What Are We Waiting For

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 1) by Alex Fishman (news analysis) — The precise timing will be whispered by President Bush into Arik Sharon’s ear only. But it really doesn’t matter. The operational warning about the impending war has been issued publicly already

President Bush’s speech before dawn this morning [Israel time] moved the Middle East out of the twilight zone of the drawn-out waiting period and into a clear situation of war. Now it is only a matter of hours.

So that all of the security establishment’s stammering as to whether to tape the plastic sheets to the windows or not are odd, to say the least.

The lessons of the previous war notwithstanding, the hundreds and dozens of exercises in the realm of public information that have been completed notwithstanding, when the moment of truth nears they treat the Israeli public like a herd of panic-stricken calves. What else is there to wait for? The picture of the situation is clear. War has been declared between the United States and Iraq. The level of danger to Israel is very low, but existent. Now let all Israeli citizens use their common sense, complete their preparations and not wait for further instructions from above. The citizen’s common sense is just as good as any general’s.

The war games that were played out by the security establishment anticipated that the United States would attack Iraq last night. They weren’t off by a lot. The ultimatum issued by President Bush to the Iraqi president is non-binding. In any event the Iraqis already have said that they reject it. As such, the timing of the attack is now in the hands of General Franks, the commander of American CENTCOM, who will decide on the basis of operational conditions.

As of this morning the IDF will also begin to operate on the basis of different procedures too, now that we are in the period of war. As a direct result of the heightened state of alert, the chief of staff from now on will head the team that makes the daily situation assessments. The call-up of hundreds of reservists that began last night is geared to bolster the intelligence services, the IAF and core members of Home Front Command units, such as the non-conventional weaponry identification units. These core Home Front Command units are supposed to give a preliminary response if Israel is hit some time around the beginning of the war. More reservists will be called up and added to these core units in the course of the war if need be.

Israel has two sensitive scenarios in the first stage of the war. The first is the possibility of some sort of early Iraqi strike on Israel even before the Americans attack. That scenario is considered to be very low probability. The second is the possibility that Saddam Hussein remains alive and in control of the situation after a week of an American air-strike, at which point he is liable to decide to attack Israel. Here too one needs to bear in mind that his capabilities are not great. In any event, nearly a year and a half of intensive preparations by the IDF that cost billions are expected to provide an answer for those scenarios.

Everything is ready: the orders have been written, the training has been completed, the equipment has been bought. The level of IDF alert will be bumped up another level after the first shot is fired.

Meanwhile, the Americans are trying to make up for their disgraceful conduct in the UN Security Council by building a Hollywood diplomatic drama geared to enlist public opinion at home. The drama build-up began at the summit in the Azores islands, which looked like a poor-man’s Yalta summit, progressed with an American-British show in the UN Security Council corridors, continued with the cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street and peaked last night with Bush’s speech. Thus far, Bush’s drama has borne fruit: he crossed the 60% approval rating at home.

The Real Danger

Ma’ariv (p. 2) by Amir Rappaport (news analysis) — The leaders of the security establishment were calm, even buoyant yesterday on their way to the meeting at which it was decided to raise Israel’s level of alert. The reason for this: Their feeling that the preparations that have already been taken are, in fact, a waste of time and money.

The significance of the instructions to prepared sealed rooms, truth be told, is mostly psychological. Everyone is certain that Israel will not be subjected to missile attacks, and if we are, plastic sheets are not going to help. In addition, the sealed rooms will likely awaken the traumas of the Gulf War and partially paralyze the country. Parents will hesitate to send their children to school, and there will be people who will choose to leave Section A [referring to the division of the country according to missile danger with A being the Tel Aviv area ] after the directive to seal rooms is given.

Despite this, instructions to begin sealing rooms are about to be given. It can be seen in this way: The leaders of the security establishment are covering themselves. But it is more correct to treat the preparations as a kind of insurance: Just as hundreds of thousands of people insure their houses against earthquake damage, though they are not really afraid that their homes are about to collapse, the preparations for the war with Iraq are being carried out because of the gravity of the potential damage should Israel be attacked with chemical or biological weapons, even though the chances are minimal.

At the same time, it seems that the large amount of attention devoted to the chance that Israel will be attacked by Iraq is not just a waste of time and money, but also a diversion of the real focus, which is the possibility that Saddam Hussein will respond to the American offensive with a world-wide terror war that will also target Israel. Apart from terror actions carried out by Iraqi agents, there is concern that the Palestinians and international terror organizations like al-Qaida will ratchet up their attempts to attack targets in Israel or Israeli and Jewish targets abroad.

There is no concrete warning of this option, which should be treated as seriously as the missile threat, but in any case there is no psychological response to it along the lines of plastic sheets. One thing is certain: Even if everyone is calm, it would be best not to be complacent before the war in Iraq. There are too many people who are interested in getting us to attend this party.

