Interesting Times: Old and new courage

What Entebbe and the current war have in common.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
Four extraordinary exploits stick out in Israel's short history: the Six Day War in June, 1967, the Entebbe hostage rescue on July 4, 1976, the destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, and the airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Operation Solomon, in May, 1991. These events demonstrated Israel's ability to act with almost unbelievable audacity and skill. They were met globally with admiration or consternation, but each captured the world's imagination and, perhaps most importantly, unified the Jewish people in pride. To the same degree, these events were all terrible moral blows to those seeking Israel's destruction since they demonstrated our iron will to prevail. These operations share some common characteristics: they were accomplished largely or completely from the air, and they were over in a few days. Each demonstrated the almost impossibly long reach of a tiny, embattled country. Each showed courage, decisiveness and the willingness to take calculated risks. SOMETIMES it seemed that Israel had long ago lost the gumption necessary to repeat such feats. All happened before the Oslo Accords and the subsequent debilitating morass of a "peace process" gone sour. Yet twice in recent times Israel has taken dramatic action on the scale of those four extraordinary ones: Operation Defense Shield in 2002, and the operation going on in Gaza and, particularly, Lebanon today. These may not be as clean and dramatic as their more flamboyant predecessors. Arguably, however, they exhibit greater national courage and fortitude, and should contribute no less to the morale of the Jewish people and the dismay of our enemies. Remember that Defensive Shield came at a time when suicide bombers were striking our cities at a furious rate and it seemed that nothing could be done about them. In just 10 days between March 21-31, 2002, 54 Israeli civilians were murdered in five terrorist attacks, four of them suicide bombings. But something could be done, and Israel did it. IDF soldiers went into the dense warrens located in the centers of Palestinian cities where the terrorists had ensconced themselves in the midst of poor neighborhoods. Rather than bombing the concentrated areas where the terrorists were from the air, the IDF went in on the ground in order to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. Though this decision cost the lives of numerous Israeli soldiers we were accused of "massacring" Palestinians. The UN Security Council rushed to condemn Israel and, in effect, save the terrorists by ending the Israeli military operation. FAST-FORWARD to today and the similar sense of hopelessness that prevailed in the face of Kassam missile attacks, and global indifference to them. Our enemies were playing the usual "no address" game in which the attacks came from groups with shifting names which Israel had to search out individually, while those calling the shots, be they in Ramallah, Gaza, Beirut, Damascus or Teheran, escaped responsibility. Worse, in the case of Lebanon, our decision makers faced the fact that some 14,000 missiles were pointed at our cities, from Tel Aviv to the northern border, poised to strike if we dared to change the rules and defend ourselves. Israel pretended that the rules had changed when we pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, and that we now had the right to hold Lebanon, Syria, and Iran responsible for any Hizbullah attack; but in practice it seemed that we were the ones who were deterred, by Hizbullah's arsenal, from "escalating" the situation. When the cabinet decided, in the wake of a Hizbullah attack into Israel that killed four soldiers and captured two more, to attempt to destroy Hizbullah and hold the Lebanese government accountable, it knew that that fearsome array of missiles would be let loose. Yet it decided to go ahead, hoping that the people of Israel, including those whose lives would be endangered, turned upside down, and even lost in the ensuing missile attacks, would understand the necessity for drastic and definitive action. They were right. Polls show that the vast majority of Israelis support the government's decision. In fact, they indicate slightly higher support for the operation, and for not ending it prematurely, in precisely the areas that are being bombarded. If there is a question, it is whether it is a mistake to hold Syria, which has heavily supplied Hizbullah and is greatly responsible for the refusal of the Lebanese government to disarm this group, largely immune. As historian Michael Oren writes in The New Republic: "If the Six Day War presents a paradigm of an unwanted war that might have been averted with an early, well-placed strike at Syria, then Israel's current strategy in Lebanon deserves to be rethought. If Syria escapes unscathed and Iran undeterred, Israel will remain insecure." The thinking on the focus on Lebanon seems to be that the heavy price Lebanon is paying will give it a strong incentive to prevent Hizbullah from rebuilding and returning the status quo ante. But with Syria and Iran untouched, this is indeed a risky proposition. We happen to be at a moment, however, when the West is itself gearing up to confront Iran - which may well explain why Hizbullah-Iran decided to attack Israel in the first place. The near-miraculous turnabout in June 1967, when Israel went from being on the brink of destruction to total victory over multiple Arab armies, inspired Jews the world over - particularly Soviet Jews, who discovered their dormant identity and viewed Israel's victory as a blow to their oppressors. Our refusal to be cowed by Hizbullah's missiles, and our attempt to destroy Iran's external terrorist arm, should inspire the international community to similar acts of courage. In recent years, Israeli courage and decisiveness has, paradoxically, mainly been channelled into territorial withdrawal. Now we are displaying a more classic type of fearlessness, which, together with the newfangled version, is showing signs of greatly improving our military and diplomatic position.