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Naksa Day 2011: IDF Clashes With Protesters

Nakba Day, or “Day of the Catastrophe,” was the day the Arabs commemorated the disaster of Israel’s creation in 1948. Today is Naksa Day, on which they commemorate the disaster of Israel’s victory in 1967. (“Naksa” translates roughly to “setback.”)

The Lebanese army, perhaps in response to a warning from Israel, has shut down access to the Lebanese-Israeli border, ensuring that there will be no clashes on that front today between protesters and the IDF. (A planned rally by Palestinian refugees at the border has been indefinitely postponed.) In Syria, however, the army has not only kept access to the Syrian-Israeli border open but has assisted the protesters by digging a trench for them twenty meters from the Israeli line.

Hundreds of Syrians massed accordingly this morning on the Golan border. Clashes broke out with the Israelis, who are reported to be using tear gas and other crowd dispersal weapons against them. Syrian television is reporting that the IDF has killed five and wounded nine, but I’m not seeing confirmation of this yet in the Israeli media.

The IDF is also clashing right now with hundreds of Palestinians massed at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem. A police officer was injured by a rock thrown during a demonstration at Isawiyah in East Jerusalem, and about a dozen protesters were arrested there. Palestinians also threw firebombs toward Hadassah University Hospital near Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, with no injuries resulting.

It’s still relatively early, but I’ll venture to say that what’s interesting about today is not what’s happening but what isn’t. As noted, the Lebanese border is quiet, and so, apparently, is the Gazan border (as of 2:00 pm, I’m seeing no reports of clashes). This suggests that Hezbollah and Hamas, both Iranian proxies, have calculated — possibly because their Syrian conduit is in a state of uncertainty bordering on chaos — that this is not the time to start something with us.

In a simpler age, this show of vulnerability would have represented a strategic opportunity for us. But Israel has grown fearful of anything resembling what was once called “active defense,” otherwise known as the preemptive strike, for fear of the opprobrium that would be heaped on us as its result. I imagine that a strike of that kind is probably particularly hard for the powers that be to stomach on the anniversary of the 1967 war, which was marked by one of the most spectacular preemptive strikes in the history of warfare (the Israelis wiped out the Egyptian air force, on the ground, in Egypt). It can be argued that the resonances would be too difficult to overcome, and would likely exceed any tactical victory we might be able to attain.

We are not to be permitted any decisive victories — as President Obama has indicated, armistice lines resulting from defensive wars are ultimately to be considered starting points for border negotiations — so our greatest asset, our military, might not be enough ultimately to protect us.

UPDATE: It is now evening, and calm has been restored to the Syrian border after a messy day. Syrian TV is reporting 20 dead. During the protests, Syrians cut through the barbed wire fence separating Israel from Syria. It also appears that at least four anti-tank mines exploded near Quneitra on the Syrian side of the border, injuring many. The explosions were apparently sparked by fires that were started when protesters threw Molotov cocktails towards Israel.

IDF spokesman Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai confirmed that IDF troops had opened fire but is not confirming any casualty figures at this point. “It’s a message to anyone who tries to violate Israel’s sovereign borders,” he said, calling the army’s response “measured, focused and proper.” The IDF called the protests a “clear provocation intended to divert attention from what is happening in Syria.” At a cabinet meeting today, PM Benjamin Netanyahu said, “To my regret, today there are extremists around us trying to breach our borders, and threaten our towns and citizens. We will not allow this.” Earlier this week, he said, “Like any country in the world, Israel has the right and obligation to guard and defend its borders.”