A few moments ago, at exactly 11 am, I went up to my roof to stand at attention for two minutes during the siren that honors the 23,928 people, soldiers and civilians, who have died since 1860 in the struggle to create and defend the Jewish state.
Today, Wednesday, is Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. It’s been said that on Yom Hazikaron we consider the price of having a state, while on last week’s Yom Hashoa, we think about the price of being without one. Most Israelis understand that the latter’s cost would be much greater, but still, the pain of those who have lost loved ones is almost unbearable. And that pain is worsened when the loss was avoidable, perhaps caused by incompetence, laziness, or selfishness on the part of political or military leaders that failed those who put their trust in them (and who mostly had no choice in the matter).
The 1973 war is considered the most prominent example of unnecessary losses in the history of the state. Repeated failures by military and political officials (including the PM, Golda Meir) to take seriously the warnings from numerous sources that an attack was imminent – even King Hussein of Jordan personally warned Meir – led to the catastrophic lack of preparation for the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack. At least 2,500 Israeli soldiers died in the war that followed, many of them in the first hours of the war when inadequate Israeli forces faced large invading armies on the Golan Heights and the Sinai.
After the war, a commission of inquiry (the Agranat Commission) investigated the failures, and after the release of its report, several military commanders were forced to resign, as well as Meir and her cabinet. Although Meir’s government was succeeded by one led by Yitzhak Rabin, it’s generally thought that the debacle of 1973 led directly to the end of the left-wing monopoly on power, the triumph of Menachem Begin’s Likud Party in 1977.
Another, more recent example was the Second Lebanon War. The three men who managed the war in the summer of 2006 were unqualified to do so. The Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and the Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, had little military experience and went to war without a clear objective or exit strategy. The Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, was an Air Force officer who didn’t understand the workings of the ground forces, and how to get them to do what he wanted. The army, especially the ground forces, suffered from a long-term lack of discipline, which manifested itself in an abysmal lack of preparation. There were serious failures in intelligence, logistics, tactics, and execution. 121 Israeli soldiers died in the inconclusive month-long war, which ended in a UN Security Council resolution that proved worthless in preventing Hezbollah from rearming for a second round.
The theme of the tragic loss of young people in war pervades Israeli culture; it appears throughout popular music, films, and literature. It’s felt especially strongly on Yom Hazikaron – the newspaper, radio, and TV are full of stories about young men and women who were everything to their parents, who were full of plans for the future, had talents and dreams, but whose lives ended at the age of 23, or 20, or 19. And the thought that it may not have been necessary is excruciating.
Today Israel is facing Iran, a large country whose leaders seem to have a limitless hatred for us, a hatred greater than just their geopolitical ambitions. They have surrounded us with proxies, in Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, armed and waiting for the conflict to begin. The Iranian regime is committed to building nuclear weapons, and we are committed to stopping them. For both sides, this is an issue that is not amenable to compromise. Unless something very unexpected happens, there will be war yet again, and yet again our young people will offer themselves generously on behalf of the am Yisrael. We know, beyond any doubt, that they will not all return to take their after-army trips around the world, or go to university, or marry their sweethearts. We know this for certain. This is the terrible cost of defending the Jewish state, which is still less expensive than the cost of not having one.
If there isn’t a way to prevent it – and I think there isn’t – at least we can do our best to minimize the number of those that will be lost because of incompetence, laziness, and selfishness in the higher echelons of the government and the military.
The present situation in which there is no permanent government, in which vital functions – including the military budget – are held hostage to the ambitions, fears, personal grudges, and egos of a few dozen people who lead our political parties and our legal establishment, must end now. Not after the missiles start falling on the unprepared home front, and not after reserve soldiers whose training was cancelled for budgetary reasons are thrown into combat.
You know who you are – Bibi, Bennett, Lapid, Sa’ar, Smotrich, Gantz, Lieberman, as well as Kochavi, Mandelblit, Hayut, and all the rest. You know that the state is in a perilous situation, and that it needs the attention of leaders that will put aside everything else except the good of am Yisrael and its nation-state, who will start earning the exorbitant salaries that we pay them. You know what you have to do. Do it.
Now. Before it is too late.