By Israel Harel, HAARETZ—
During the discussion among the chiefs of staff this week on Channel 2, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot was asked how the wave of knifing attacks can be overcome. “There’s no clear and focused military solution to a challenge of this kind,” he replied. “There’s a combined, multidimensional solution. Our job as an army,” he summed up, “is to restore security and calm.”
We can assume that the calm and security conveyed by Eisenkot reassured many of the concerned citizens who want to go outside again to the street, the playgrounds and shopping malls without fearing attack by knives. They are relying on him to find a solution to this “challenge,” as he dubbed the onrush of stabbing attacks.
Like his predecessors, the present chief of staff also believes that his job, in other words the army’s job, is to achieve calm. Nothing more. Since the time he became a professional soldier, the waves of terror have been a fact of life. He has learned to live with them, and he has fought them, one incident after another, to the best of his considerable ability. Should they be prevented ahead of time? Nobody before him ever embarked on a war of deterrence against them, nor does he intend, as his words imply, to make deterrence the goal of the present campaign.
During the many rounds of fighting since the first intifada, not a single chief of staff – or prime minister, or defense minister – has presented the Israel Defense Forces with a comprehensive strategic goal designed to put the enemy out of action; in other words, to thwart its ability to initiate the next rounds. That’s the only way to explain how young Arabs who threw stones and incendiary devices were able to seriously disrupt our lives in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, and to drag Israel into the Oslo Accords disaster. And the same was true, with even greater intensity, in the second intifada, the Second Lebanon War and the three military campaigns in Gaza, which solved nothing over the long term. That is the fate of an army that does not aspire to decisive victory, or is not instructed to achieve that natural goal.
And so we suffer from sudden waves of terror, as though they were natural phenomena whose force we cannot control, and which cause fear among the population, unravel the fabric of life, especially in the present campaign of knifing attacks, between Jews and Arabs, between Jews and Jews, while harming the economy, increasing the enemy’s motivation and inciting world public opinion against us.
The goals of the IDF war against the intifadas were, then as now, “to restore security and calm to the population.” That’s what was written on huge posters in the headquarters of the regional brigades in Judea and Samaria. Eisenkot was there, and those were the wartime values that he absorbed – as battalion commander, as commander of the Ephraim Brigade and as commander of the Judea and Samaria Division. That was the horizon, those were the goals. Nothing further. He didn’t decide on them, but neither did he upgrade them, not even when he was in a position to do so. Not now either, as the supreme commander.
The principles of “implementing national and strategic goals to the fullest,” “victory,” “winning the battle,” which should guide the fighters, and certainly the officers, are even today not on the list of goals of the campaign in the endless war of attrition.
The inability to win does not stem from immanent weakness. The IDF has determined and professional soldiers and commanders with a sense of mission. They are capable of achieving total victory against forces that are far stronger than those of the terrorists, with whom they are finding it difficult to cope. Those who are holding back the galloping horses are the senior commanders – and their civilian superiors – who have not made total victory over the terrorists the goal of the campaign.