Monthly Archives: October 2007

The Offensive that Dares not Speak its Name

Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war – Donald Rumsfeld


Two days ago I happened to meet an Iran-affairs expert, who, to the best of my knowledge, was supposed to be in London. We discussed the morning’s headline. He was in despair; he estimated we are on the threshold of war with iran. “That’s not what you told me back in January,” I said; he was much more optimistic then. He nodded sadly.


It is quite possible Bush has already decided to attack Iran. The escalating rhetoric – “Third World War” is not, to be understated about it, a phrase frequently used by a head of state – points to it. The storage timing of the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terror organization last month, a bill pushed by the neo-conservative Senator Joe Liebermann, may signify that the administration is looking for a reason, a cause, some semblance of a congressional approval for such an attack. Should that happen to be the case, Hillary Clinton’s vote for the amendment may haunt her much more than her vote approving the Iraq war.


Leaving aside the future politics of 2008, the public ignoring of a certain point is astonishing. Let us assume that American planes, taking off on a bombing mission in a country as large as Germany, France and Britain combined, do find their underground targets and destroy them. That’s where public imagination halts: Mission accomplished, threat removed; the hero lands, takes off his flying gear and lights a cigar. Credits begin to roll. The end.


This scenario assumes utter passivity on the part of Iran. It assumes a country which justly considers itself a regional superpower will simply avoid a response after its sovereignty has been violated, a military attack has been carried out on its territory, a project which cost it untold funds and which around which the population is gathered has been destroyed. This assumption will not stand the test of reality.


Iran has a complete array of response options, none of them nice. The most likely of which are a Hizbullah attack on israel’s northern border, an unprecedented Iranian missile attack on Israel (which is, justly, considered the cause of the attack), and a full Shi’ite assault against the American forces in Iraq. The Mahdi’s Army, Muqtada Al Sadr’s militia which enjoys Iranian support, has more men on the ground in Iraq than the US military. And the Shi’ites take – very sensibly, from their point of view – a very dim view of the American-Sunni rapprochement in Anbar Province.


American forces will find it hard to get out of this trap – especially when you take into account the fact that Turkey (which threw the US’ Iraq invasion plan out of joint in 2003) may do so again following an attack on Iran, and may prevent American supplies and reinforcement from entering Iraq from within its borders.


And these are just the expected military outcomes. It’s perfectly possible the mullahs hold some surprises up their sleeves, such as a sleeper terror network in Europe and the US, which would be activated upon an attack.


But the direct military response pales before the diplomatic one. The anger in the world against the US, already at an all-time high, will rise sharply – especially if the Bush administration will give up on a UN approval of the strike, an impossibility given the veto power of Russia and China. And the rage will find its boiling point in the Middle East.


A fifth American attack on a Muslim country in 15 years (Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Iran), is expected to lead to an explosion in the “Muslim Street”. In a much less combustive situation, at the beginning of the Second Gulf War in 1991, King Hussein of Jordan hastened to grow a beard and spout Islamic slogans. A strike against Iran, whose pro-Israeli motives are so transparent, combined with an Iranian military response, could lead to a meltdown of the Middle East.


Israeli experts are already speaking openly about the expected collapse of Jordan. Mubaraq holds to his throne by the skin of his teeth, and the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys a majority among the Egyptians. Syria may be dragged, following Iran, into a war with Israel, if only to prevent radicalization of Islam within it; Assad Junior is not strong enough to repeat his father’s Hama Massacre. An attack on Iran may finally push Turkey to the Islamic side, and may serve it as an excuse for an invasion of Kurdistan. Only God knows what would happen to the Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Principalities.


The attack may well strengthen Iran. The mullah regime has trouble ruling, it fails in supplying its subjects with livelihood, and Iran is a revolution-prone country. A large segment of the population abhors the regime, and the only thing which may bring the people together around the mullahs (thereby postponing the oh-so-necessary reform) is an attack by a foreign power.


In short, the concept that an air attack on Iran will rid us of the “danger of a Third World War” is a dangerous fantasy, since it gleefully disregards the counter-offensive which is certain to come. The very attack is the most likely catalyst, at the moment, for such a war. The counter-reaction will cause massive damage to the US’ standing, may bring about a military defeat in the Middle East, and may trigger an isolationist response of the voters in November.


