The Jerusalem Post, February 19, 2002

RED LINES IN DISAPPEARING INK

By Evelyn Gordon

It is no surprise that the past weekend was a bloody one, with six Israelis killed and dozens wounded in three separate attacks in the space of 48 hours. More violence is the textbook consequence of weakened deterrence - and "weakened deterrence" is a kind description of last week's laughable Israeli response to the latest Palestinian escalation.

For weeks, the government has been loudly (and in retrospect, foolishly) warning the Palestinians that rocket fire at cities would cross a "red line," forcing Israel into a response that was qualitatively different from anything that has gone before. Last Sunday, Hamas called this bluff by firing Kassam-2 rockets at two southern towns - though thanks to the missile's inaccuracy, both missed their targets and landed in empty fields.

But Israel's "qualitatively different" response quickly proved no different than its response to hundreds of previous terror attacks: The air force bombed a few empty buildings belonging to the Palestinian Authority, while ground forces - after waiting 60 hours to give the most wanted terrorists plenty of time to escape - entered three Palestinian towns, rounded up some junior Hamas operatives (most of whom were later released), and withdrew in less than a day. The Palestinians could scarcely avoid the obvious conclusion: Israel's talk of "red lines" is meaningless.

What is truly disturbing, however, is that this was not a one-time lapse on Israel's part. The sophistication of Palestinian attacks - and the consequent Israeli death toll - has increased steadily throughout the nearly 17 months of conflict, yet the response has remained virtually unchanged: The sole variables are how many empty buildings will be bombed and how many suspects will be arrested in any given retaliatory raid.

And since the Palestinians have made it clear that they deem this response an acceptable price to pay for the privilege of wreaking havoc through terror attacks, the result is that they have no reason whatsoever to desist from their quest for ever deadlier forms of terror - Israel has repeatedly proven that its response will never exceed the bounds they are prepared to tolerate.

This utter breakdown of deterrence has also had a predictably deleterious impact on the Israeli public. A year ago, an overwhelming majority was convinced that no peace agreement with the Palestinians was possible, and the only option left was to prove to them that terror does not pay. Today, an overwhelming majority still believes that no agreement is possible - but after a year in which Palestinian terror has steadily increased despite the government's claim that it is pursuing a policy of deterrence, some are beginning to despair of this option as well.

This despair was especially visible in two recent demonstrations demanding "an end to the occupation" - both of which were essentially calls for unilateral withdrawal. The message, in a nutshell, was that since we cannot stop the terror ourselves, the only alternative is simply to give the Palestinians whatever they want and then throw ourselves on their mercy.

Considering that the Palestinians refused just a year ago to concede either the "right of return" or the right to resort to violence in exchange for a state on 97 percent of the territories, including east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the idea that peace can be purchased by making unilateral concessions seems so farfetched that it is hard to believe it has any adherents at all - yet the demonstrations drew crowds of a few thousand people each.

It is far more than organizers could have dreamed of a year ago. Such events merely encourage the Palestinians to believe that if they just ratchet the terror up far enough, a majority of the country will demand unconditional surrender.

What makes this despair heartbreaking is that it is utterly unjustified - because the problem is not that deterrence has proven a failure; the problem is that it has never been tried. Deterrence means ensuring that the consequences of terrorism are truly unacceptable. In other words, it means that if current tactics are insufficient, stronger measures must be taken - if necessary, up to and including a complete reconquest of the territories and the dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority.

It is high time for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to start making good on his campaign pledge to fight terror via the only method that has ever proven effective: genuine deterrence. The alternative is an ever-increasing number of dead and maimed Israelis - and the deadly growth of despair.

Copyright 1995-2002 The Jerusalem Post - http://www.jpost.com



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