Remember Amir Peretz? He’s the abundantly moustached former trade union chief who led the Labor Party into the 2006 elections and found himself, by the peculiar machinations of Israel’s ridiculous electoral system, installed as defense minister despite a conspicuous absence of high-level defense expertise. He’s the man who misguidedly trusted then-chief of General Staff Dan Halutz’s assurances that Hezbollah could be destroyed from the air in the mismanaged 2006 Second Lebanon War. He’s the buffoon who was photographed gravely viewing IDF military maneuvers on the Golan Heights five years ago through binoculars from which he had neglected to remove the lens caps.
Actually, I’m not talking about that Amir Peretz. I’m talking about the other Amir Peretz. Amir Peretz, the Sderot resident who had the wisdom and guts to defy Israel’s macho military thinkers and insist, when serving as defense minister, that Israel press ahead with the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system to protect his hometown and the other Gaza-envelope communities from Hamas’s relentless rocket attacks. I’m talking about the Amir Peretz whom people are embracing in the street nowadays because of his foresight in championing Iron Dome, the armor on high that has largely — though not totally — defanged the Hamas rocket threat during Operation Pillar of Defense in the past week.
Iron Dome has proved almost as robust as its name. Twenty years ago, when Saddam Hussein was launching his Scuds at Tel Aviv, traumatized residents fled north, south, even to Jerusalem (!) — packing out hotels in the capital — to escape the danger zone. Six years ago, when Hezbollah held the north of Israel hostage, a million-plus Israelis either spent 34 days in bomb shelters or dashed down toward Jerusalem and safety. This week, when the evil engineers of Hamas anticipated that they would reduce not just the Gaza-envelope communities but all places up as far as Tel Aviv to gibbering, rocket-battered wrecks, and eagerly contemplated Israeli death tolls on a scale that would emphasize their terrifying superiority over the loathed Zionist entity, they instead clanged up, most unexpectedly, against the nearly impermeable shield.
Successive days of rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and efforts to reach Jerusalem? Well, that’s worrying for sure. Those alarms are terrifying, no question. Plenty of Israelis from the center will now join the traumatized ranks of the Kassam-worn south. But injuries and death on the scale so gleefully contemplated by Hamas? Sorry. No, actually. We brought protection. We’ve got Iron Dome.
This being the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, even in Israel’s defensive victory, even in its staggering success in keeping its people physically safe, lies the danger of defeat.
When Israel’s short-sighted critics insistently refuse to look beyond the numerical asymmetry, the very effectiveness of Iron Dome becomes the latest weapon with which to attack Israel for its purported aggression. All those Gazans are suffering terribly, dozens have been killed, yet hardly any Israelis are dying? That can’t be right. How can the Israelis claim to be the victims of unprovoked and indiscriminate aggression? They’re still alive.
Even the reasonably fair-minded foreign news teams focus on Gaza. It’s a much better story. When you’ve done the first article about Israel’s missile defense system intercepting a rocket that, yes, would have killed dozens in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba or Tel Aviv, except that it didn’t, you’ll only be repeating yourself if you do a second piece along the same lines a day later. But Gaza? Fresh faces of suffering daily.
And the cumulative impact is to convey a sense of relentless Israeli assault on the densely populated Gaza Strip that simply must be unjustified. After all, again, the Israelis aren’t dying. They must be in the wrong.
So to restate what is blindingly obvious and yet still so often ignored: The fact that Israeli citizens have not been dying in large numbers in this conflict to date has nothing to do with Hamas, which is employing its very mightiest efforts to kill us, and which is highly skilled and experienced in the endeavor. We live, rather, because in partnership with our American allies we added Iron Dome, a remarkable new supplement to the alarm systems, safe rooms, fortified schools and other measures into which we have poured effort and resources over the years to defend our civilians from attack.
And Palestinians in Gaza are dying in growing numbers because they are either directly involved in trying to kill us or — to our genuine sorrow and Hamas’s cynical delight — they had the misfortune to be sleeping, walking, talking, studying or praying very close to a key Hamas terror chief, missile launch site, ammunition store or other element of the sprawling Hamas kill-the-Jews infrastructure.
To put it succinctly, Hamas is doing its best to kill any and all of us in Israel, while cynically seeking to protect itself from attack by emplacing its offensive capacity among Gaza’s often unwitting civilians. And Israel is doing its best to prevent its citizens being killed, while trying to thwart the attacks without harming Gaza’s civilians. There’s the relevant asymmetry.
The fact that Hamas and its Iranian-led sponsors have been thwarted this time — the shock they must have felt, and the awe we feel, at the astonishing success of Iron Dome — is no excuse for underestimating the ongoing danger. We reduced the strategic terrorist onslaught of the Second Intifada through a combination of arrests, intelligence work and the West Bank security barrier. So they switched their focus to rocket fire, devilishly anticipating that no barrier could stop an airborne assault. Now that we’ve found a means to reduce that threat, you can be 100 percent certain that our enemies are even now seeking new means to overcome those fiendish Zionists’ latest life-saving innovation.
Therefore, whenever and however Operation Pillar of Defense comes to an end, those brokering the terms owe it to us — and to those innocents in Gaza who would like to avoid further rounds of Hamas-initiated conflict — to insist upon arrangements that will make it more difficult for Hamas to do “better.” More difficult for Hamas to rearm. More difficult for Hamas to obtain increasingly sophisticated weaponry that could pinpoint targets in the south, in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv and beyond with deadlier rockets. More difficult for Hamas to build a new offensive capacity that could outsmart our innovative defensive capacity, characterized by Iron Dome. More difficult for Hamas terror chiefs to operate freely in Gaza, devising and perfecting still more nefarious means to try to kill us for the crime of insisting on living, alongside them, in our historic sovereign homeland.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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