Back to the Sealed Room

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 4) by Eitan Glickman and Yehudit Yahav — Despite the military assessment that the probability of Israel coming under Iraqi missile fire is very low, OC Home Front Command Maj. Gen. Yosef Mishlav instructed the public to equip itself fully with all of the materials necessary to seal a room. Instructions to the residents of Israel to prepare a sealed room are expected to be issued this morning.

A decision to issue these instructions was made last night in the course of a security establishment situation assessment meeting that was held in response to the ultimatum that President Bush was anticipated to give Saddam Hussein. At this stage the security establishment has decided not to instruct citizens to carry their gas mask kits with them. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that the security establishment’s assessment that there was very low probability of Israel being attacked by missiles remained unaltered.

However, the instructions to buy sealing materials had a clear effect on the public. After three weeks of relative calm, the stores that sell “war goods” were flooded yesterday with people once again.

The Home Center chain reported that a rise in the number of shoppers was clearly discerned even in the morning, before the Home Front Command issued its instructions, and in the course of the day the number of shoppers continued to increase. Home Center reported that their sales of emergency lighting, batteries, plastic sheets and duct tape had risen by tens of percentage points.

A spokesman for the Ace chain said that a 100% rise was recorded yesterday in the sale of war goods relative to the preceding days.

The supermarkets reported a sharp rise in the sale of mineral water, canned food and batteries. Super-pharm reported a 70% rise in mineral water sales. Sales in relaxants rose less dramatically-only by 15%.

An Industry and Trade Ministry spokesman said that there was a large enough supply of emergency equipment that was needed for the war and that there was no reason to hoard more than was needed. Home Front Command officials also said that there was no need to buy too much duct tape or plastic sheets. [… ]

As part of the preparations for the offensive in Iraq, the Home Front Command and the IDF Spokesperson’s Office held a drill in which they examined the readiness of the various electronic media. The exercise was geared to drill issuing emergency messages to the public and the regular flow of these messages. In the course of the exercise a special test broadcast was to have been carried out via Channel One and the cable channels that was to have lasted 15 minutes.

Mofaz: “This Time We Will Respond”

Ma’ariv (p. 5) by Itai Asher — On the eve of war with Iraq, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz found time in his busy schedule to answer questions from worried surfers on the Ma’ariv Online website. A surfer named Udi asked the question that worries us all: “What are the chances that Israel will be attacked?” In response, Mofaz repeated the calming messages that have been emanating from the security establishment over the past weeks: “The danger of attack is low. There are no missiles in western Iraq that threaten the State of Israel, and so our assessment is that the danger is very, very small.” Up-to-date surfers mentioned the recent report on the Fox TV network saying that Scud missiles had been deployed in western Iraq. Mofaz said that Israeli intelligence looked into the report and found it to be baseless.

Regarding the timing of the beginning of the attack, Mofaz emphasized that this would be decided only by the Americans, but said, “The offensive is unstoppable, and will begin soon.” He said that he believes it will last several weeks.

So should we begin sealing rooms? Mofaz suggested that we not act according to rumors but instead we should “obey the instructions of the Home Front Command on this subject. It is important that we be prepared even when the chance of Iraqi missiles falling on Israel is small.” In this current round of the conflict, if we do have to enter the sealed rooms, Mofaz promised, “The stay will be short.”

A surfer named Assaf wanted to know if Scud missiles could reach Nahariya. Mofaz reassured him that there is a double-layered defense system around Israel: “The first layer consists of the Arrow missile batteries, and the second of the Patriot batteries,” saying that the combination of the two guarantees a high level of defense should missiles indeed be launched.

Mofaz added that the Patriot missiles, which originally were used as anti-aircraft weapons, were improved after the first Gulf War in 1991. “Today the Patriots have a good chance of hitting missiles,” said Mofaz. Minister Mofaz said that Israel’s deterrence capability was damaged by the country’s policy of restraint in 1991. “In an historic perspective, it is true that the policy of restraint eroded our deterrence capability. If we are attacked this time we will defend the citizens of the country.” Mofaz made clear that the decision to retaliate for a missile attack was not dependent on any US approval. “The State of Israel is a sovereign state. If its citizens are in danger, we will act.” Mofaz told the web surfers that there was no need to leave the country or their homes. “We must continue our daily routine,” he said.

Israelis who are currently abroad can be calm: at the moment there is no plan to close Israel’s airspace during the offensive in Iraq. “When the war begins we will evaluate this question. As of now, Israelis abroad will have no problem coming back to Israel.” Mofaz also reassured parents, saying, “During the war in Iraq, schools will operate as usual.”

Regarding the chance that Hizbullah would take advantage of the war to heat up the northern front, the defense minister said that as of now the northern front was under restraint, but said that if the IDF needs to retaliate, “plans have already been prepared.” Mofaz denied the recent spate of reports that senior doctors had been instructed to stay in Israel until the end of the war in Iraq.

