THEN-PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert (right), foreign minister Tzipi Livni and defense minister Ehud Barak attend a special session in the Knesset marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2008..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In 2007 Israel carried out Operation Outside the Box – using the Begin doctrine of preventative first-strikes – in Syria, taking out a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor. This operation was never publicly acknowledged until very recently, although the prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert, came pretty close to doing so at the time, during an interview in is office.
The seasoned journalist asked Olmert directly whether he had authorized the bombing run. Olmert said nothing but raised his eyes and nodded to a picture hanging on his wall. Immediately the journalist understood the answer; the picture was of three Israeli fighter jets flying over Auschwitz.
“Never forget” and “we can rely on ourselves and nobody else” are two maxims that govern the Israeli psyche. The Holocaust has framed (or scarred, depending on which way you look at it) the entire ethos of the nation.
So when Olmert looked up at the picture, the journalist immediately understood the context. It later transpired that the Israelis had asked the Americans, under then president George Bush, to help. The Americans refused, so Israel fell back on the second maxim.
What made the operation so effective was (despite this unspoken confirmation from the prime minister) that Israel maintained total silence regarding the attack, and Syria covered up its activities at the site. Israel wasn’t interested in crowing about it, and Syria certainly couldn’t admit it had been working on nuclear weapons with the North Koreans, much less that it had been humiliated by the strike, so the incident was swept under the diplomatic carpet.
So why did it emerge now? Israel is sending a very clear message to Syria, Iran and Hezbollah: our borders are sacrosanct. What we have we hold. And anyone or anything that threatens those borders will be dealt with – unilaterally by us if need be.
It’s a strong message, some might even say hard-nosed, but it’s how you stand up to bullies. It’s a message that sits particularly badly with some forums such as the European Union and the United Nations, but those bodies are reliant on consensual decision making to such an extent that to reach “agreement” nothing can be agreed. And one need only look at the images of the Syrian children killed by Assad’s chemical weapons to see where such toothless “diplomacy” gets you.
Sorry guys, but a stern wagging of the finger or the dispatching of unarmed, blue-helmeted observers isn’t going to cut it in this very brutal neighborhood.
The most important thing, as with any message, is that it must be stuck to. Any chink in the armor will be exploited and, so the rationale goes, the entire edifice cracks.
Which brings us to Gaza. Advocates for Israel, such as myself, have been at pains to point out what these “peaceful” protests are really all about: testing Israeli resolve and attempting to find weak spots in the impenetrable armor that is Israel’s territorial integrity.
Hamas, just like the Syrians, understands the strength of this armor, and that to defeat Israel, it must be broken it. And just like Syria, Hamas is quite content to use women and children, the elderly and anyone else, in the attempt to do so.
Some less than savory people often say Israel uses the Holocaust as an excuse for its actions, as if the murder of six million people is just a footnote in history that can be forgotten in a little over 70 years. Israel does indeed “use” the Holocaust. It uses it as a savage reminder of what can happen if you are not prepared in the face of hatred, of those who seek your destruction.
As I said to people this week, as Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, if they had any Israeli friends, take a minute, right there and then, and look at their Facebook pages. Most posted a picture of a loved one lost in the Shoah. So, can anyone in their right mind blame Israelis for sticking so tightly to these maxims? Would they not do the same? So, to these unsavory characters I say: do I “use” the holocaust? You bet. And you know what? We all should. Every day, when it comes to Israel.The author is director of public affairs for EJA: European Jewish Association, a Brussels-based NGO which represents and acts on behalf of Jewish communities across the EU and wider European continent, at the heart of the European institutions and at the bilateral level with member states.