew in the world, and part of a movement that is sowing mayhem across the globe – with Jews who want nothing more than to fulfill the Torah commandment of settling the land of Israel, whose lives are dedicated to holy works, and who – the real crime in Friedman’s eyes – refuse to disappear, i.e., refuse to commit suicide by adopting Friedman’s failed policy prescriptions. But, to borrow his approach, journalists like Julius Streicher and Thomas Friedman never miss an opportunity to castigate Jews for living, breathing, observing the Torah, building, contributing, and enjoying their lives while they are at it.
Friedman’s invective essentially calls for open season on Israeli settlers. As decent people across the world come to the realization that Gaza will remain a terror-infested swamp until Hamas is eradicated, Friedman is justifying the same type of treatment for Jews who live in Hevron and Efrat, in Bet El and Ofra. Indeed, “your despoilers and destroyers will emerge from you” (Yeshayahu 49:17). Note how the current conflict in Gaza has nothing to do with Israeli settlers, and note the irony that the safest place in Israel today is in Judea and Samaria, neither of which are targets of Hamas missiles.
Words matter and actions matter. We live in a world of cause and effect, and sometimes, effects are felt long after the causes have receded from memory. Friedman is a hater of Israel, but he is inconsequential. What matters more is to see the foreseeable, to look beyond what the great Thomas Sowell called “Stage One Thinking,” and to anticipate the natural consequences of our actions. Israel should refrain from holding its fire and abandoning its mission until it achieves its objectives. To leave Gaza with Hamas intact will ensure that when Israel has to return to Gaza again Hamas will be even more powerful, with rocketry that has guidance systems that will overwhelm even the genius of Iron Dome and tunnels that will penetrate even further into Israel.
So too, Israel should lose the temptation to balance its success against Hamas in Gaza with new concessions to Fatah. That has been an execrable pattern in the past, and sowed the seeds of future troubles. Israel should act like a normal country and pursue its interests rather than satisfy its “friends.” Among those friends are the United States, which shamefully halted flights to Israel yesterday on allegations of security concerns but which sound more like a shot across Israel’s bow in order to intimidate Israel into accepting a cease fire that will leave Hamas intact and ready to launch more missiles…the day after the cease fire goes into effect. All this while President Obama hustles dumb Jews out of their money on his interminable fund-raising excursions. But consider: if Ben-Gurion Airport is now being avoided by world airlines because of the mild threat currently posed by Hamas, it might as well close permanently if Arabs ever become sovereign in Judea and Samaria, where the threat will be real, permanent and just three miles away. (And how about closing the airport to Kerry’s plane until the FAA allows all US airlines to fly to Israel?)
Above all, Israel should act with wisdom – wisdom to deal with the present, but even greater wisdom to prepare for the future, without any illusions but with an abundance of foresight. It might then even succeed in reversing the effects of some of the misguided policies of the past. Otherwise, it will just continue the unfortunate dynamic of the last two decades of short-term advantages that yield longer-term disaster. The good news is that its leaders are very capable of this, but would benefit from the support (and a little nudging) of the courageous people of Israel who are tired of treading water and yearn for the victory over pure evil that is achievable.