Learning from Iraq and Afghanistan

Views from Samaria

Let us be honest – the Americans blew it in Afghanistan and then they blew it in Iraq. The Bush administration was so confident Iraqis and Afghanis were a bunch of marauding barbarians; they believed it would take a few airstrikes to take both regimes down. It took thousands of dead Iraqis and American soldiers to make them re-think their strategy. For Bush, however, it was too late.

But the re-thinking did work. The job is undoubtedly hard, but the Americans still make an effort so the locals would discern between the terrorists (the bad guys, killing people for intimidation and profit) and the Americans (the good guys, rebuilding schools, hospitals and providing security). While tough, the US troops managed to change the Rules of Engagement, keep the finger off the trigger and even persuade some locals – many locals, in case of Iraq – that it’s better to cooperate with Uncle Sam. Yes, there is much to, but the GI’s have shown us some spectacular progress.

IDF Unit 669 - SAR (Search and Rescue)
IDF Unit 669 - SAR (Search and Rescue)

The Israelis were always different. We taught the Americans many tricks they had to know to blow the terrorists into the skies. We shared our knowledge on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, making us invaluable allies. Our mailed-fist tactic won us few wars; our Special Operations units are some of the best. We are a great military power.

What we did not learn ourselves, though, is how to combine the harsh armed doctrine with winning the hearts of the civilian population. For years now, the IDF acted well against armed Palestinian activists, arresting or killing hundreds, and thwarting suicide bombings in our cities. We did not, however, understand that among the terrorists live people. Many of them probably hate us, and often we should thank outright, Fatah-fed propaganda for that. And yet, we do little to counter the lies, and instead of winning over the folks, we win the terrorists – while trampling the people.

It is our turn, therefore, to win over hearts and minds of the Palestinian population. Not to control them and not to rule over them – but to have real peace. It is going to be hard now, and would require years – if not decades – of effort. Yet, it is this endeavor we should take on, and only it would save us the trouble of wars.

First we have to understand how pressing the issue is. Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad does right now what we should have done for years now – he travels the West Bank, he helps people and he pushes through new projects to advance Palestinian development. While unable to garner support from everyone – the naysayers will always live – he made some remarkable progress in the past year. The news will only get worse for us, as he portrays himself as the savior of the Palestinian people, while the Israelis would still be the enemy. With Fayyad’s assertive strides towards Palestinian independence, we are left side by side with another hostile Arab state, war with which is just a matter of time.

The contrary is our goal: while we support the creation of Palestinian state, it is our aim to change the Palestinian mindset from opposing everything Israeli to cooperation. The IDF – being the one in constant contact with the Palestinians – would have to take it upon its shoulders. Just like the Americans, the IDF would have to take the mission of rebuilding roads, protecting the children on their way to school and making sure that hospital gets all the supplies it needs.

Let’s daydream a bit: a traffic accident in a Palestinian village. People trapped in their cars; unconscious children, who need medical care right away. The residents of the village gather around, but are unable to help – they do not have the right tools and they could cause more damage than good. Then, there is a loud roar from above and an IDF helicopters, carrying members of the 669 Rescue Unit arrives at the scene, with soldiers landing on their feet besides the vehicle and taking straight to work. Within seconds, five soldiers surround the car, use heavy tools to cut the vehicle apart and load up the civilians into the helicopter. The Black Hawk then flies straight to Ramallah, where it lands on hospital’s roof, passing the patients into the hands of Palestinian doctors.

Is this an impossible dream? It now is, and will stay this way, unless the storm troopers and the generals learn to switch the mindset. Peace is possible – but not when you kill off people you’re supposed to have peace with. The IDF faced a tough task of counter-terrorism in the past decade; the circumstances are changing, though. The West Bank is not the terror safe house like it used to be. The Palestinian economy grows and people enjoy more freedom. The removal of some roadblocks did not light up the Bank on fire, as skeptics predicted. And in two years Salam Fayyad plans to establish Palestine.

Whether he would do it or not is not the issue. It will happen – in two years or in two hundred years. But it is up to us to decide who will live beside us – a hostile, murderous nation, or a fairly prosperous, mostly neutral one. They will not be our friends. We should not make them our enemies.

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