My Word: Modern battles and the butterfly effect

There are global implications and lessons for us all, especially for a small state whose sovereignty and right to exist are too often queried.

 PEOPLE PARTICIPATE in a solidarity rally for Ukraine, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
PEOPLE PARTICIPATE in a solidarity rally for Ukraine, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Tanks and TikTok. The face of war in 2022. World War III, as some are already calling it. If there is one thing I have learned since March 2020, it’s that making predictions is a risky business. Even making plans, once considered so ordinary, is risky. After two years of a global pandemic in which the world closed down, or closed in on itself, the ground was already feeling shaky before Russian President Vladimir Putin decided it would suit his mindset and goals to set out last week to conquer neighboring Ukraine.

Two years ago, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic got me thinking about the Butterfly Effect – the well-known concept associated with the work of American meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz used to explain the way that a small incident in one place can set off a chain of events that may have a momentous impact on the other side of the globe weeks later. Now, I have another reason to recall the phenomenon. Putin is no delicate butterfly. When he flaps his wings, or gets into a flap, the results are felt immediately, everywhere.

I have never trusted Putin. It’s always been clear that the former KGB officer is interested in one thing only: Vladimir Putin. Nonetheless, I didn’t despise him until this week, watching the footage of Ukrainian towns being bombed and the hundreds of thousands of refugees, forced to flee their homes, leaving their former lives behind along with their belongings – though touchingly many carrying their pets with them.

There are always several triggers to a war. But one thing is clear in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict: Russia, led by Putin, are the bad guys, launching an unprovoked attack on a sovereign country just because that country cherishes its sovereignty and the democracy it has built there. And Ukrainians, led heroically by Volodymyr Zelensky, are the victims, fighting to maintain their freedom.

Sadly, it seems that if the Ukrainians hadn’t put up a valiant fight, the West wouldn’t have intervened at all and would have watched from the sidelines, much as it did when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Meanwhile, the Israeli government is continuing its balancing act, offering humanitarian aid but not military assistance to Ukraine. Israeli officials are keeping one wary eye on Syria where Russia has in effect created a border with the Jewish state. But Putin won’t hesitate to harm Israeli assets if it suits him, particularly if he perceives Israel’s in a weak position.  

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin delivers a special address Thursday on Russian state TV, authorizing a military operation in Ukraine’s Donbass region.  (credit: REUTERS TV) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin delivers a special address Thursday on Russian state TV, authorizing a military operation in Ukraine’s Donbass region. (credit: REUTERS TV)

I’m not sure that the world has fully taken in what just hit it. Not only will the economic impact take its toll regarding food, fuel and inflation, but the wave of refugees from Ukraine already flooding their European neighbors will have an effect, too. 

Israel is readying to absorb immigrants arriving under the Law of Return. These olim can prove an incredible boost to the country, like the immigrants who arrived from the former Soviet Union after the Iron Curtain fell in the 1990s. The response of the Jewish community around the world, Chabad, and the work International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (which handles immigration from Ukraine on an ongoing basis) has been heartwarming. Rescuing Jews in need is indeed a major raison d’etre of the Jewish state. This is also the time for Jews considering aliyah from other countries to make the move, not as an act of desperation but as a free, conscious decision based on the positive things that Israel has to offer.

It would be easy to sit back and say this is not our war, but it is. There are global implications and lessons for us all, especially for a small state whose sovereignty and right to exist are too often queried.

It might be the 21st century, but the 2020s have proven that while not everything can be predicted, human nature hasn’t changed. There will always be dictators who’ll try to impose their will on everyone else. There will always be brave people who try to thwart them and others who aid them while the vast majority will look on and hope not to get involved. Israel must take to heart the major lesson of this war: That ultimately, it can only rely on itself. No foreign force or peacekeeper will ever be prepared to fight for Israel the way Israeli soldiers will fight to protect their homes, families and way of life.

Some observers have eulogized tanks as a thing of the past, not suitable for modern warfare. It might be too early to bury them amid praise. Tanks and artillery still have a role to play, and the size of territory also has a role.  

Among the most startling figures I saw this week was in an Israel Hayom analysis by Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Gershon Hacohen. He noted that Germany now has no more than 50 tanks in working order. So much for the key role it is meant to play in NATO defense. Germany, like its NATO partners, is not prepared for war. 

The Russian invasion has shown, yet again, that the world mechanisms for preventing conflict have utterly failed. International law has not kept up with the disorder of serial human rights abusers. The United Nations Security Council, for example, has five permanent members with the right to veto resolutions. They are the US, UK, and France – and Russia and China. 

And not only is China watching how the world reacts to Russian aggression, measuring its chances with an attack on Taiwan, but so is its buddy Iran. And while the world was focused on war in Europe, North Korea last week tested a missile, despite a Security Council ban.

After the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal was signed in 2015 aimed at preventing Iran from reaching the stage of nuclear breakout for 10 years, I noted how quickly those years would go and asked: “And how safe do you feel knowing that tons of Iran’s enriched uranium were moved to Russia?” True, Russia has nuclear weapons of its own, and does not need to “borrow” Iran’s but it was yet another instance in which the world misread the map.

Talking of maps, it should be noted that Iran is also trying to establish borders with Israel, in Syria and via its proxy in Lebanon.

ALONGSIDE THE physical battles being fought on the ground, there is also a virtual battle for hearts and minds being conducted via social media, particularly TikTok. It makes it harder to determine the facts from the fake news. The “Ghost of Kyiv,” an anonymous ace aviator who supposedly downed six Russian planes, was swiftly shot down when it became known this was footage from a video game. I have also seen images of a young Ahed Tamimi, the blonde Palestinian girl who earned the name Shirley Temper for trying to provoke Israeli soldiers on film, converted into a brave Ukrainian resistance fighter shouting at Russian soldiers. (In real life, Russian forces would not show the restraint of the IDF soldiers.)

Misinformation and disinformation are dangerous, and Putin, whose iron fist controls the Russian media, employs them to fire up his citizens, using Nazi imagery to demonize Ukraine without a hint of irony.

Zelensky, who has gone from being virtually unknown on the global stage to a hero, knows how to use social media, particularly to appeal to the younger generation. While Putin staged a stiff conversation with his foreign minister across a humongous office table, Zelensky literally proved his staying power by providing regular clips outdoors showing he was going nowhere, and was willing to fight.

Much has been made of the fact that Zelensky was formerly a comedian who played the role of president before become head of state (the only Jewish president outside of Israel.) The truth is of course a little more complex. He ran his own multimillion-dollar production company and is no joke. 

When the US offered the Ukrainian president a chance to escape the capital under attack, Zelensky replied: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” 

It was an important message. Whatever happens, the world will emerge, not like a beautiful butterfly, but battle-scarred. Don’t stand behind Ukraine. Stand with it. 

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