Israel’s Missing Red Lines

Long before the Shalit deal or immediately following it, Israel should have declared any of the following: the Israeli military will respond immediately and overwhelmingly to any future kidnapping; Israel will not supply any food, electricity, medical supplies or other essential items to Gaza in the event of a future kidnapping emanating from there; any future prisoner swaps will be on an equal basis – one for one.

The fact that Israel doesn’t make such declarations is indicative of a much larger problem plaguing Israel, namely it has no red lines. For instance, once upon a time Israel’s leaders proudly declared that Israel does not negotiate with terrorists. Then over the course of years this was modified to “Israel does not release prisoners with blood on their hands”. Needless to say, the Shalit deal proved that this last red line was just as hollow as its predecessors.

The problem however is not limited to negotiating with kidnappers. For example, before the beginning of the Oslo process eighteen years ago, nearly every political and military leader agreed that the Golan Heights was not negotiable because of its strategic importance to Israel. Nevertheless, once the Oslo process was launched, the alleged strategic necessity of maintaining the Golan Heights faded away as many of the same leaders began saying that Israel can survive without the Golan. Thus, the purported Israeli red line that there was nothing to discuss regarding an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights simply vanished into thin air.

Similar reversals since the start of the Oslo process were also witnessed in Israel’s position vis-à-vis the sensitive issues of a united Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount as both of these one-time untouchables were opened to negotiations by former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.

Perhaps even more alarming, Israel’s red line of how much Arab hostility it is willing to absorb before responding with due force has changed dramatically over the last eighteen years. For instance, there was the somewhat astonishing Ariel Sharon policy of “restraint is strength” that was initiated following the deadly terrorist attack on the Dolphinarium in 2001 which left 21 teenagers dead. Moreover, it was only after hundreds more were killed in numerous terrorist attacks that Israel finally embarked on Operation Defensive Shield in March 2002 in order to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. Similarly, it was only after thousands of missiles were fired at Jewish communities close to the Gaza border that Israel finally reentered Gaza at the end of 2008 as part of Operation Cast Lead.

In the face of all these crumbling red lines it should be clear that any Israeli threat to the Arabs that is not acted upon is interpreted by the Arabs as yet another sign that Israel is growing progressively weaker, a perception which in turn further deteriorates Israel’s deterrence capability. In this light one can fully appreciate the damage done by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak when he failed to act upon his promise to respond with might to any act of aggression by Hezbollah following our pullout from Lebanon in 2000. Not only did the aggression happen, as Hezbollah dashed across the border kidnapping and eventually killing three Israeli soldiers, but our minimal response most likely emboldened Arafat and the Palestinians to raise the level of terror to another level during the bloody Second Intifada.

These are just a few of the many examples of Israeli red lines that have been falling apart in recent years. Moreover, it is most likely an Arab understanding of this which allows them to remain obstinate on nearly all their positions, confident that Israel will eventually cave in. Witness both the current government’s ongoing insistence that Abbas’s recognition of Israel as a Jewish state be a precondition for entering into negotiations and Abbas’s continued refusal to concede on this one point. Sure enough, Abbas’s gamble that Israel would eventually abandon yet another red line proved correct as Israel recently agreed to the Quartet’s request to begin negotiations without any preconditions.

The result of all this is that the Jewish people find themselves in a position where the leaders of Israel either avoid stating any clear red lines since they know they’ll never live up to them or worse they declare red lines and then simply disregard them. However, unlike other countries such as the United States where a lack of red lines is not a cause for alarm, in this neck of the woods a lack of firm red lines can lead to one’s undoing.

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8 Responses to Israel’s Missing Red Lines

  1. Ruth says:

    What can be done? Is some of the problem the parliamentary system that keeps the same tired leaders at the top of “lists”? How deep does the hopelessness run? Do people believe that if their leaders held firm to a line, things would still not change?


    • Yoel Meltzer says:

      Hi Ruth,

      The problem is really deep and I believe it stems from two things that affect both individual Jews and the collective Jewish nation, both in Israel and abroad.

      1. Many Jews are simply unaware of historical truths and facts, specifically regarding Israel over the last 100 years or so. This being the case, they are influenced by all the propaganda and lies that have been circulated for years, which in turn shakens their belief in the justness of their cause. Without this firm belief based upon a clear understanding and not simply based upon arrogance, many Jews have “bought” the Arab story and thus feel guilty.

      2. Even for many who haven’t been fooled and thus don’t believe that we’re wrong, they still feel “we have to do something” to stop the endless fighting even if this “something” (the two-state solution) will clearly blow up in our face. This being the case, why don’t they just say “no” to the world? This I believe is based upon the second problem, something which is much deeper. In a nutshell, most Jews don’t really understand what is our true purpose in the world and how this purpose is connected to the Jewish people having sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Thus, without this understanding to provide an anchor, Jews are either ready to throw away parts of our land or they simply don’t have the inner strength to stand up to all the lies in the world.


  2. Terry, Eilat - Israel says:

    Red lines? I laugh every time I hear an Israeli politician say, ”Red lines.”
    We don’t have red lines – we have what can only be called ”erosion” – we are being eroded out of existence.

    • Yoel Meltzer says:

      Sad but true. By the way, the problem’s not new as Yisrael Eldad already mentioned this problem 60 years ago in his book The First Tithe. If you never read the book, I strongly recommend it.

      • Terry, Eilat - Israel says:

        Here is what amazes me – theoretically, we have excellent prospects for the future. There are the oil & gas discoveries which will have very positive effects both economically & politically. We are demographically strong with a good age-distribution, unlike the Europeans & even the Turks & Iranians.
        Even with our crappy educational system, we are an educated population & technologically advanced. Our Muslim enemies are in the midst of a process of implosion as they descend into chaos. While it seems that we are politically isolated, there is every reason to believe that this will change dramatically, not just in the US with the defeat of Obama but also in the EU (if it survives).
        Yet, our political establishment is a failure, we act out of weakness. Everywhere you look, you see defeatism. Politically, we act like losers, always on the defensive, always apologetic, always ready for another concession.

  3. Lady-Light says:

    I have 3 of my 5 children living in Israel. They were ardent Zionists when they arrived years ago, but now, two of them at least, are disappointed and disillusioned for various reasons, including the weak, left-leaning and seemingly self-conscious government, wanting to be loved by the world, and self-centered, arrogant Israelis who think they’re always right. At least one child has told me, ‘eema, Israel is not how you described it to be.’ Turns out, I was the “Starry Eyed Zionist.”. And now I’m afraid for Israel’s future.

    • Yoel Meltzer says:

      Lady-Light shalom,

      Thanks for you comment. Regarding your children, although it’s certainly not easy here and I understand how someone can easily fall into despair, the trick is to see the bigger picture and realize that there’s a tremendous process going on here. There’s also plenty of good here that one can see if he gets used to seeing, not only with his physical eye which tends to focus on the problems and negativity, but with his internal “spiritual eye”. I truly hope things work out for your children.

      All the best.


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