In plain language: Stiff necks and survival
Whether they admit it or not, a vast number of our pundits and politicians want the United States, for any number of reasons, to lead the way in this crisis.
Soldiers Photo: Reuters
It was the third day of shiva (the seven-day mourning period) for our beloved
son Ari, who was killed 10 years ago in a fire-fight with terrorists in Nablus.
We had been notified earlier in the day that the US ambassador to Israel, Dan
Kurtzer, would be coming to pay a condolence call, and we should be prepared for
his advance security personnel who would arrive early to “sweep” the
When the ambassador arrived, he made his way through the throngs of
visitors and sat down next to me. He graciously extended his sympathy, on behalf
of the American government, and I thanked him for coming. But then I very
bluntly confronted him:
“Mr. Ambassador,” I said, “Ari was an American citizen,
born in the great state of Texas. Credit for his killing was taken by Islamic
Jihad, which proudly praised his murder at a press conference in Lebanon, a
country with which the United States has diplomatic relations and which receives
considerable support from Uncle Sam. What will now be America’s response to
Lebanon, considering that it openly aids and abets those who enthusiastically
Kurtzer, a bit taken aback at first, responded that this was
neither the time nor the place to discuss the matter. He promised to contact us
after the shiva was over, and that we would meet privately at the embassy to
discuss the issue. True to his word, he later called us and we held more than
one meeting. To his credit, he conducted himself with empathy and
professionalism, and impressed us with his sincerity.
But it was another,
even more profound conversation which took place after Kurtzer had left the
shiva that I want to relate.
Gen. Effie Eitam, then-leader of the
National Religious Party, took Kurtzer’s place next to me.
“I heard the
question you posed to Mr. Kurtzer,” said Eitam, “and I respect your
courage in asking it. But I must tell you, you were speaking to the wrong man,
to the wrong party. While your son was indeed an American citizen, he was first
and foremost an Israeli, fighting in the uniform of our illustrious
“The question is not what America could or should do to the
terrorists, the question is what we should do. This is our war, our sacred
obligation to protect our soldiers, our citizens and our state. We are the ones
on the front lines, and so we – and only we – have the primary right and
responsibility to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of our
Eitam was right on target, and I had the opportunity the very
next day to take up the matter of Ari’s killing with his commander- in-chief,
Gen. Moshe Ayalon, who acknowledged that this was indeed first and foremost an
internal Israeli issue.
Right now we are caught up in a national debate
over what to do about Iran. While no normal person relishes the prospect of war,
many of our countrymen understand that an even less desirable scenario is
allowing the Hitlerwannabe in Tehran to possess the means to carry out another
Holocaust (he denies the first ever took place). If ever there was a casus belli
for wiping out a regime, this is it.
But the question is, who will lead
the fight? Will it be Israel, Ahmadinejad’s primary target, or will it be the
“Great Satan” America?
Whether they admit it or not, a vast number of our
pundits and politicians want the United States, for any number of reasons, to
lead the way in this crisis. America has more troops and better weapons,
they say. A US-led battle may bring others into a coalition against Iran,
something that could never happen if the Star of David flew over the
battlefield. And, let’s be honest, who wants to see Jewish blood spilled
when others could risk their lives with the same, or better, effect?
But I beg
Since when do we let others fight our battles? Since when do
we doubt our ability to defend ourselves and take charge of conflicts that
impact upon our own shores? The greatest victories in our short but brilliant
history have come when we took the initiative and fought, despite the odds and
despite the refusal – nay, the strenuous objection – of our “friends” to join in
We won a War of Independence when almost the entire world –
including the Truman administration – pleaded, even demanded, that we refrain
from proclaiming the independence of our state, and then enacted a sweeping arms
embargo against us.
We won one of history’s most stunning military
victories in 1967 when we acted on our own, in brash and bold fashion.
eliminated Iraq as a nuclear threat when we went it alone at Osirak in 1981,
when Menachem Begin brushed aside the resistance of our allies (and Shimon
Peres, to boot) and sent our national birds, the F- 15s and F-16s – flying to
But at those times when we cowered, gunshy, in America’s
shadow, what happened?
We let Egypt and Syria attack us in 1973, killing
thousands of our boys and almost, God forbid, losing this country.
dropped the Lavi jet-fighter project, swallowing an enormous amount of national
We jeopardized our trade relations with China, the nation that
represents the economic wave of the future, rather than anger our
We let some of our finest soldiers die in hand-to-hand battle in
the slums of Jenin, because we feared adverse reaction if we antiseptically
bombed the terrorists out of their rat holes.
Our stubborn sense of
determination has earned us the nickname “a stiff-necked people”; but sometimes I
fear we got that title by looking over our shoulders too often, worrying about
what others say or think about what we do in our own
Independence, initiative and fearlessness are the hallmarks of
Israel; they are the source of our strength and success through excruciatingly
difficult times. Our national character is built upon our willingness to
shrug off the prophets of gloom and the predictions of doom and accomplish all
the things they said could not be done. Abdicating that quality is a mortal blow
to our collective psyche.
I am far from a military analyst or strategic
defense thinker. I do not know the precise place and moment to strike Iran and
its maniacal leaders. But I do know that when our interests – when our very
lives – are at stake, we have to stop worrying about the international fallout,
and do what we have to do.
The world will not love us, alas, even if we
commit national suicide. So we may as well do what it takes to survive, even if
we have to do it without the world’s approval or assistance.
In the end,
Tennyson’s words ought to fuel our courage: “No thing is better than this, when
known; That every hard thing is done alone.”
The writer is director of the
Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana and a Ra’anana city councilman;