I made a quick trip to Israel last week along with a number of other military analysts from FOX and other networks. The trip was sponsored by the American Israeli Education Foundation (AIEF), and like a similar trip I made to Israel last year, there was no political agenda being thrust on us. We met with people on all sides of every issue, giving us the chance to form our own conclusions and opinions. Here are some of mine:
For starters, the trip was a stark reminder of what living in an environment dominated by threats is REALLY all about. With the difficult Hezbollah war only a few months in the past, and tensions ever increasing with radical Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, every Israeli lives every hour knowing that at any moment another killing or kidnapping of an innocent Israeli citizen is on the verge of occurring. And it invariably does. The parallel for most Americans is that they’ve forgotten the events of 9/11, and are in many respects in denial about the threats our country faces.
The recent war with Hezbollah struck discordant notes among most, but not all, of the Israelis with whom we met. Most were extremely critical of the conduct of the war and the government and military which led it. Some people have already been fired, and others certainly still will be. Others still will be voted out of office at the first opportunity, and some will certainly resign as the results of non-partisan inquiries to become public next year. In contrast, our domestic response to 9/11 was essentially to build an unwieldy new Department of Homeland Security and to layer another massive level of bureaucracy on the intelligence community. The benefits of either have yet to be proven.
Interestingly, barely a month before the war began on July 12th, the military had completed a comprehensive plan for how it would conduct a war against Hezbollah. The plan never made it off the shelf as the government stumbled its way forward on a military campaign fraught with uncertainty and unclear goals and objectives.
While many Israelis are pleased to some degree that the UN force in Lebanon is much stronger than the one it replaced, and that the Lebanese Army is deployed to southern Lebanon for the first time in almost 30 years, no one is under any illusions about whether Hezbollah will be disarmed or cease to be a threat. In fact, solid intelligence is already showing an influx of arms and munitions, including sophisticated rockets, to replace the stockpiles Hezbollah lost in the war. Hezbollah remains a clear threat to Israel. It does to us also.
Syria, too, is emboldened by the outcome of the war and has embarked on its own strategy of threatening and ultimately attacking Israel. Instead of risking a direct military confrontation, which it knows it could never win, the Syrians have started populating long-empty towns and villages on the Israeli border in the Golan heights. Their plan is clear. They intend to emulate Hezbollah and Hamas with cross-border terrorist operations into Israel, not only to create another active front for Israel, but to press for return of the strategic Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 war when Syria invaded Israel and was pushed back. Meanwhile, Syria continues to be the prime funnel for arms and munitions to Hezbollah, and to be actively involved in supporting insurgents and foreign fighters battling our own men and women in Iraq. Is Syria important to U.S. national interests? Every day!
Hezbollah, Hamas, Lebanon, Syria, Palestinians, Gaza, the West Bank — all of these are issues that Israelis must live with daily. No threat is more ominous or dangerous, though, than Iran. In our meeting with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a frequent guest on the FOX News Channel, he aptly noted that most intelligence agencies pay millions of dollars to find spies who can uncover the plans and intentions of foreign leaders. In the case of Iran, we can get it for free. Their openly-stated intent is the total destruction of Israel. After that, it’s us.
So what does all this mean? To me, it means the Israelis deserve our respect and our unwavering support. All Americans should understand that Israel is an interim stop for radical Islamic fundamentalists who want to destroy not only Israelis, but Americans as well. And it also means that our elections this week ARE important. Failing to elect officials who are knowledgeable and outspoken about fighting terrorism will only weaken us in the long term. Boldly confronting Iran, North Korea, Syria, al-Qaeda and others is in our national interest. Failing to do so will open the door to potential catastrophe unlike anything we Americans have ever witnessed.
Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his full bio here.