Bird's-Eye View: Intention is the key

If a pilot is locked into hitting it and nothing else, he may not know what to do when faced with a new situation.

IAF A-4, F-16 jets at Hatzerim_370 (photo credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen)
IAF A-4, F-16 jets at Hatzerim_370
(photo credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen)
Over the years, I have always enjoyed appearing as a guest columnist in The Jerusalem Post.
It has given me an opportunity to share my passion for Israel with readers who come from different upbringings, but who care about the things that mean most to me. So when Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde asked me to write a regular column, he suggested beginning with a brief introduction to provide you readers with a glimpse into the background that has shaped my perspectives.
My values are simple. To paraphrase Kiefer Sutherland’s character from A Few Good Men: “Family, Corps, God, Country.”
As the son and grandson of Conservative rabbis, my heroes growing up were Abraham Joshua Heschel, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mickey Mantle. Like many other Diaspora Jews, the 1967 Six Day War ignited a spark as I attended Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. It grew during the year I spent at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I fell in love with the country and my wife-to-be.
However, I felt it my duty to return home and volunteer for flight training in the US Air Force just as the Vietnam War drew to a close.
I was fortunate to spend six great years flying Phantoms in the US, followed (after making aliya in 1979) by a 20-year career in the Israel Air Force.
After my retirement, I was privileged to serve as the Israel director for the American Jewish Congress. For most of a decade, this provided great opportunities to work closely with leaders from both countries as well as impacting policy and creating programs of mutual benefit in fields such as clean energy and public diplomacy.
Aviation provided me with an important education. Flying fighters squeezes every bit of potential from a pilot. Crossing borders at high speed, while nearly scraping sand off the dunes whizzing below on the way to a target, exposes the crew to intense physical pressures. Yet these take a back seat to the challenges he or she faces, making splitsecond decisions that demand the highest sense of morality. Having served in two air forces, I have always been amazed, not so much by the differences, but by the similarities of colleagues from both countries.
As Ambassador Michael Oren wrote in his excellent book on the foundations of USIsrael relations, there are shared values among our peoples. While serving as an Israeli officer, staffing joint exercises, I always heard remarks from US military officers such as, “Hey, these people get it!”
Today, after a week during which Israel’s president and prime minister both met with President Barack Obama, I reflect on the commonality of purpose that was voiced. Perhaps there were tactical differences, but not on the “big picture.”
Indeed, one area that has most intrigued me over my career is the difference between the overall intention of a mission, and hitting a specific target. While most of us in our objective-driven society are oriented toward thinking in terms of achieving a narrowly defined goal, I have learned from experience that it is more important to understand the underlying intention first.
In many cases, the target that was set might be irrelevant by the time it is reached. It may have been destroyed by another formation or perhaps some new obstacle may make it unreachable. If a pilot is locked into hitting it and nothing else, he may not know what to do when faced with a new situation. Yet if he grasps the overall intention, he can usually deal with nearly any curve ball thrown his way.
It is clear that both the US and Israel have a similar grasp of the intolerable specter of a nuclear Iran. We may differ slightly in our reasons for opposing Iranian ambitions – certainly for us, the threat is more tangible – but I am confident that we share a commonality of purpose that will help us find proper answers for the hardest questions.