In recent weeks, I found myself inundated with front page news headlines, opinion pieces and press releases on the Israeli government’s decision to bar entry to two American congresswomen to the country (it just so happened that these congresswomen also attempted to bring the unfathomable thought of boycotting Israel into the halls of Congress). The outpour of reactions, ranging from disagreement to outrage, from the American Jewish community was striking to me, because in real-time over in Israel, it appears the country could once again be on the verge of war, and this time on several fronts.
Last fall, I attended a briefing on a report by the Jewish Institute for National Security in America (JINSA) titled, “Israel’s Next Northern War: Operational and Legal Challenges.” A fundamental issue the report articulates is that because Hezbollah cannot defeat Israel by force, the Iranian proxy will exploit its next war with Israel in the court of public opinion, further delegitimizing the Jewish State in the international community, even if Israel decisively wins in battle.
Publicly lambasting the Israeli government on the issue of the congresswomen simply gave more fuel to the fire to a media and world community that takes any opportunity to criticize or condemn the one Jewish State. It doesn't seem wise to do so at a time when we should be advocating in the public sphere about the intensifying crisis on Israel’s borders. Perhaps we in the Diaspora need a refresher on Israel’s security concerns. It may not be public knowledge, but Israel cannot afford to lose one battle.
After decades of war, neighboring states in confrontation with Israel realized they could not conquer Israel through the conventional methods of military, air and intelligence warfare. Therefore, Israel’s enemies focused on long-range ballistic missiles and terrorism. In formulating Israel’s security doctrine, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion knew that military victory would always be limited and temporary at best due to the enormous size of the Arab world and geographic and population asymmetry in comparison with Israel. Israel’s single defense goal, therefore, is to ensure its preservation, and as such, it cannot afford to lose one single war. In the decades since Israel’s major conventional wars, and with the ongoing phenomenon of hybrid warfare (where a law-abiding army is confronted by non-state actors and guerilla militias that do not abide by the laws of war), and after the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War, the IDF expanded the security doctrine and developed a new concept of preemptive warfare: the Campaign Between Wars (CBW). The strategy’s goals are to delay and deter war by weakening the enemy’s force buildup and capabilities, exposing the enemy’s clandestine military activities and creating optimal conditions for Israel if it should face war.
The CBW strategy has been successful thus far in delaying war as it continues to meet its objectives. However, the threats continue to grow, and with recent escalations, the region is arguably ripe for war. Here is a brief rundown on the challenges Israel currently faces on its five fronts in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula: As most of us know, at the center of all Israel’s perils lies Iran’s desire for hegemonic control of the region and its desire to wipe Israel off the map. Through Iran’s militias supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, Iran’s presence is ever-growing in the region and preventing its military entrenchment (and its unrelenting desire for nuclear weapons) has been Israel’s top priority for years. Israel is currently engaged in a shadow war with Iran through its proxies and forces surrounding Israel’s borders and in Gaza. The risk of a multi-front war is very real.
To Israel’s border in the north with Lebanon sits Iranian--backed Hezbollah—arguably the most powerful non-state actor in the world--which has been stockpiling missiles since the last war in 2006. According to Israeli officials, Hezbollah is currently estimated to have as many as 150,000 missiles, many of which are now much more technologically advanced precision-based missiles, which have the capability to be guided to a specific site—like major Israeli cities. Therefore, in recent months, Israel has made its primary focus thwarting the Hezbollah/Iranian precision-guided missile program. According to the aforementioned report by JINSA, Hezbollah now possesses more firepower than 95 percent of the world’s conventional militaries, and more rockets and missiles than all European NATO members combined. Several serious tit-for-tats with Hezbollah over the last couple of weeks have put the country—and region—on edge, as any escalation can very quickly turn into full-scale war. With Iranian-backed Hezbollah in the north threatening to destroy Israel, this time with the capabilities to wage a damaging war, Israel (and the world community) is on high alert.
To Israel’s northeast, the vacuum for power in Syria has enabled Iran’s ascension. Iran has sought to establish offensive drone bases and military posts in Syria near the Israeli border, and it continues to be met with Israel’s zero tolerance policy. Iran has also attempted to build a land corridor linking Iraq to Syria in order to transfer weapons and move its militias, bringing Iraq into the fray. With the CBW strategy, Israel has been both clandestinely and openly destroying Iran’s encroachments.
It’s been five years since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, the war with Hamas in Gaza, and though there has been relative quiet over the years, Israel has been tolerating missiles, incendiary balloons sparking dozens of fires, violent border riots, etc. Every so often, due to rocket attacks into Israel, there are skirmishes between the IDF and Hamas, which can very easily spiral into another war campaign. Other Islamist extremists have also found their way through Egypt to the Gaza strip and are now vying for power against Hamas. Believe it or not, Israel faces the threat of even more extreme groups if Hamas should fall.
In the West Bank, violence is mostly contained, though terror ensues on Israeli citizens always. The Palestinian Authority, led by the weakened Mahmoud Abbas and backed by the militant Fatah, could face off with Hamas (they are at war with each other as well) if Abbas should lose power or die in office. The risk of chaos in the West Bank with Iran looming large is a very real threat to the stability and safety of Israel. There is also a soon—to--be unveiled peace plan created by President Trump, which invariably comes with the prospect of unpredictable responses from the Palestinians. If history tells us anything, these responses are usually violent.