The counter-reaction may, on the other hand, wipe out Israel off the map. For some reason, Israeli thinking, too, stops at the great image of Natanz in flames, and does not look five minutes further into the future. Anyone who thinks the IDF may defend him, is hereby cordially asked to take a second look at what happened in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.


Such introspection won’t take place, of course. We will continue to support war with Iran, because “everybody knows” there is no other option. And when everything will go up in smoke around us, we will ask (as we do ever since that shining moment in 1967): how did this happen to us?


And anyone who will remind the public that this question has to end with “again”, will be termed a traitor, a person who thrusts a knife at the nation’s back.




(Written and published in the Hebrew blog today. Translated by Yossi Gurvitz)


Wandering in the Fog: Israelis and History

A pamphlet is going around by email and forums, which warns Israelis of the dangers of celebrating the Sylvester (*). The pamphlet is replete with gross inaccuracies: for instance, it claims Sylvester I was a pope, while a more proper term would be Bishop of Rome; the papacy did not acquire the power we are used to until the 11th century.

Even should we leave aside this error – which a layman, unfamiliar with church history, could make easily – we hit upon a blood-curdling claim: according to the pamphlet, “the first organized pogrom” broke out  simultaneously in Germany, England and France on 31 December 1400.

Leave aside the fact that the propagandist does not know that such a coordination between the three realms (even assuming Germany was a realm at the time, which it was not) was simply impossible, due to communication problems and the lack of a common calendar. Let us even leave aside the fact that the pamphleteer is repeating the blood libel – in reverse; But how could the writer, who purports to be a believing Jew, not know there were no Jews in England and France in 1400?

And how about a friend of mine, who re-tells a well-known story about Rabbi Akiva, and finishes it with “and then Cossacks came and burned down the town” – without seeing the problems in seamlessly incorporating the second century rabbi, a leader of the Bar Kochva rebellion, in the tapestry of Eastern European Jewish life in the 1700s.  

Israelis are ignorant of history. This seems to be a designated effect. To begin with, the Israeli education system withdrew Jewish history away from the rest of history: it divided history lessons into “Jewish history” and the history of everything else. And then, they transformed the entirety of Jewish history into Historia Lacrimosa, a history of tears.

The lessons focus on the destruction of the Second Temple – but not on the unique beliefs and cultures which thrived while it stood; on the destruction of the Rhine Jewry during the crusades (what are crusades? What is Christianity? Unimportant; Christians are people who kill Jews); on the expulsion from Spain and the Spanish Inquisition (which, contrary to myth, did not persecute Jews). And between these two events, of course, Europe experienced nothing but endless blood libels.

The reason, as usual, is Zionist theory. The concept of Shlilat Hagola, negation of the Diaspora, ignores the salient fact that most of Jewish history took place in the Diaspora; that even prior to the destruction of the Temple, most of the Jews chose not to live in Palestine. The desire for a “normal” history, one with blood and kings and wars, made Zionist historiography – at least in its school version – leap over 2,000 crucial years.

Add to that rampant and ancient xenophobia, and the concept that things that interest non-Jews ought not to be of interest to Jews, and you get a society lacking any historical anchors. I have heard, with my own ears, an Israeli tour guide explaining, by Titus’ victory arch, that the Flavian emperor was in fact a pope (he misunderstood the meaning of the inscription pontifex maximus; and how he to know that the popes have borrowed this title from the emperors?). I have heard yeshiva boys who believed Plato lived after Maimonides; after all, many of his claims resemble those of Maimonides. Some people are under the impression that the Hasmoneans have triumphed, of all people, over the Romans; and who have no clue whether the Greeks came before, or after, the Romans.

And why should they? After all, does it really matter, in that endless chain of “on every generation they rose against us to destroy us, and did a remarkably good job”, whether the Egyptians came before the Nazis? And is the precise timing of the Byzantines in that chain essential? And so, we have people ignorant of all culture – even Jewish culture; people who are not certain on the time of the First Temple (the one, as everyone knows, destroyed by the Greeks), or the Second; or who were the Hassidim, and what in God’s name did they want.

There is no vaccum, and where there is no history, myth steps in. In our case, the myth of “the entire world is arrayed against us, always, a priori”; a myth which enables a propagandist to turn the blood libel inside out, and blame all of the Christians living in 1400 in a conspiracy against the Jews living among them; the myth which whispers that wherever there are Jews, there are also Cossacks; that the Holocaust is but the pinnacle of some mystic chain, and that another Holocaust is just around the corner. A long chain, unbound by causality, because it needs no causality.