The defense minister once again repeated the necessity of the move to topple Saddam Hussein. “On the day after, Iraq will have a different regime, and its non-conventional capabilities will be removed” he said. He added that the American offensive will have global repercussions: “America’s success in toppling Saddam Hussein will send a message to the other countries in the axis of evil, ones in which the unholy trinity exists: an extremist regime, the desire to achieve nuclear capability, and the encouragement of terrorism.”

Reserve Call-Up

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 9) by Eitan Glickman and Itamar Eichner — In the wake of the military assessment that the war in Iraq is going to begin some time this week, the IDF has begun to call up hundreds of reservists by means of emergency notices to the IAF, the anti-aircraft units, the non-conventional weaponry identification units, intelligence units and the Home Front Command.

Concurrently, the IAF has remained on a heightened state of alert. Even though the security establishment believes that the chances that Iraq will attack Israel are negligible, the IAF has been on a high state of alert for quite some time already to thwart any attempt by enemy aircraft to penetrate Israeli air space. The practical meaning of this state of alert is that there is never a moment in which armed IAF jets are not patrolling the Israeli skies.

The American liaison units that have been working these past few weeks closely with the Israeli teams yesterday held extended talks about the possibility of missiles being fired at Israel at some time in the course of the American attack on Iraq.

In addition to the two Arrow missile batteries that are deployed at Palmahim and Ein Shemer, three American Patriot missile batteries are deployed with improved missiles in Jaffa, the Tel Baruch beach and Haifa.

These batteries are geared to be used in the event that the Arrow batteries fail to intercept an incoming missile. Today a decision will be made whether to deploy additional Israeli Patriot missile batteries-in addition to the batteries that are deployed currently along the northern border and at the reactor in Dimona. The additional batteries in question would be deployed in Haifa and its suburbs. These batteries are on a state of alert that would allow them to be deployed within 24 hours.

Senior Israeli political sources said yesterday that if Iraq were to attack Israel the US administration will apply heavy pressure on Prime Minister Sharon to refrain from responding militarily. US administration officials recently asked Israel to commit not to respond militarily to an Iraqi attack, but this request was refused.

Prime Minister Sharon and Defense Minister Mofaz believe that the absence of an Israeli response in 1991 was a mistake. The Americans are deeply concerned that an Israeli response against Iraq could disrupt the course of the war.

In order to prevent an Israeli response, the Americans have shared information with Israel about all of their activity in western Iraq. By so doing they hope to prove that they are making every effort to do away with any threat to Israel.

What Will We Do Without the “Eastern Front?”

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 2) by Yaron London — The government of Israel could not have hoped for a better date than the one set by the Americans for their attack on Iraq. The din of war will silence the criticism of the budget bill, the opposition will be hard put to direct public attention to its drawbacks, and the Histadrut will deliberate extensively before it calls a strike and gathers demonstrators.

Who will dare call for mass demonstrations when there is fear of missiles and terror attacks? The security tension will also push out of memory the gravest of all the government’s fiascoes: its capitulation to the army’s demands, which forced itself on the budget planners and sicked Sharon on Netanyahu. Many Israelis will be suckered by their anxieties and mistakenly will think that this war is the ultimate proof that we live in an area replete with multiple dangers that need to be met with a large and rich army.

The truth is that an examination of the strategic ramifications of the war ought to lead one to the exact opposite conclusion, since for dozens of years our defensive concept was based on the understanding that thousands of tanks could come rolling into us from the east. The fear of an eastern front was used to justify the establishment of a security zone along the River Jordan, the construction of settlements and military bases on the [West Bank] hilltops and the establishment of a massive Armored Corps. What is left of those arguments after we signed a peace treaty with Jordan, after the first Gulf War and after a dozen years of an embargo on Iraq? What will be left of them in another few hours when the decayed vestiges of the Iraqi army are turned into ashes and dust?

For the sake of precision, even though the validity of those arguments for holding onto a security zone along the River Jordan and for the settlement on the hilltops was never formally declared to have expired, they have not been cited too often in the past number of years any more.

They stopped being professed without the advocates of continued possessing the occupied territories ever having admitted that they no longer applied.

Now the opponents of withdrawal rely on the “psychological effect,” which is to say the fear that willingness to withdraw would be interpreted as a sign of weakness that will invite aggression, and the need to control the Palestinian population centers so as to curb terrorism. The occupation, like every state of reality that sets down roots and refuses to leave, has displaced the reasons for its very own existence, even though those reasons,that should not be discredited-need to be answered differently.

These answers are not territories for deployment in the face of tank divisions that are rolling in from the east, nor is it thousands of tanks and APCs that are impoverishing the army and pinning down gratuitous divisions of reservists. Our land-based might is excessive not only because the threat from the east has crumbled but also because of the limited offensive capabilities of the other Arab armies.

