Approximately one million Israeli citizens have spent more than five days under real threat of rocket attacks. Many of these citizens have bomb shelters; others do not. Safety services are notoriously inadequate, and while the new “Iron Dome” air defense system has impressively intercepted some of the rockets fired, knowing that they “might not” be hit by rockets is small comfort to Israel’s southern residents.
Most schools and many places of work were shut down. Shutting down as much as a third of Israel exacts an immense toll on the economy. Add expenses of the Iron Dome system and other army retaliation mechanisms and it is fair to say that Israel has gone through a dramatic weekend with short and long term consequences.
Until last Thursday, things had been incredibly calm for a very long time, and didn’t look like they were destined to change. Then, until Israel decided to assassinate Zuheir Al-Queisi, secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees, who according to the IDF spokesperson, was involved in planning a terrorist attack into Israel. Again, not on his way to execute, but allegedly involved in planning an attack, which according to senior members of government, is already after planning phase and might happen regardless of the assassination.
But what appears to be the cost/benefit calculation of our military is troubling. What was our leadership thinking when it decided to assassinate, not a terrorist with a ticking time bomb, but a schemer. The man who was supposedly planning an attack—one which might go ahead without him—and resulted in putting a million Israelis at harm’s way? And if he was planning an attack (though Ehud Barak is not certain he was), isn’t it more sensible to use the army to avoid the bloodshed rather than assassinate someone like Al-Queisi and unleash five days of rocket attacks on a civilian population?
Given the intelligence that had been gathered about the attack—that it would be launched from Sinai—might the money spent on the Iron Dome defenses and putting a million people in bomb shelters have been better spent? The Israeli government could have deployed a thousand soldiers on the border with Egypt and sat, waiting for the attempted attack. They could have had fifty helicopters crisscrossing the desert sky.
Putting so many civilians in harm’s way in order to protect them from harm’s way seems frustrating enough. But to actually admit that the terrorist attack might go ahead as planned despite all of this effort, as Avigdor Lieberman has, or that there might not even be a terrorist attack is infuriating.
Our leaders need to explain not only why they believe that targeted assassinations are acceptable on moral grounds, but also should hold themselves accountable for the results of their own policies. It is tempting to think those policies are all part of some sort of rational, Machiavellian thinking; sadly, it seems that a lack of strategic leadership is much more likely explanation.