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.

Soldier 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Soldier 370
(photo credit: 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 area.
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 kill Americans?”
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 army.
“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 people.”
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 to differ.
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 our cause.
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.
We 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 their target.
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.
We dropped the Lavi jet-fighter project, swallowing an enormous amount of national pride.
We jeopardized our trade relations with China, the nation that represents the economic wave of the future, rather than anger our patron.
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 defense.
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;; [email protected]