by: Joshua Spurlock, The Mideast Update
There is a saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Israel has learned a lot from its history and has overcome many tests and trials so that they aren’t repeated. While the coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges, Israel tragically has lots of experience in dealing with unimaginable problems—and they’ve developed some unprecedented solutions.
During the early 2000s, Israel faced dozens of suicide bombings by Palestinian terrorists in buses, markets, restaurants and more. It led to a horrific death toll and even more widescale psychological damage. Even up until recently—years after the terror campaign known as the Second Intifada (uprising) ended—the wife of retired Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesperson for International Media Lt. Col. Peter Lerner “would get uneasy” when a bus pulled alongside her car. “So much so was the impact of living under the constant threat,” Lerner explained. According to Lerner, the situation was “truly shaking to the core of any and almost everybody living in Israel at the time.”
Rather than crumble or learn to live with the horror, Israel went on the offensive with a major act of defense: then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced the construction of a security fence to keep the terrorists out of Israel. “While it was extremely controversial from an international law perspective, it gave Israelis the confidence that life can go on,” Lerner said.
The security fence ultimately separates the Palestinian areas of Judea and Samaria—which some call the West Bank—from the Israeli communities. Its construction sparked an international controversy, as some accused Israel of trying to impose borders on the Palestinians, despite the fact that a fence could easily be moved or dismantled if needed. Yet in the face of some negative press, Israel pressed on—and it worked. According to Lerner, “the security and the safety of Israeli citizens at the time outdid any political concerns.”
The fence wasn’t the only measure. An intense Israeli military campaign known as Operation Defensive Shield took the fight to the terrorists, going back into Palestinian areas and cleaning out terror strongholds. Combined with Israel’s offensive acts, the security fence “curbed the suicide bombings, brought them down within five or six years to almost completely gone,” Lerner explained.
There were more than 100 Palestinian bombing attacks on Israelis from 2000 to 2006, murdering hundreds and wounding many more. With just over half the fence finished in 2006, there were less than 10 bombings in Israel over the next decade combined. “From a strategic and tactical perspective, it makes sense,” Lerner said. “If you can put up a physical barrier that will actually make it hard for [terrorists], if they will have to use more efforts to try and plan and implement these attacks, yet while they are doing these efforts you can gather more intelligence in order to intercept them on their way, then it just makes sense.”
Following Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, a new crisis emerged in the form of Gazan terror groups launching thousands of rockets from the coastal enclave toward Israeli communities. Israel responded by creating the Iron Dome, a unique, short-range missile defense system that Lerner describes as “definitely the strategic defining component that changed everything with relation to terrorist activities originating from the Gaza Strip.”
Although the system provides safety by intercepting rockets in the air to prevent them from hitting Israeli civilians, it can also provide time to think clearly. Lerner pointed out that the Iron Dome gave Israel’s decision makers “room to act calm and collected without the looming threat of this gut response when you see Israeli deaths; they’re able to calculate their steps in a way which makes more sense strategically and not get drawn into a conflict that would be hard to perhaps overcome.”
Lerner does, however, feel there is a downside to the Iron Dome in that it has reduced pressure to fully address the threat posed to Israel’s south while the psychological toll of attacks continues. At the same time, it might help to someday encourage terrorists to reach a deal with Israel and stop the violence.
The technologically innovative answer to the Gaza rocket problem has indeed changed the conflict. The Sderot Media Center website noted that over 9,000 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from 2001 to 2010. After the Iron Dome became operational in 2011 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the number of rockets and mortars that hit Israel or have been intercepted by the Iron Dome dropped to less than 300 in the following three-and-a-half years. Perhaps most tellingly, Hamas terrorists in Gaza shifted their weapon of choice from rockets to arson balloons.
Not content to merely overcome its own challenges, Israel has sent rescue and medical teams around the world to respond to earthquakes and disasters such as the 2011 tsunami in Japan. According to Lerner, the Home Front Command in Israel trains constantly for horrific scenarios like a rocket taking down a building, giving them ample training for natural disasters. Regarding Israeli medical and search and rescue teams being able to help at all times, he added, “Perhaps it’s more of always being prepared, mainly having to respond on short notice.” Whether helping others results in diplomatic and political successes or not, Lerner believes Israel steps in primarily because “it’s the right thing to do. We have the tools, we have the means, we have the ability, we have the knowledge, we have the know-how, we must do it.”
“I think the most common denominator about crisis is it always hits you suddenly,” Lerner pointed out. That fact “to a certain respect differentiates us from other militaries…because the terrorist attacks always hit at home, our missions are not expeditionary missions thousands and thousands of miles away. You always have to respond and react quickly, so I think that means we always have to be prepared for the crisis, and that’s what they do.”
Israel’s response to crises throughout its traumatic history offers more than just help or lessons for others. It offers hope.
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