The Egyptian army, which is the strongest of all the neighboring armies, is equipped with all the technological wonders, but its offensive capabilities nevertheless are not extensive. It lacks for a developed technological infrastructure and is dependent to a great extent on the graces of America. Without a dominant air force it would be unable to traverse the 180 kilometers of the Sinai Desert. The Syrian army froze in the 1980s and the Syrian economy is incapable of bearing the burden of developing it.

The central threats that we now face are not from the Arab countries’ land forces but rather from weapons of mass-destruction and low-intensity conflicts from without and within.

The IDF is organizing seriously for the next war and is finding it hard to part with the lessons that were learned from wars past. The excessive might of our ground forces has sentenced it to budgetary distress and Israeli society to social distress. The public is exposed only to a small aspect of the defense budget talks that is almost gossip-like in nature: the terms of service that are given to career army men and women. It has not been made privy to the discussions about the structure of the military forces, which is an issue, aside from its academic importance, that also has far-reaching economic implications. The decision is about to be made hastily, in a paralyzing economic and security atmosphere, without the kind of open debate that befits a society that is going to have to live by its sword for many years to come.

Prestige is a Bad Adviser

Ma’ariv (p. B7) by Dan Margalit (op-ed) — Shaul Mofaz spoke of the past and sent a message for the future. In an interview with Shelly Yehimovitch and Roni Daniel on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press,” the defense minister was asked if he had criticism for the government which showed restraint in 1991 when 40 Scud missiles were fired at Israel by Iraq and scattered the residents of Tel Aviv to the four corners of the country.

It is worth noting the phrasing of Mofaz’s answer: “I will say it in the softest words that I can…It is true that the government headed by Yitzhak Shamir faced serious dilemmas, but I think that in the long term, historical view it would have been correct to retaliate, because this sent a message that the State of Israel, in such a situation, would not retaliate. More than anything, this eroded Israel’s deterrent power.”

The interviewers understood that the restraint of 1991 would not be repeated in the coming war. “As long as it is up to me,” Mofaz promised, bringing Sharon into the picture, “the answer is that we will defend the citizens of Israel…Including with clear offensive actions, yes.”

But the behavior of the government in 1991 was not wrong. Shamir-the proverbial brave man who suppresses his passions-was not dragged after the instincts of many good men and did not send the IDF to Iraq. You need public courage to sit with your arms folded while missiles fall and receive in return something from the US that cannot easily be seen.

Israel would have gained nothing had its aircraft found themselves in skies ruled by the US. They would only have angered the Americans. The things that the American planes and missiles could not do to prevent Scud fire at Israel were also beyond the reach of the IDF’s air power.

There was also no point in sending an elite Israeli unit to wander around western Iraq. It could not have prevented the missile fire. If it was lucky, it would have returned home in one piece. Shamir was wise to leave it at home in one piece in the first place.

Israeli involvement would have turned into a diplomatic conflict with the US. Afterwards, when it would turn out that the work had not been completed, the White House would have blamed Israel for the fact that its military involvement hastened the breakup of the international coalition and allowed Saddam Hussein to escape by the skin of his teeth.

That does not mean that the IDF must never act in Iraq. But in 1991, restraint was worth more to Israel than military action. In 1991, perhaps, at situation assessments carried out under fire, it might have been possible to claim that we must respond with force. But from a distance of 12 years this approach has no justification.

There was also no proven weakening of Israel’s deterrent power. On the contrary, a military action that would have been entirely lost in the midst of the broad American offensive, one which would not have left an imprint on the battlefield or in the sky-that would have weakened our deterrent power. A situation would have been revealed in which the IDF was flying under American limitations in the skies of Iraq, one of our reconnaissance units was wandering around there, and there would have been few discernible results.

This is not a historical debate. Mofaz spoke of the past and the near future almost in one breath. But it is not fitting to commit Israel to a causus belli that will do more to make life difficult for Israel than it will deter its enemies.

The picture of the situation is layered: There is a very good chance that Iraq will attack Israel, and if it does, it will be stopped by the American and Israeli defense systems. If, God forbid, these two options are neutralized, the government has the right and the duty to discuss the situation under fire without committing itself beforehand to take steps in which prestige-more than use or need-will play a large and awful role. Every Israeli and Iraqi knows that the IDF has many ways of defending itself from missile and airplane attacks.

The ability and the right to do so do not require a declaration of commitment. The government should be given freedom of action when the time comes, and it should look into its options when it has real information. There is no need for a commitment to military action before such time. It depends on the severity of the strike against Israel, and on what we would gain from participating in military operations. Only one who understands that the restraint Israel displayed in 1991 was wise will feel that we must not commit ourselves ahead of time to a military response at any price.