Op-Ed: It's Hard to Trust Netanyahu and Barak on Iran
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
The Need to Express a Position
I do not view myself as a military strategic expert, but since the question of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities is on the public agenda and discussed in all media forums, I feel the need – and even a civil duty – to express my opinion.
In recent decades, a number of additional countries have joined the group of nations possessing nuclear weapons. All agree that this is a harmful process. Nevertheless, the state of war in various regions creates a huge incentive for additional countries to produce nuclear bombs. This is an inevitable development..
Even if the State of Israel succeeds in destroying the Iranian nuclear facilities, such an action apparently will not cancel this dangerous phenomenon, but merely postpone the date that Iran and other hostile states acquire nuclear weapons.
Today, countries such as India, China, Pakistan, and North Korea already possess nuclear weapons. The entire world must learn to deal with threats of this magnitude, and in this respect, our situation is not significantly different from that of many other countries. Given this fact, the statements of the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister that Iranian nuclear weapons are an existential threat to the State of Israel are simply not true. They are one threat in a chain of many others.
Defense and Deterrence
We must deal with these serious threats in two complementary ways – defense and deterrence.
The development of protective measures such as the 'Arrow missile' and the 'Iron Dome' should be promoted, as well as numerous other innovations that enable the interception of missiles by satellites, near their launching and while still in the enemy's state.
At the same time, it is necessary to create an unambiguous deterrent based on a firm position – directed both towards ourselves and our neighbors – that we are determined to settle our country, and strike the enemies who rise up against us.
Weakness of Israeli Deterrence
Regrettably, instead of responding appropriately and as promised to the shelling from Gaza and Lebanon, the political and military leadership is engaged in making threats against Iran, thereby eroding Israel's power of deterrence.
It was none other than Ehud Barak, serving as Prime Minister, who initiated the flight from Lebanon, while declaring that if gunfire is opened on Israel from Lebanon – "all of Lebanon will burn." In reality, Israeli soldiers and citizens were kidnapped, murdered, and injured, but Lebanon did not burn.
Previous to the withdrawal from Lebanon, approximately 20 to 25 soldiers a year were killed. After the withdrawal, over a perios of 12 years, nearly 200 soldiers and civilians were killed (mostly in the Second Lebanon War).
Even worse, as a result of the withdrawal, Hizbullah took control of Lebanon, the second intifada broke out in which more than 1,000 Israeli's were murdered, we withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and Hamas came to power, creating a terrorist state that constantly threatens the State of Israel with missiles and rockets.
In other words, precisely with regard to Iran's main threat against us, via Hizbullah and other terrorist organizations in Gaza operating on their behalf, the State of Israel reveals incompetence, eroding its deterrence to an absolute minimum, until our enemies have the nerve to liken the State of Israel to a "cobweb".
Our weak image was intensified as a result of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and our ongoing incompetence against the rocket attacks from there.
In order to deal with the threats and dangers, we have to create deterrence built less on the verbal bravado of Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Binyamin Netanyahu, and based more on determined actions against those who actually attack us.
Strengthening Our Control of the Land
Nevertheless, painful military punishment is not enough. As a result of a lack of clarity concerning our ambitions in the Land of Israel, we invite threats and dangers upon ourselves, leading our enemies to believe that we will continue to withdraw until the State of Israel is eradicated, God forbid.
Therefore, the correct response to a missile attack from Gaza or Lebanon should also include applying Israeli sovereignty over additional parts of the Land of Israel, and strengthening construction in Judea and Samaria.
Such a step would convey our determination to strengthen the country, and constitute an extremely painful punishment for our enemies. Perhaps this would deter some of them from violence if they knew that the result of any attack would include applying Israeli sovereignty over additional territories, and the stimulation of construction in other areas.
Regrettably, the Prime Minister and Defense Minister still do not understand this.
It is also impossible not to raise the suspicion of personal interests that affect decisions. It is obvious to me that, in principle, the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister are committed to the security of the State of Israel. Were they confronted by the difficult choice, they would be willing to give their lives for the country's existence.
However, since they are known to have inflated egos, there is fear that personal motives also spur them on to take action in Iran. The Prime Minister, despite being a capable and diligent person, is not perceived as being a great leader, owing to his serious credibility problems. He is liable to think that after a successful bombing in Iran, he will finally be considered a great leader, in the category of David Ben Gurion and Menachem Begin.
The political career of the Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, is at an absolute low, in total contrast to his hopes of being an important leader, an outstanding expert on security issues and resolving international crises. His only chance to return to the political ring as a leader and winner is by means of a successful bombing of Iran.
