BY SHIRA KAPLAN
The death of Ronnie Yahia, 47, an instructor at the Sapir College for Liberal Arts in Ashkelon and a father of four, was a bitter reminder for the threat Israel is facing on its 60th anniversary.
It is the same reminder the Israeli army faced in Southern Lebanon in July 2006 during the tragic Second Lebanon War. And perhaps the same one it first identified in January 2002, when Karine-A, a ship loaded with 50 tons of bullets, missiles and mines, was caught in the Red Sea, consolidating the long-suspected link between the (Shiite) Islamic Republic of Iran and (Sunni) terror groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian Authority.
The lesson has become clear: Israel is no longer dealing with a localized Palestinian threat, seeking to plant bombs in the heart of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It is immersed in a larger battle against Fundamentalist Islam, which ironically bridges inter-Islamic differences in an effort to destroy the Jewish State.
The agenda linking Hassan Nasrallah, the Shiite leader of Lebanese Hezbollah, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Shiite Iranian President, and Ismail Heniyeh, the Sunni leader of Hamas and the de facto Prime Minister of the Gaza Strip, is simple: remove the “cancerous cell” called the State of Israel from the Middle East. Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah have reiterated this message out loud; Heniyeh’s Hamas Constitution explicitly calls for this objective. The goal is self-evident. As for the means, anything is legitimate.
From Israel’s perspective, the implications are defending itself at any price, as costly and as tragic as it may be. The reality Israelis face today is unheard of according to any Western standards.
In the Northern front, a million Israelis were displaced in the Second Lebanon War from Haifa and above, due to an incessant raid of missiles emerging from Hezbollah outposts in Southern Lebanon. With an average of 150 missiles a day falling on its citizens for over a month, Israel had no choice but to target the very villages in which Hezbollah was hiding, taking refuge among civilians. In the Southern front, the citizens of Sderot and the Western Negev have been living under the Qassam missile raids for the past seven years. The Qassams, coming from the heart of the Gaza Strip, have forced the Israeli government to be brutal again, and target the leaders of Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Strip. How would you have reacted if San Francisco and Boston were being hit on a daily basis with an average of 50 missiles a day?
As an Israeli citizen and an ex-solider in the IDF, the Second Lebanon war opened my eyes to the new reality Israel is facing. The reality of fundamentalist Islam, in the heart of which the Jewish State is physically located, has several implications. Whereas the Israeli government has not yet formally acknowledged these implications, I believe the day will soon come when it does.
The major implication is that the days of the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” are over. Questions such as the refugee right of return and the fate of Jerusalem have lost, in my view, their immediate relevance to the Israeli security problem. As we say in the Israeli Intelligence community, it is not that these questions are not important; they are simply less urgent.
Resolving the Palestinian conflict by withdrawing from the West Bank, for example, seems a negligible issue compared with the other threats Israel is facing. Terminating the occupation of the West Bank (as Israel did in Gaza in 2005) is not going to change the magnitude of the threat we are dealing with, neither on the Sunni nor on the Shiite front. I contend that the Palestinian issue has long ceased being the “fuel” of the conflict; the Sunni Wahabis and the Shiite revolutionaries will not suffice with the end of the “Palestinian occupation”. They will not suffice until they see the end of Israel itself.
Shira Kaplan, ’08, is a Government concentrator at Harvard College. She is currently completing her thesis on Iran’s crisis behavior in the post-revolutionary era. She served in the Israeli Defense Forces for two years before coming to Harvard.