Two millennia ago, the Chinese built the Great Wall to keep barbarian tribes away. In 1216, Genghis Khan bribed a sentry to open one of its gates for him, and he entered China with his marauding Mongol horsemen.
Emperor Hadrian raised a wall in 122 CE to keep Roman Britain safe from the tribes in the north, and posted sentries to guard it. But when the Picts came in hordes, as a story goes, there was no sentry around, and they scaled the wall.
Fast forward to modern times. In the 1930s, the French cut back on making warplanes and tanks, and spent 6 per cent of their military budget on building the Maginot Line, a fortification on their border with Germany. Complete with underground rail tracks, recreation rooms and even air-conditioned sleeping cells for off-duty sentries, the line was declared the world’s most formidable border that couldn’t be breached with bombs from airplanes or shells from battle tanks. And the French proudly declared: “They shall not pass.”
When they came four years later, Nazi Germany’s Panzer divisions didn’t ‘pass’ the line; they bypassed it. They spotted a thinly guarded stretch in the Ardennes forest, and crossed over. In six weeks, France fell to Hitler.
It seems to be the turn of ‘invincible’ Israel now. In the 20th century, Israel won three wars and several nasty battles; in the 21st century, Israel walled itself in.
Look at the facts. As The Times of Israel's Lazar Berman wrote, after the 2002 Passover massacre in Park Hotel, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, building an improved fence on the Gaza border. Then they built a 245-mile fence on the Egypt border to keep off the Sinai-based groups. After the Palestinian protests in Syria in 2011, they built an eight-metre-high wall from Majd al-Shams. In 2016, they built a fence on the Jordan border.
Once the Hamas began pounding them with rockets from Gaza, they built an ‘Iron Dome’ of radars, sensors and rocket-busting missiles that has been saving their people almost every day. In 2016, they began building the world’s supposedly most formidable fence on the 65km Gaza border, which took five years and a billion or more dollars spent on sensors, cameras and booby traps. Even a desert rat or a giant lizard scampering up a pole would have set alarms ringing, sirens hooting, traps shutting and machine guns blazing.
Yet a ragtag army of ill-trained militants, who knew nothing more about warfare than shooting civilians and launching inaccurate rockets into towns, breached it on last week’s Sabbath day and rode into Israel on jeeps and motorcycles. No cameras picked them up, no sensors sent signals, no traps snapped shut.
What had happened? Simple. The enemy didn’t use electronic toys that emitted signals for Israel’s sensors to pick up. He walked in electronically naked, and there just weren’t enough sentries to shout, “Hey, who goes there?”
Apparently the walls and fences had affected the mindset of the soldiers, their commanders and Israel’s rulers. The commanders’ eyes were not on the horizon, but on the monitor screens. And the sentries? They had mostly been sent to protect Benjamin Netanyahu’s illegal Jewish settlers on the West Bank.
As Alistair Horne, one of Europe’s finest war historians, said, fortifications create a false illusion of security. Throughout history, rulers have erected castles, forts, fences and walls to safeguard their manors, fiefs, kingdoms and empires. But they have all been breached when the sentries left, slept or were compromised.