The most striking feature of the Israeli-Arab conflict is that it is impossible.

Israel is simply too small to defend in modern mobile warfare. In 1948 that was less of an issue since we fought against Arab militia, but in 1967 and 1973 Israel was invaded by regular Arab armies. Even the most incapable, battered army can gather enough strength for the forty-mile advance that would allow Syria to wipe out the Jewish state.

Lacking tanks and aircraft after the first battles, Syria could still march its 200,000-strong infantry and mammoth conscripted reserves into Israel, and no realistically available amount of Jewish firepower would have helped in a trench war.

Hamas and Hezbollah can easily bring Jewish society to screams by consistent attacks at Israel’s soft underbelly, the foreign Jews. Daily stabbing of Jews throughout the world is a slam-dunk affair, and it wouldn’t even alienate European governments from the terrorists. Faced with such major unrest, the Europeans would press Israel to give in rather than pressing the terrorists to abstain.

Terror bombings are likewise underutilized. The Iraqi insurgency has shown that cargo and van bombs are superior to suicide bombers, but Hamas refrains from using them. Plenty of other options exist to make the confrontation deadlier. Despite the great job done by Israeli intelligence, the current bomber-interception rate of 100 percent reveals that the war is a fiction.

Hezbollah has no reason to hold its rocket fire. It knows Israel won’t dare to occupy Lebanon again and risk exposing her troops to Hezbollah’s guerrilla attacks, as we did two decades ago. Short of occupation, Israeli bombing raids will be promptly quenched by the UN. Iran will cover whatever damage is done there.

For her part, Israel also plays softball. While the American pressure is responsible for Israel’s failure to employ the nuclear option in 1973 to annihilate the surrounded Egyptian Third Army, there was no comparable pressure regarding Syria—yet, IDF did not enter Damascus. Every Israeli politician understands the basic fact that we can get peace with Syria by ending the bombardment of Damascus rather than ceding the Golan Heights; yet, no one suggests bombing Damascus into a peace agreement.

Terrorist targets are well known. Israel can easily destroy Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV station or assassinate Mashaal with a missile strike. Haniye routinely appears before crowds, open to Israeli drones.

The Shalit debacle underscored the problem of mutual restraint. Israel could bring about the corporal’s release by systematic assassination of Hamas and Dughmush leaders or by wholesale killing of Palestinian prisoners. If you think that killing jailed terrorists is unthinkable, the democratic Germans did just that: its jailed RAF terrorists committed suicide. Hamas, for its part, did not retaliate against foreign Jewish targets.

Palestinian grassroots terrorism breaks mutual complacency. Individual, unaffiliated terrorists do not trade mutual safety promises with Jews. Almost all the terrorist attacks in Israel in the last two years were carried out by lone Arabs without support from a terrorist group. Sure, such terror is statistically insignificant, but the media help the terrorists out by trumpeting their deeds.

Syria, Egypt, Hezbollah, and Hamas bolstered their arsenals while they were safe from Israeli preventive strikes. Taken over by reckless—as opposed to radical—Islamists, any group could pull the region into a significant war. Such a war would be larger and more painful than a series of mini-wars; it would consist essentially of mutual strikes aimed at depleting the enemy’s arsenals, and most importantly, eradicating his will to fight. The escalation scenario is likely because everything is set for it: a demagogic Sunni leader might use all the missiles that the Syrian Alawite dynasty accumulated for the sake of bragging. In Egypt, reasonable presidents can run the country for decades, but the Muslim Brotherhood needs just a year in the office to launch a war on Israel.

In the Middle East’s warehouse of powder kegs, someone eventually will break the safety rules.