Thursday, November 22, 2012


Operation Pillar of  Cloud, as it was called in Hebrew, is over. At the end of this blogpost I'll shut down once more. Before signing off, however, here's an immediate summary of what I saw. I'm not going to say what will happen next because I don't know, and, being the civil servant I am, I'll do my best to stay away from Israeli politics.

So far as I can tell, many Israelis are angry today. They saw the IDF inflicting considerable pain and damage on Hamas without destroying it, and they wished us to unleash the power of the ground forces to break Hamas and leave no doubt who won. I've repeatedly heard the refrain, since yesterday afternoon, "What have we achieved? In a year or two or three we'll just be back in the exact same situation? So why not break Hamas now? Why Wait?"

This may well prove true; it's at least as plausible as not that the next round really isn't more than a few years off. On the other hand, it's hard to see the scenario in which our being more destructive now would prevent the exact same next round. The urge to harm us isn't going away, and where there's a will there's a way. The question What the Gazans think they're doing, what they possibly hope to achieve by their actions, isn't easy to answer, and I don't pretend to know. It certainly doesn't look like anything rational. It's not as if anything they might throw at us will make us go away.

Yet - with all the care I need to take in pronouncing on internal political matters -  I don't think the operation was a failure at all. Not miltarily, not morally, not in the media or international relations, and not in leadership.

First, the military and moral issues.

1. Iron Dome is magnificant! Not perfect, sadly, but very very good. And it will get better. And we owe thanks to the Americans who have been financing much of it.

2. Preparedness: The number of layers of society which need to be prepared for such an onslaught on civilians is large, from the police and health services to the kindergaten teachers and the baby-sitters, not to mention the civilians themselves. Israel has just demonstrated that it has this preparedness, and the resilience and determination which underly it.

3. The air force (IAF) carried out more than 1,500 attacks, in what is often described, with a bit of hyperbole, as one of the world's most crowded areas. (Hyperbole because it's crowded, yes, but Manhattan and Mumbai are both more crowded. Cairo, too). In 1,500 sorties, something like 150 Gazans were killed. Some, tragically, were innocent bystanders, but many weren't. One way or another, the numbers mean one person killed for every ten attacks. At most, since some of the casualties were probably killed by more than 100 Hamas rockets which fell on Hamas civilians.

This is a mind-boggling statistic. I dare anyone to find another army in the world which can do that. As a matter of fact, any army in the history of mankind.

4. The extremely limited amount of collateral damage wasn't happenstance. It was the result of lots of hard work:
4.1. Detailled intelligence gathering and data-crunching.
4.2. Aquisition of weapons systems and ordinance that fit the decision.
4.3. Training. Lots of it.
4.4. Developing and honing procedures. The fact that the operator of a drone has the technical ability to stop an imminent attack because a civilians just wandered into the frame doesn't mean the attack will indeed be aborted. There have to be procedures, worked out and practiced in advance.

The heart of the matter is that there needs to be a decision, and it needs to be understood and accepted by everyone in the system, from the bean-counters authorising the significant expense to the young woman with her finger on the button. The decision has to be made from top to bottom. Or, to put this into more precise language: Israel killed so few Gazans in spite of weilding such awesome power, because Israeli society decided to do it that way. Is Israel the most moral society ever to be at war? I don't know. But it's very high in a very small league.

(I can hear the haters screaming: "So few!??! Palestinian lives aren't important for you!!! You're a racist, and a monster!" Let them froth at the mouth. Facts remain facts even if you really don't like them).

Second, the media. Look, the BBC can't help itself, and the Guardian neither. Their animosity towards Israel is so deap-seated and partially even subconscious they can't tell the story in a balanced way. Not capable.

Yet much of the media actually told it essentially as it is. The howls of rage over at Mondoweiss, a top purveyor of Jew-hatred, as they saw Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times trying to be professional, was a pleasure to see. So far as I could see Rudoren hasn't yet picked up her Elders of Zion membership card, but to hear the invective hurled at her was a fine demonstration of how far gone the true haters are, and how reasonable a professional journalist will be if allowed to see the events and report on them. Hamas was exerting itself with all its sinews to kill Israeli civilians, and Israeli soldiers were exerting themselves not to kill Palestinian civilians. This stark reality often did come accross in much of the reportage. (Not all, of course).