To Israel’s southern-most border with Egypt, in the Sinai Peninsula, there remains an ongoing jihadist insurgency due to Egypt’s weak control of the area after the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. This means groups like ISIS and other Islamist militant militias are active, vying for control and fighting Egypt’s security forces right on Israel’s border.
As you can see from this very brief synopsis of the security situation along Israel’s borders, the reality is forbidding. Through the IDF’s strategic “Campaign Between Wars,” they have been mostly successful keeping war at bay, but the reality is that when dealing with irrational actors, it is often very hard to predict tomorrow. So shouldn’t we be spending our time and energy with opinion pieces and press releases on Israel's serious security concerns until that becomes the front page of The New York Times, and not the outrage over two congresswomen? If we don’t spread the knowledge on what Israel’s enemies are up to, who else will? It is our job, as we sit in the safety of the Diaspora, to show the world just what Israel is up against. Without our advocacy, the world’s indifference is deafening.
Rebecca Rose is Associate Director of Young Leadership & Development at B’nai B’rith International. She holds an M.A. in Political Science in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
To read this op-ed by B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield in the Jerusalem Post, click here.
It should be axiomatic in American politics: If both David Duke and Louis Farrakhan support your position, you should reconsider it.
Such is the dilemma for US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), whose repeated antisemitic remarks have drawn approbation from curious places. She remains insufficiently apologetic, though.
Omar’s intransigence is made somewhat understandable by the failure of the House of Representatives to issue an unequivocal condemnation of either her behavior or the wider problem of antisemitism. In confronting the world’s oldest and most resilient social problem, Congress did what would have been unthinkable in condemning, say, racism or misogyny: it folded the problem into a litany of horribles that included discrimination against multiple other groups.
Former presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was booed and pressured to apologize when he responded to the Black Lives Matter movement by declaring, “All lives matter.” This is because his pat, all-inclusive formulation diminished the immediate problem of racism, particularly as it pertained to black victims of police violence. But this is what Congress has done in response to antisemitism, at a time when one of its own members is practicing it. In its own “All Lives Matter” moment, Congress is avoiding dealing with antisemitism by refusing to confront it squarely.
The anti-hate resolution passed by the House condemned antisemitism as a “hateful expressions of intolerance,” at the same time as it also condemned Islamophobia and discrimination against all minorities as “hateful expressions of intolerance.” It referenced the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville and the mass synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh while simultaneously deploring the oppression by white supremacists of “traditionally persecuted peoples,” including people of color, religious minorities, immigrants “and others.”
The 19th century Dreyfus affair in France is offered as an example of a false Jewish dual-loyalty accusation, while more recent examples, such as Japanese-American internment during World War II or post-9/11 discrimination against Muslims, were used to illustrate some of the threats faced by populations in the United States.
Despite the best efforts of Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Florida), the resolution’s initial drafter, the final amalgamated product is a sweeping condemnation of all bad things, rather than a serious attempt to address antisemitism. The catch-all resolution acknowledged that antisemitism is one of many forms of discrimination in America, but there are a number of things it did not tell us. For example:
• Antisemitism is a unique and uniquely persistent social illness, featuring distinct manifestations and sometimes requiring distinct solutions. Today, it is at its greatest peak since World War II.
• Hate-crime statistics demonstrate that Jews are by far the most targeted religious group in the United States.
• Antisemitism appears both on the far Left and the far Right of the political spectrum, but its alarming growth on the Left, among minorities and among young people, is pushing antisemitic viewpoints further into the mainstream.
• Holocaust denial is a glaring aspect of antisemitism. The increase in distortion or minimization of the Holocaust speaks to the need for more education, something that is within Congress’s purview.
• The impingement on Jewish religious practices such as circumcision and kosher slaughter (shechitah) is a growing concern worldwide and poses an existential threat to many Jewish communities abroad.
• The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism and the State Department’s fact sheet on antisemitism contain definitions of the problem that should be widely circulated to increase understanding of it.
• Israel, Israel, Israel. The House resolution mentions Israel only once, in its reference to the myth of Jewish dual loyalty. But many of the most common manifestations of contemporary antisemitism involve anti-Israel hatred that crosses the line into antisemitism. We are frequently reminded that legitimate policy criticism of Israel should not be confused with antisemitism, as though that needs to be explained. However, the resolution did not speak about the appropriation of traditional antisemitic motifs in service of an anti-Israel message, something that has become a regular feature of political discourse today.
• The resolution did not explain that political events in the Middle East or elsewhere can never justify antisemitism, as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has already declared. It also skirted the harm done to the Jewish community – which is overwhelmingly pro-Israel – when the Jewish state is demonized, for example, by obscene comparisons to apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany. Or by the imposition of double standards on Israel when it attempts to defend itself from security threats, for which most Western countries have little appreciation or understanding.
When antisemitism spiked nearly two decades ago in response to the Second Intifada, officials in Europe were slow to react to the problem, dismissing it at first as a temporary reaction to events in the Middle East. Proponents of a “holistic” approach to combating social hatreds argued that there should be no “hierarchy of discrimination,” implying that antisemitism should not receive a special focus and should instead be grouped together with other phobias. We have now heard similar arguments in the US Congress, which collectively rejected a standalone resolution on antisemitism. Nearly two decades after the start of the current wave of antisemitism, some minds have yet to change on this issue.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
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