Israel@76: Bulwark against Islamic jihad

Israel@76: Bulwark against Islamic jihad

In recent days we commemorated Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Their sequence on the calendar has significance.

Yom HaShoah remembers the slaughter of the six million. Many of them could have been saved if there had been a State of Israel in 1939. As the Evian Conference on Refugees had shown the previous year, no country would agree to resettle Europe’s Jews in any meaningful numbers. Kristallnacht and the formula for the “Final Solution” ensued thereafter.

Since Israel was founded, thousands of IDF soldiers fell in countless wars, and thousands more died in terrorist attacks. A national moment of silence is held in Israel to acknowledge their sacrifice, and Yom HaZikaron is widely observed in synagogues throughout the world. This year it resonates profoundly in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre, with hundreds of IDF soldiers killed by Hamas in succeeding months.

But during these dark days, we celebrate the founding and continued vibrancy of the Jewish State. Despite incessant wars and attempts to delegitimize it, Israel remains a beacon of democracy in a region full of hate and authoritarianism led by Iran and its proxies, Hamas, Hizbullah, and the Houthis.

“Against these barbaric enemies, Israel stands on the front lines of the fight for civilization, the lone stable democratic ally in a critical, yet tumultuous region,” 80 retired U.S. generals and admirals wrote. The group was led by Frank McKenzie, the recently retired general who commanded U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East. “Israel is a visceral part of the West with its liberal democracy, ethnically diverse population, and support for individual rights,” they continued. “Even in facing adversaries who respect neither the laws of war nor human life, we believe Israel has fought in accordance with the laws of armed conflict.”

Speaking of generals, virtually all the top generals, including David Petraeus, H.R.McMaster, Jack Keane, and Wesley Clark, among many others, believe that Israel has no alternative to attacking Rafah, to eliminate Hamas’s remaining battalions and free the hostages.

Yet the day after Yom HaShoah, the Biden administration said it might withold the shipment of bombs, including precision guidance systems, if Israel went ahead with its Rafah campaign. Wouldn’t the latter weapons reduce civilian casualties as well as save the lives of IDF soldiers? It’s perplexing that they would be withheld at this climactic point in the war, which is fundamentally to destroy Hamas militarily and “redeem” the hostages.

Unfortunately, there has been a pattern of half-measures and defensive orientation in our geopolitical thinking. Our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and abandonment of thousands of our Afghan compatriots and billions in weapons to the Taliban reduced our deterrence and image of reliability for our allies.

We could not deter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with threats of sanctions that didn’t work in its earlier invasion of the Donbass region a decade earlier. Even after the invasion, with the loss of thousands of civilians, the U.S. slow-walked offensive weapons such as artillery that can reach Russian war-making infrastructure beyond the Ukrainian border, tanks, and F-16s. The rationale was not to escalate the war. So should Ukraine be near imminent defeat when it’s too late for these weapons to have a decisive impact? The Republicans also share blame for the costly delay in providing Ukraine with the weaponry it needs. The isolationist wing of that party is reminiscent of the isolationists impeding FDR’s efforts to help the Brits before Pearl Harbor. And former President Trump’s initial opposition to helping Ukraine and later pushing for loans instead of grants for a Ukraine on economic life support was farcical.

But the same pattern is emerging in Israel’s war. Helped by the U.S. and allies, Israel thwarted more than 300 missiles launched by Iran, But the U.S. did not want Israel to respond, defying Israeli public opinion and further eroding its already diminished deterrence. This reminds me of Churchill’s quote after 300,000 troops were evacuated from Dunkirk during the fall of France. Lauding “the miracle of deliverance,” he wisely cautioned that “we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.” As the Israelis know, neither are they won by defense alone.

What about the civilians? Urban warfare is the most difficult to fight. This is compounded by Hamas’s strategy. Hide behind civilians, exaggerate casualties, which the media accepts, not differentiating between civilian and Hamas terrorists, and broadcast the inevitable images of destruction. While there were mistakes made by the IDF, its target is Hamas, not civilians, while Hamas’s is a win-win approach where Israeli and Palestinian deaths strengthen their propaganda. As it is, Israel’s record of urban warfare, as measured in the ratio between civilian and combatant casualties, far surpasses our record in Mosul and Fallujah in Iraq, according to West Pont’s expert on urban warfare, John Spencer.

Then there’s the question of the day after. Who will govern Gaza? What about the two-state solution? There already have been plans floated by the Israelis and others. Obviously, these are important issues, which will be debated together with the future of the Netanyahu government, which is unlikely to survive new elections. But these decisions will be moot unless Hamas is defeated and hostages released, beginning with Rafah. This is a prerequisite and will also help restore her deterrence, a vital ingredient in expanding the Abraham Accords.

As the aforementioned 80 military leaders remind: “We … feel compelled to declare that a strong Israel is vital to the United States security, and it is imperative that America unequivocally stand by this indispensable ally. Amid surging antisemitism … U.S. support for the only Jewish state should be clear, unwavering and not conditioned…. Iran and its terrorist proxies … are also enemies of the United States and everything we stand for. This Iranian-backed axis of terror as well as other adversaries and our allies around the world, are watching closely to see whether the United States will stand by one of its closest allies fighting in self-defense even when the going gets tough.”

Israel is in the vanguard, serving as a bulwark against Islamic terrorism. As we celebrate its 76th birthday, this is a source of additional pride for us as Jews and as citizens of the United States and our allies.

Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project.

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