Israel scores points in dealing with its latest threat

It is too early to judge the full results of the fighting in Gaza, but several strategic, military and political truths already emerge.

Strategically, our neighborhood’s Islamists — from Gaza through Beirut to Tehran — have fired one shot too many, not only at us, but also at Egypt, whose rawest nerve they have scratched without anesthesia.

You can’t call on Egypt’s masses to take to the streets and expect Hosni Mubarak to say — as Israeli leaders would in comparable situations — “Words, words, let them talk.” For a man whose office is a short car ride away from an airstrip where aircraft are always ready to whisk him to safety lest the mob suddenly erupt, such calls constitute incitement for the worst thing he can think of: revolution.

The Egyptian leader took Israel’s side in this war, realizing that the missiles whose smuggling into Gaza he had ignored might end up directed at him. El-Arish in the northern Sinai has more residents than Ashkelon, and is no farther from Gaza than Beersheva. Gullible Westerners can delude themselves that a Sharia state in Gaza will care only about itself and Israel. Mubarak evidently knows better than that.

Militarily, the enemy’s latest weapon, the missile, has been exposed and confronted. No, it has not yet been rendered obsolete, and yes, the Syrians, Iranians and Lebanese possess it in quantities and qualities that remain a major challenge to the Jewish state’s security.

However, we now know to expect it on the home front, while technologies are developed to further diminish its threat. At the same time, like the suicide bomber before it, the more it is accumulated, the more vulnerable it becomes to standard military attacks.

Similarly, the more it was used the more we learned what to do. The Home Front Command worked efficiently, keeping the population well informed and disciplined, while coordinating well the works of municipalities, hospitals, police, supply centers, first aid paramedics and even psychologists.

This is not the first time we have initially failed to detect a new threat, only to soon learn and defeat it.

In the winter of 1947, the IDF’s predecessor, the Haganah, assumed the worst-case scenario was an all-out Palestinian rebellion. In fact, the worst threat, the one that indeed soon materialized, was a concerted invasion by the surrounding Arab armies.

Later, the IDF repeatedly failed to immediately respond to a rapidly changing battlefield’s newest challenges. In the 1970s it underestimated anti-aircraft missiles; in the 1980s it was caught unprepared for the intifada’s stones and knives; and last decade it was initially baffled by the mass-produced suicide bomber. In all cases, after the initial surprise’s impacts, the new threats were learned and overcome.

Now the Palestinian hope to see the missile reshape history has proven groundless. This weapon and the rest of the metals with which they have chosen to shower us are a problem, but like so many others that had previously caught us off guard, we now know this one, too, and are preparing for it better every day: mentally, administratively and militarily.

Lastly, the war has also produced political winners and losers. The winners are Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, and the loser is Kadima.

Barak, the defense minister, has reminded his many eulogizers that he has not forgotten how to fight. It took poise and resolve to plan and execute this operation, and it is good to see that under Barak’s leadership the IDF has addressed its flaws of summer ’06. It is good to see the IDF now appears disciplined, equipped, trained, agile, motivated and well organized, and it is good to see civil defense properly managed. All this means renewed respect for Barak and his party, and therefore also more votes. Yet those will come from Kadima, not Likud.

For Netanyahu, the very emergence of hostilities in the Gaza Strip is a vindication of his warnings three years ago that unilateralism would result in violence.

Kadima will have to explain what happened to the unilateral-retreat ticket on which Ehud Olmert made it run back in ’05. How is it that what began with fuddy-duddy convergence ended up with bloody vengeance? Kadima can be counted on to emerge with answers of its own, but the real answer is that what united this party since its inception was not an idea, but opportunism.

The only common denominator among its leaders is that they were part of Ariel Sharon’s circle of sycophants. As such, some of them are able technocrats, but during three years in power they never jointly produced even one idea or plan, let alone a gospel.

No wonder, then, that some Kadima cynics hoped to delay next month’s election. They know that the one idea behind which they once rallied, sweeping unilateral retreats, emerges from this war as defeated as Hamas and its missiles.

Amotz Asa-El is the founding president of BusinessWeek Israel and the former executive editor of the Jerusalem Post, where this column previously appeared.