In such a situation, it is highly recommended for all ministers and advisors who share responsibility in the decision-making process to be deliberate in judgment, and not get wound-up by the vigor of the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister.
The State of the I.D.F.
The state of the I.D.F. is also not first-rate. For decades, the I.D.F. has failed to overcome our enemies. The soldiers and field commanders are praiseworthy for their dedication and talents, but the leadership has been gripped with decay.
Army commanders in the past were also not the most upright individuals, but at least they were Zionists in the old and good sense of the word – supporting the settlement of the Land in all its' breadth and width, fighting the enemy, absorbing new immigrants, and possessing a strong national identity.
Today, the "Zionist dream" of many senior military commanders is peace with the terrorists, retreat in order to achieve quiet, integration of women soldiers in all the troops, and most importantly – to emerge with a clean record from any possible investigations – in order to advance their careers.
Presumably, the mid-level officers who plan the various operations are highly professional, and most likely, perform their jobs properly. But the senior command, whose job is to think about the next stage, is prone to failure, suffers from excessive arrogance, and has a propensity to err in assessing the enemy. Perhaps the arrogance is intended to cover-up mediocrity, because more often than not, it is precisely commanders who are spineless and lack independent minds who are advanced through the ranks.
With the top brass of the army in such a situation, it is better not to enter a military action that is not absolutely necessary, for even if the senior commanders know how to begin such an action, apparently, they are incapable of correctly planning its end. Furthermore, they lack the strength of mind required to reach a successful conclusion.
Obviously, it is extremely important to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but this is also a direct interest of the Sunni Arab states neighboring Iran, and an indirect interest of the U.S., whom they regard as being the "Great Satan", and the other Western countries.
Why do we have to enter a formal war with Iran alone? Perhaps the best thing is to continue increasing economic pressure on Iran, as the U.S. and European countries are doing.
Some people might argue that Netanyahu's mere threat of attacking Iranwas what caused the U.S. and Europe to wake-up and act, and that my comments, God forbid, may weaken this move. However, one who contemplates the situation will find that I actually strengthen the assessment that our leaders are interested in a heroic military operation in order to upgrade their status, and thus, the threat remains in place.
For the sake of full disclosure, I must note that my comments may also have been written out of a personal interest, given that as a result of a halakha which I published in connection to refusing orders to expel Jews from their homes, and the criticism I wrote in regards to the top military brass, Defense Minister Ehud Barak removed Yeshiva Har Bracha from the Hesder program. Nevertheless, it is my duty to put in writing doubts which should be raised concerning the plans of the Prime Minister and Defense Minister.
The Roots of the Crisis in the I.D.F.
Here, once again I quote the passage that was cited by the top security officials when they decided to cancel the Hesder program from Har Bracha. This section was written during the Second Lebanon War, when I doubted their ability to lead the war to its proper conclusion, and consequently, I suggested putting an end to the war as soon as possible to save the lives of our soldiers.
This is what I wrote during the Nine Days of the month of Av, 5766: "Unfortunately, although we have a large army and brave soldiers, amongst them our students and friends, who are willing to endanger their lives for their people and country, and excellent weaponry – the political policies are so mistaken, that without a miracle, it difficult to expect a victory."
I based my position on the army's poor preparation of equipment and tactical plans, and an inaccurate assessment of the enemy and their goals (at the time, the senior officers still denied the fact that the army was unprepared). I added: "It is impossible not to link all these failures to the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif and the destruction of their homes and communities.
"For three years, there has been one major consideration for the appointment of the top military brass – their unwavering support for the program of expelling Jews from Gush Katif, Judea, and Samaria. Outside of their regular security duties, the creative thoughts of the various commanders were directed at planning and executing the expulsion, while the main front was neglected, as if it posed no danger to the State of Israel…
"Those who had been cruel to their brothers, inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, did not accurately acknowledge the evilness of our enemies, and did not prepare the army for warfare against them."
"The corruption of senior officers did not begin with the agenda of expulsion from Gush Katif. For years, the main objective of many officers has been their personal advancement. If in order to advance they needed to win on the battlefield, they would try their best to be successful.
"When the policies of the government began to degenerate, and instead of defeating Israel's enemies, the goal turned into striving for peace with the most despicable people, and pleasing the Supreme Court and the media, the deterioration increased. When the settlers became semi-enemies, corruption had already become official, to the point of threatening Israel's security.
"These are the cobwebs gripping Israeli consciousness, and damaging Israel's ability to stand against its enemies."
In view of the fact that what I wrote concerning the Second Lebanon War proved to be true, and since regarding the corruption of high ranking military officers, details are gradually emerging – as was revealed to all in the affairs of the "Harpaz document" – I felt it was my duty to write my thoughts at this point as well.