Iron and Blood

“The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood.” — Otto Von Bismarck, Prussian Prime Minister.

In 1984, I was afforded the opportunity to visit Israel for a two-week scientific conference. The El Al flight left from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and landed outside of Tel Aviv. The security of the flight was extremely strict by the standards of the time and even tighter than American post-9/11 security. Every potential passenger was questioned about the purpose of their trip. If you had bags transferred from another airline, you had to claim them and examine their contents to make sure nothing was added while the bags were out of your control. Any bags left in public places unattended were quickly confiscated.

The year 1984 was

One of the most surprising features about life in Israel was the ubiquity of automatic weapons. Soldiers always had them slung over their shoulders. Civilians carried them for protection even on school trips to tourist areas. The guns were a reminder of the precariousness of Israel’s position. Despite, and perhaps because of these weapons, we did not experience security problems. We drove around the country unhindered, visiting the Red Sea and Masada. We took a bus ride parallel to the Jordan River through much of the West Bank, toured the Golan Heights and the then quiet Israeli-Lebanese border, spent time at hotel in northern Israel, and visited the seaport at Haifa.

Now a drive through the West Bank might prove a little dangerous. If we ventured to the border with Lebanon or even to Haifa we would find ourselves within the range of Katyusha rockets raining down indiscriminately from Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon. What happened?

Allured by the success of peace with Egypt and relentlessly pushed by the Europe and the United States to take risks for peace, Israel has tried to apply the same formula with its other enemies. After rooting out terrorists from southern Lebanon, Israel retreated behind its internationally recognized border. As a consequence of the Oslo Accords, Israel has turned over much of the administration of the West Bank to Palestinian Arabs. Recently, Israel has withdrawn from the Gaza strip, even taking the politically difficult task of dismantling Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Unfortunately, the actions have not purchased peace and security. Israel has been forced to erect a wall to keep out terrorists from the West Bank. It has had to re-enter the Gaza Strip to stop attacks that commenced almost from the moment of the Israeli exit. In contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, Hezbollah has been using southern Lebanon as a staging ground for anti-Israel attacks. Perhaps most despicably, Hezbollah is using private residences to store arms, inviting civilian causalities in the event of the present Israel military response.

The land-for-peace formula worked with Egypt, because Egyptian President Anwar Sadat genuinely desired to achieve some accommodation with Israel. However, with Palestinian Arabs, Hezbollah, and Hamas, no negotiations seem possible. These groups are institutionally committed to the destruction of the Israel and use any agreements as mere tactical concessions to enable future attacks. How is it possible for Israel to have a meaningful dialogue with a group that does not recognize Israel’s right to exit. Perhaps the worst part is that such groups have used their control to hide their own corruption and instill a new generation with an existential hatred of Israel.

Unfortunately for Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the region, the observations of Otto Von Bismarck, although made in a different historical context, may prove all too apt.

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