Then there were the social media. Israel seems to have grasped the concept of talking to people directly, not through the media. A week ago the IDF had 70,000 followers on twitter; by last night there were more than 200,000. Some will now wander away, but there will remain a large number who don't need the BBC to hear Israel's version of events (which will never be supplied by the BBC anyway). Having suceeded once, Israel will now put thought, effort and funds into improving its capabilites on this battlefield, too. Contrary to the moans of many despairing supporters, Israel isn't obviously losing the ability to tell its version of events.

International relations: they played out well, don't you think? If there was any light between the Israeli and American governments, I didn't see it. William Hague, a British fellow not know for giving pro-Zionist speeches, was supportive. His German counterpart traveled over to say Israel has a right to defend itself and Hamas has no right to be shooting at Israeli civilains. The UN passed no resolutions - and now won't set up any new version of the Goldstone Commission, either.

None of this happened by accident. Israel doesn't get international support by default, and certainly not at time of war. Just as with the the military and media aspects, someone worked hard in advance to achieve the result. Syrian bestiality helped, as did blatant Hamas ciminality, but the diplomats have apparently been earning their upkeep by the sweat of their luggage.

Egyptian President Morsi: now there's a pleasant surprise! I doubt he's about to join Likud, but no-one's asking him to. (Update: Hours after I wrote this Morsi annointed hiself Dictator of Egypt. It's an odd world).

One final comment in this section: Yes, violence works. No, violence can't solve many of the world's problems. But faced with a gang of armed thugs suh as rules Gaza, the careful appliance of violence is not only legitimate, it can be an important tool for making things better, even if only as one tool among others, and even if only for a while.

Leadership: We've got an election coming up so I"m going to be very sparse in words. Yet one must say that all the above are the result, along other things, of leadership. I do recommend people go back and read what's been said about Israel's leaders in recent years, and then see if the descriptions fit the actions we've just seen; if these actions were predictable given the descriptions.

One more comment about leadership. Important Israeli pundits and activists said, in 2006 and 2009, that Israel's initial air attacks against Hezballah and Hamas were legitimate, but the subsequent decision to keep on going and throw in ground forces was wrong. OK. So this time we listened to their advice. One hopes this will be duly noted, though it probably won't. More important: the theses has been put to test. Now we'll see if it proves itself.

Enough. As I expalined last year when I stopped blogging, I have made a decision to desist from public punditry about Israel in return for the opportunity to make some changes real changes. To do, rather than to talk. In the past year my colleages and I have set out on the road to dramatially altering the way Israel deals with it's documentation. If we succeed at what we're currently beginning, by the end of the decade Israel will be a world leader in proccessing its documentation: in creating it, appraising it, preserving it, cataloguing and declassifying it, and offering it to its owners, the public. Given the size and complexity of the challenge, I don't expect this to be visible before 2015 at the earliest, but - rather like preparing for war, actually - impressive results require years of hard preparatory work. So I thank the thousands of readers who have come by this past week, and this blog will now return to it's semi-dormant condition, with perhaps a post once every month or three. Although, come to think of it, you're welcome to follow the archives' blogs (Hebrew, and English). We're a bit proud of them and feel they're worth taking a peek. They're active most days of the week but not on the weekends.

Finally, I wish a happy Thanksgiving to those of you who'll be celebrating this evening. I can easily empathize with a nation giving thanks for all that is worthy of celebration.


Silke said...

thank you Yaacov

and may the Israel archive succeed even beyond your highest expectations. I look forward to your hitting the lecture circus (the podcasted one of course) teaching the world how it is done best

May the gods of ideas and/or creativity (and diligence) smile generously and consistently on you all

I miss you already

Paul M said...

Sorry to see you go again Yaacov. Please come back when you can stay a while — you have one of the best voices on the web.

Silke: Long time, no see. Hope you're doing well.

Paul M

Fragmentage said...

Sad you're retiring, I just recently discovered your blog. Good luck on your road ahead!

Anonymous said...


Behatzlaha with your modernization of the archives. I have already benefited personally from the availability of the Holocaust victims database at Yad Vashem, as I was able to show the records for my grandparents and great-grandmother to my father before he passed away about four years ago. If, as I suspect, you played a role in making that database available, thank you very much.


Let me second Paul M in saying that it is good to see you (so to speak) again. Are you commenting anywhere else regularly?

David E. Sigeti