In the 10 days after Palestinian raiders killed eight Israelis on the Eilat highway on Aug. 18, Israel has suffered five terrorist attacks, the latest in Tel Aviv Sunday night which targeted a big teenagers' back-to- school party. Five of the eight people injured were police officers and the club's security guard. Israeli failure to respond commensurately to the Eilat Highway attack, the first in the series, blew another big hole in Israel's military deterrence.
The policy of military restraint pursued by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak was shown by the Tel Aviv attack by a Palestinian jihadi yelling Allah Akhbar to have crossed a dangerous red line: Civilians are being left in harm's way to serve diplomatic interests such as not further straining relations with the new rulers in Cairo.
Israel received due warning ahead of the Eilat highway attack, for which15-20 gunmen from Gaza crossed into Israel from Egyptian Sinai. But no preventive action was taken. Eight Israelis paid with their lives for this restraint and another 33 were inured.
Since then, Israel has received a specific warning that another attack is building up fast: A Jihad Islami team has departed the Gaza Strip for Sinai where it has set up another multiple attack from the Egyptian border on southern Israel.
debkafile's military sources say this warning is a red herring. The Iranian-sponsored coordinated strike is planned to be more elaborate than the first, consisting on a raid on a southern Israeli highway near the Egyptian border and another assaulting civilian locations abutting the Gaza Strip, already battered year after year by Palestinian missiles.
Palestinian Jihad Islami, which declared a missile ceasefire last Thursday, Aug. 25 – to fend off a damaging Israeli reprisal for the first Palestinian attack and the 150 missiles fired into Israel since then – saw Israel was sitting on its hands and was encouraged to go for more outrages.
debkafile's military sources report that Israel sent notice of this threat to Cairo last week in the expectation of Egyptian action to thwart the attack before it reached the Israeli border. However, nothing was done and as the peril advanced, Jerusalem let the public know Monday, Aug. 29, that Egypt was in the picture in the hope of prodding its rulers into action.
But failing military action, sovereign Israel is shrinking back under a terrorist threat. Sunday night, dire security concerns closed two national highways, 12 and 10, to traffic, suspending the road links between northern Israel and the South – causing major disruptions in the entire affective region. Even contractors on a rush job to finish the defensive wall going up along the 200-kilometer Egyptian border were told to wait for adequate security measures.
Since last week, Jerusalem has been on high terror alert level. Various signs of preparation for several attacks in the capital were spotted by security forces at sensitive locations.
Since the onset of the latest Palestinian terrorist-cum-missile offensive, popular pressure on the government has increasingly demanded seriously punitive action for cutting the offensive short and providing a deterrent for the future. After the Eilat Highway attack, the prime minister publicly pledged due punishment for the perpetrators. Now, his spokesmen are explaining that Israel needs to act with restraint, "using its brain not its gut," because of the approaching Palestinian application for UN recognition on Sept. 20 – which is anyway a lost battle for Israel because of the Palestinians' automatic majority – and the incendiary climate engendered by the Arab revolts in the lands around Israel.
Such statements are worse than counter-productive; they are harmful.
Palestinian extremists treat them as open invitations to batter Israel without fear of IDF retaliation. The belief in Jerusalem that if Israel let terror goes unpunished – or even foiled – this will guarantee Israel a smooth, bloodless ride past Sept. 20 is no more than a foolish illusion. Faced with an unthreatening Israel, Palestinian terrorists have never felt safer to do their worst. The level of violence will rise rather than decline around that date.
A spineless Israeli government is thus leading the country day by day down a slippery slope to the next Palestinian uprising (Intifada).
It is no coincidence that these circumstances are strongly reminiscent of the situation which produced the suicide-powered Palestinian uprising of 2000, because it happened during Ehud Barak's brief stint as prime minister. Then too, he instructed Israeli soldiers not to shoot straight at Palestinian positions but dip their guns and aim at the foreground. This of course did not put Yasser Arafat off and went right ahead to blow up buses, markets and cafes across Israel's cities, a hellish experience lasting two years.
Barak did not last long as prime minister; popular frustration with his passivity was expressed in a vote for his ouster from power.
But he has not changed.
This Monday, shortly before a Palestinian from Nablus set about him among Israelis with a knife after running them down in a stolen cab, a "senior defensive official" stated in a briefing to foreign correspondents that Israel would not be able to halt Iran's quest for atomic weapons by a single attack.
Declining to be identified, he said: "We're not talking about Iraq or Syria where one strike would derail a program" – a reference to Israel's 1981 air strikes that destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor and Syria's plutonic plant in 2007.
He concluded that the US stood a better chance than Israel of forcing Iran to change its mind about a nuclear weapon. "With all respect to Israel – the greatest fear of the [Iranian] regime is the USA."
The admission that the Iranians fear American military strength – but not Israel's – is tantamount to a formal acknowledgement that Israel has lost its military deterrence.
Binyamin Netanyahu and his right-of-center Likud have much to answer for.
A pledge to eradicate Iran's military nuclear program topped their election platform two and a half years ago. Since forming a broad coalition government in 2009, he has not lifted a finger to promote that objective or stem Iranian expansion across the Middle East and its boosts in arms and funding for Israel's terrorist enemies.
Netanyahu seems to be satisfied with passing the buck to America, knowing perfectly well that President Barack Obama has no intention of picking it up. The Netanyahu-Barack duo have opted for the same passive approach to Palestinian terror – as though that too is someone else's business.
Palestinian terror attack in Tel Aviv injures 8
IDF: Egypt frontier on peak alert, no longer a frontier of peace
Netanyahu accepts ceasefire to placate Egypt
At least 7 Israelis killed, 33 injured in terrorist attacks near Eilat