Nietzsche once asked “how does history aid and harms life”; we can see the damage wrought by an absence of history at any time we look at the frightened herd which is the Israeli public.

(*) For unknown reasons, the Gregorian New Year is called the Sylvester in Israel; this probably has to do with German Jews and the traditions they brought with them.

(Written and published in Nana News in December 2004.  Translated by Yossi Gurvitz, October 2007).

Circling the Schools with Tanks

Anyone who remembers Avigdor Kahalani from that most embarrassing period of his life – when he served as Minister of Internal Security – wasn’t all that surprised by his latest schtick. The teachers’ strike threatens harm to the commemoration project Kahalani planned for himself while still living; and therefore the former division commander, who forced the Golan Druze to accept Israeli citizenship, struck out once more against Israeli democracy.

We are informed by Kahalani that the Security Ministry (where Kahalani holds the shudder-inducing title of Chief of the Security-Social Dept.), will send buses full of officers, who will take the place of the striking teachers, and take the students – I’m sorry, I meant “the future soldiers” – to those old battlefields.

Personally, I am of the opinion that Kahalani somehow manages, in every minute he draws breath after that battle, to besmirch the memory of one of the most impressive battles in history. While Kahalani may not have “saved the State of Israel” in October 1973, as he tends to brag and as the panic-stricken General Staff believed at the time, he did inflict a stunning defeat on the enemy, suffered relatively few losses, and demonstrated admirable coolness under fire and tactical verve.

A normal man would have retired after the Battle of the Vale of Tears, would have understood there were no mountains left to climb; but Kahalani insisted on planting himself in Israeli memory even 34 years later. There’s a reason why old soldiers are expected to fade away: they are, almost without exception, a serious embarrassment to themselves and others when they take off their uniforms. And Kahalani does not break the mold.

Kahalani did not, in all likelihood think through his act; and would not, in all likelihood, understand why replacing striking teachers with officers paid by the State is problematic, even if someone tried to explain it to him; furthermore, all this is done so that the students will get a concentrated dose of Kahalani’s bio.

But why pick on Kahalani? After all, he’s not paying for the buses out of his own pocket; the Security Ministry does. He did not handpick the officers, they did not come because they heard it on the grapevine; they’ll board those buses as per orders. They will be sent by a Security Minister who has recently declared “there is no one who is unfit to serve in the IDF”, which was the latest step in his incitement campaign against people his own ministry disqualified from serve.

The involvement of officers in education did not begin with Kahalani, after all. Education Minister Limor Livnat embraced a “colonel for every high school” plan. There was no public outcry at that; the plan came on top of the planned “checkpoint classes”, which would have taught students – sorry again, I meant future warriors – how to behave at a checkpoint in the Occupied Territories. And when some students protested the arrival of a general at their high school, their fellow students threw stones at them.

The basic purpose of the modern school, an institute dating to Napoleonic France, is to qualify young people to serve in the military, to educate them to loyality to the State, and to qualify them for the work market. Israel, which looks more and more like a neglected branch of the IDF, had it backwards for quite a long time.

The government is encouraging an entire segment of the population not to work; soldiers are considered to be “children”, whose blood is redder than that of civilians; the army is much more important and much more influential than the democratic institutes; and, accordingly, the Education Ministry is considering abolishing the civics matriculation exams.

Kahalani’s mini-putsch will not cause a public debate; there will be no protest. In Israel, the Green Beast is the Golden Calf (and it costs accordingly), and woe to the person who will criticize it. And so, the next time a ruthless senior minister or prime minister – say, Binyamin Netanyahu; say, Ehud Barak; say Ehud Olmert – will wish to break an annoying yet legitimate strike, the flag-wrapped Kahalani shall serve them as a precedent, as a justification.

The Battle of the Vale of Tears shall be reason enough for tears; and the question whether in the end Avigdor Kahalani, rightful owner of the rare Bravery Medal, did more good or harm to his country, shall remain open.

(Published October 7th in the Hebrew blog, written and translated by Yossi Gurvitz. Avigdor Kahalani is a former Brigadier General [Tat Aluf] in the IDF, who played a major part in the victory over the Syrian forces in the Yom Kippur War. His later military career is, to be charitable, less noteworthy; his political career was an unmitigated disaster).