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(photo credit: AP [File])
There is a prayer that we Jews recite three times a day. First we thank God for introducing knowledge (de'ah) to the world. We then thank the Almighty for helping us to understand and interpret this knowledge (bina).
But in recognition that knowledge and understanding can go only so far in helping us make sense of our lives, we conclude this supplication with an appreciative nod that God has also invited us, above all, to activate some insight (haskel), which is based on the Hebrew root sechel, meaning common sense.
In Israel this Divine wisdom has given way to jazz musician Mose Allison's song for his spouse: "Your mind is on vacation, but your mouth is working overtime!"
Allison's adage relates to the all too many intelligence breakdowns that preceded our two-front war.
The Agranat Commission that investigated the failure of the Yom Kippur War concluded, for example, that one of the factors in our lack of preparedness for the Syrian and Egyptian assault was that our stored military equipment was not maintained from the end of the War of Attrition in 1969.
As my army unit crossed the Lebanese border in the 1982 war, five out of the 12 artillery howitzers malfunctioned because they too had not been maintained while in storage.
FAST-FORWARD to today. For two months Palestinians burrow a tunnel between Gaza and Israel and succeed in kidnapping Gilad Shalit. Immediately, another one of our dozens of commissions of inquiry is established; and we are told that the army knows and understands the lessons to be learned... so well that, two weeks later, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are kidnapped on the northern border.
How ironic that the public longs for that alleged military genius, Ariel Sharon, whose mythic knowledge and understanding would surely lead us to victory today. Alas, it was his very knowledge and understanding that created Hizbullah in the first place with his Lebanese adventure in 1982; and it was his knowledge and understanding that held us back from dismantling Hizbullah's incredible arsenal of missiles that began to be amassed the moment we withdrew our troops from Lebanon in 2000.
Commonsense was never his strong card; and it most certainly does not seem to be the ace-in-the-hole of all our "talking-head" generals upon whose knowledge and understanding we rely.
One would have hoped that a civilian leadership, both in the prime ministership and defense ministry, would counteract our military luminaries. But no. Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz seem overwhelmed by our all-knowing and all-understanding army and intelligence chiefs.
But one need not be a rocket scientist to figure out that to strike back at Hamas and Hizbullah with exaggerated force, to partly compensate for our military failures, would lead to a conflagration devastating to both Arabs and Israelis.
I WOULD SUGGEST that our government and military leadership internalize that thrice-recited daily prayer and apply it to our present reality.
We should step back from the brink and declare a unilateral cease-fire. As part of that cease-fire we should release all prisoners without blood on their hands. We should announce a provisional halt to targeted assassinations, mass arrests, home demolitions, land expropriations, collective punishments, and a land operation in south Lebanon, which, as 18 years of history and common sense tell us, provides target practice for Hizbullah.
Once proclaiming the cease-fire, we should demand an immediate return of our missing soldiers - along with information about Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz, Ron Arad, and Guy Hever; and, an end to Katyusha missiles and Kassam rockets.
We should call for an American peace team, like the one that safeguards the international border between Egypt and us, to govern the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza and a multinational force in south Lebanon.
Would this be considered a sign of weakness? To the Arabs - yes. But for us, who value human life as the most precious of God's gifts, it is a sign of strength, not to mention moral integrity. We must try a novel approach in order to stop the present insanity, before today's lunacy becomes tomorrow's routine.
Such a shocking declaration would be a tremendous public relations coup. And, if it failed, well, common sense might dictate that we go back to the least reasonable of choices - all-out war, which would lead us down a death-weary, albeit sadly necessary path.
ONE SHOULD not be naive. A cease-fire might only provide a short reprieve until the next round of fighting, for what is happening in both the north and the south of the country is occurring at the behest of Iran, whose ultimate goal is not only the destruction of the Jewish state, but the establishment of an Islamic nation in the entire Middle East. This means that after a cease-fire, intensified negotiations to dismantle Iran's proxies, Hizbullah and Hamas, must begin. At that point, the free world would have to contend with Iran's nuclear aspirations, which are a mortal threat not just to Israel but to the entire globe.
"A man with no [common] sense deserves no pity" (Talmud Sanhedrin 92a). Simply, we need to think before we talk, understand before we act. But ultimately, to secure the possibility of a safe future, we need to use our sechel, our good old common sense.
The writer, a reform rabbi, is the author of Jewish Schizophrenia in the Land of Israel.
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