The IDF succeeded in driving most of the PLO to Tunis but, lacking clear political direction, did not complete its operational objectives, and was forced to set up a buffer zone on Lebanese soil. The forces guarding this buffer became a target of Hezbollah, resulting in hundreds of casualties over 18 years of occupation. The buffer zone was subsequently evacuated by the IDF in 2000.
One of the things I've appreciated, since before I really became involved with Chabad, has been the Rebbe's commitment to and concern for the preservation of life. As a Jewish leader, speaking to Jews, his focus is clearly on Jewish responsibilities and obligations, grounded in a Jewish perspective and Jewish law. Yet, he makes it a point, again and again, in a time of war, to emphasize that a decisive course of action, as advocated by the military command, would have resulted in fewer lives lost on all sides, Jews and non-Jews, referring specifically to the Sabra and Shatila tragedies as a terrible consequence of indecision.
In our age, it has become fashionable to speak of peace, and with regards to Israel, to demand that it makes peace with its neighbors, even if that means it ignore acts of aggression planned and directed against it. Such is the convoluted state of affairs, that it is not enough for a threat to exist; Israel must actually wait to be attacked, it must allow its citizens to be murdered, in order to scrape together sufficient legitimacy to defend itself.
This is an immoral approach that cynically produces the very bloodshed and suffering it claims to avoid. The first priority of a nation is the preservation of life for its inhabitants. A strong State of Israel, and one blessed with the means to defend itself, thank G-d, must categorically ensure the sanctity of life for its residents. It is immoral and counterproductive for it to do otherwise, for whatever blood is spilled in the short run will secure future generations from being victims to violence, on both sides, Jew and non-Jew.
Instead, by not dealing decisively with threats, and allowing deterrence to erode in the face of relentless attacks, only a continuation of mass violence and suffering has been experienced, and can be expected. But where "the strongest army in the Middle East" achieves decisive victory, whether against Egypt, or Jordan or Syria, deterrence is created and peace follows. Let it be a cold peace, but one that has not endangered the lives of Jews, Egyptians, Jordanians or Syrians in several decades.
Where Israel is decisive, the lives of Jews and non-Jews are saved. And where Israel is indecisive, as the Rebbe says, "casualties are falling", G-d forbid, on all sides, and with no end in sight.
A friend and reader emails me,
You can't take a religious approach to war. The political dimension has to be taken into account. We can't allow generals to run amok on the battlefield, doing whatever they want. Military leadership is beholden to political leadership. The politicians must determine the scope of the war, and have the flexibility to adapt it as necessary.
I'm not sure what "a religious approach to war" means. What the Rebbe does is to highlight the cardinal responsibility of any state, and in particular a Jewish State, whose Jewish leaders are bound to uphold Mosaic law - to preserve life. Other nations and non-state actors, in contrast, may not interested in preserving life, but in achieving political ends. The Rebbe categorically rejects a such an approach to war, which places life secondary to political objectives. He implores us, and the Israeli leadership, to view the waging of war through the prism of pikuach nefesh - preservation of life, on all sides.
Once the sanctity of life is established, and its defense becomes the primary rationale for waging a war of self defense, the focus shifts on how to best do so, in a way that avoids casualties, including among the enemy. Far from allowing military commanders to "run amok" on the battlefield, the political leadership must instruct the military to achieve the necessary objectives in a way that reduces bloodshed in its implementation, and secures life in its outcome.
Then, once the military campaign begins, the political leadership must resist foreign pressure and allow the completion of military objectives it set. As has been demonstrated just recently in the Lebanon and Gaza wars, hesitation and indecision passed on from the political to the military command cause a vital loss of momentum, threaten the lives of forces engaged in combat, and display weakness that is ceased on by the enemy to prolong the conflict. The resulting stalemates ensure a continuation of suffering, on both sides, and the likelihood of further loss of life on an even greater scale.
Far from demanding a "religious approach to war", what the Rebbe is urging constitutes basic common sense and accepted military doctrine.