Friday, March 12, 2010

Peace Upon the Land

The Operation the Rebbe references, Peace for Galilee, was launched by the IDF in 1982 to rout Palestinian terrorist training camps situated across the Lebanese border. For more than a decade, ever since the PLO's expulsion from Jordan following the events of Black September, 1970, Palestinian terrorists had been crossing into Israel from Lebanon to carry out attacks on civilians. Entire families were butchered, and "proportionate" Israeli reprisals, consisting of airstrikes and commando raids, did not stem the attacks.

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.


  1. Victor
    off topic - I am just listening to a biographer of Woodrow Wilson on book tour and he said Wilson was the only president ever with a PhD -I understand that the PhD is roughly equivalent to our doctorate - so here's the question: I keep getting told that Obama was a law professor, can you become a professor in the US without a PhD i.e. without having done original research? or are Obama's academic achievements are as embellished by the press as I sometimes guess?

  2. Hey Silke,

    I don't know very much about his education. He attended Harvard Law school, and earned a professional doctorate, Juris Doctor, for which "a research dissertation or thesis is not required".

    My impression is that Obama was a good but not exceptional student. The quality that seems to have served him best is an even temper. I remember an interview with one of his Harvard Law Review friends, who basically said that Obama was not the smartest guy in the room, but while the brilliant legal minds were locked in competition and conflict, he got along with everyone. This is why he was elected head of the Law Review - a compromise choice among competing factions.

  3. Since we're off subject anyway, Silke, what do you think about the new layout, compared to the all white one before?

  4. Victor
    I wish I'd remember how to say good Shabbes in Jiddisch but I forgot - have a wonderful peaceful satiating day in any language

    I like your new design - don't remember the old colour but books are white and their writing starts on the top left corner - perfect for an old one like me

    and thanks for the elucidation about Obama - btw I stumbled the other day on it that he said something to the effect of not Democrats not Republicans but the United States of America in the first speech that got him prominent. The wording he had chosen reminded me of the famous stuff our Kaiser Wilhelm said at the start of WW1 - funny how they all like to say the same stuff
    - I sincerely hope he'll learn to be more careful with his Kumbaya stunts. The Gabfest at Slate had it some months ago that he reminded them of McKinsey style and that made me shiver because it synched with my feeling about him that he is not really adult (but neither seems McCaine to be)
    Politicians don't have to be the most intelligent - given a choice I would vote for the shrewd the canny operator - did you know Churchill was a complete desaster at school, so bad that his very elite father couldn't get him into a first class regiment.

    now that the NYT has it - do you think Biden will consider to feel snubbed?


  5. one more off-topic
    I've obeyed Yaacov and had some fun on Fake Ibrahim's site and just noticed that all the traffic he got from Yaacov's site got enough on his nerves so he did something to the indicator on the right side of his blog and it doesn't show anymore that one comes from Yaacov's site. It seems it bothers his adorers when he goes philandering with the friends of Zion.
    Ibrahim has been told off because he was happy to see me back and he still wanted my picture - sick if only the deluded ones wouldn't switch to getting dangerous so willingly.

  6. I like that widget; just plugged it in on this site. His name is Alberto, right? I've also been going through his site the past few days, making mental notes. As I said earlier, his style intrigues me. If you look through the comments, however, it's a surprisingly small circle of like-minded readers, and two committed dissenters. I'm tempted to get in an altercation, but am reminded of Yaacov saying it's a fool's errand. I've really spent a lot of time on Israel crosstalk lately. I'd like to flesh my thinking out a bit more on other matters of interest.

  7. Victor
    I think it is no use arguing with them, I have been baiting them a bit trying to have some fun but they are just too slow in the head to be up to a bit of banter.
    They are "serious" people.

    The most amusing thing was how they chide eachother when one of them goes astray to Yaacov (made a mistake there should have written Dr. Lozowick to make them bridle a bit more)
    btw with that widget for some time the info that one came from Yaacov actually was not there then I wrote to you about it it was back the next day - is Fake Ibrahim or one of his devotees reading you? - of course it may have been a hitch in the widget's function - btw I saw or rather I could guess that you had been looking it up

  8. just now Ibrahim's wicked showed you arriving via Yaacov but not that I came through Yaacov

    I don't know if his name is Alberto but saying it in German makes him sound really sweet - irresistibly romantic

    - but once he claimed that he was of Arab descent why then Alberto? - what a denial of his legitimate roots ;-)))
    - I wonder whether there is a catholic saint by that name ? oh yes here is one and he was murdered (but Catholics have such an abundance of saints there may easily be another Albert)


    "Albert" ist althochdeutsch und heißt "von glänzender Abstammung".
    in case your German isn't up to it: the meaning of Albert is of dazzling with high rank descent


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