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From the Center

For those of you who are regular visitors to this website, you know how hard we work to present a full range of perspectives on the topics we cover. There are plenty of sources—online and elsewhere—to find people who will tell you why they are right and everyone else is wrong. We know that you are all smart enough to make your own decisions without being told what you should support, how you should vote or what you should think. And our founders knew it was important to provide a conversation here that provided even-handed analysis without advocating for one side of the debate or the other.

But I’ll admit that while I will do my best to maintain that standard in this column about the crisis in the Middle East, I am almost certainly going to fail. Not just because I am Jewish and believe in a Jewish homeland, and not only because I am a strong supporter of the state of Israel, of the need for peace in this volatile region, and an equally strong opponent of the type of ugly terrorism we saw when Hamas terrorists conducted a senseless slaughter of Israeli civilians on the morning of the Jewish Holiday of Simchat Torah. But because, like many of Israel’s strongest supporters here in the U.S., in Israel itself and around the world, I allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security as to the prospects for peace in the Middle East. I am furious with myself for letting my guard down and allowing myself to be distracted by all sorts of arguments and disagreements that didn’t seem nearly as important in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks than they did the night before.

As Israel has made diplomatic progress with Arab Gulf states through the Abraham Accords and has negotiated toward an ambitious naturalization agreement with Saudi Arabia, it became easy to look past the ongoing Hamas threat as a nuisance that could no longer derail the broader goal of fundamentally remaking the Middle East. Even as violence flared on the West Bank and Hamas terrorists publicly practiced live-fire exercises, the widely acknowledged impregnability of the Israeli military offered ongoing reassurance that the Jewish state was protected and that its leaders could concentrate on building an anti-Iran coalition and resolving domestic political disputes.

This overconfidence was quickly exposed on several operational fronts, from the limitations of the Iron Dome missile defense system that was overpowered by unprecedented numbers of incoming warheads to the vulnerabilities of a high-tech border surveillance system that was easily disabled by rudimentary drone attacks. Terrorist activity in the West Bank and at the Lebanon border convinced Israeli military leaders to redeploy troops from the Gaza area to other parts of the country, leaving outnumbered and inexperienced conscripts to face the sophisticated Hamas onslaught. 

But the most damaging error was Israel’s fundamental misunderstanding of Hamas’ priorities and goals. The widespread assumption was that a terrorist organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel had shifted its focus in recent years to the economic sustenance of the residents of Gaza and were willing to forego their violent past in exchange for additional financial support. In reality, the organization’s leaders were merely biding their time until the right opportunity presented itself to wreak maximum death and destruction.

Israel’s intelligence services have been deservedly criticized for their failure to anticipate such a massive terrorist action. But unjustified overconfidence was a much more pervasive affliction for Israel and its supporters here in the U.S. and around the world.

We fell victim to recency bias, assuming that because there had been no overwhelmingly devastating attacks against Israel in recent years, they couldn’t happen anymore. We were distracted by internal arguments, forgetting that the overriding purpose of a Jewish state was to protect the Jewish people and that a tiny country in a turbulent region could not afford the luxury of unending internecine feuding. And we believed our own press clippings, believing that a defense system was invulnerable simply because we all knew it was. Until it wasn’t.

The phrase “never again” is justifiably associated with the lessons of the Holocaust and is rarely, if ever, used in other contexts. But after the single deadliest day for Jews in almost eighty years, perhaps the same reminder would be helpful for those of us who care about Israel to carry with us, so we can be better prepared to protect ourselves from another horrific massacre before it happens again.

Want to talk about this topic more? Join Dan for his webinar "Politics In The Time of Coronavirus." Or read more of Dan’s writing at: www.danschnurpolitics.com.

Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, Pepperdine University, and the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in politics, communications and leadership. Dan is a No Party Preference voter, but previously worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns, serving as the national Director of Communications for the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain and the chief media spokesman for California Governor Pete Wilson. He has a Center bias.

This piece was reviewed and edited by Isaiah Anthony, Deputy Blog Editor (Center bias).