Israelis are good at Viewing With Alarm. And today’s newspaper is full of things to be alarmed about, all the way from the 130,000 missiles aimed at us and controlled by a regime that announces every day that we will soon be destroyed (and has set up a countdown clock to emphasize that), through the millions of Euros spent each day by supposedly civilized European governments to empower barbarians who want to kill us (and who try every day), including the Iranian buildup close to our border in the Syrian Golan heights, and finishing up with the newly paved road built by PA Arabs to bypass the (still unfinished) security fence for the purpose of smuggling weapons, drugs and terrorists across the Green Line.
We’ve been viewing some of these with alarm for years, but have done little about them. Why do we allow these things – and so many others – to fester until they become crises?
Why did we allow Hezbollah forces to rearm and creep almost up to the border in violation of UNSC resolution 1701?
Why is the security barrier in Judea/Samaria unfinished?
Why don’t we stop the flow of money from the EU to illegal Palestinian building and subversive Israeli NGOs?
Why does Hezbollah now have so many rockets when they had only a few thousand left after the 2006 war?
Why was Hamas allowed to rebuild its attack tunnels after the 2014 war?
These and other similar questions all have similar answers: because it’s hard, expensive or complicated, or because powerful interests here or abroad oppose it.
But these chickens will come home to roost, many of them on the same day, the day that Iran decides that it and its proxies are no longer too busy in Syria and Iraq to fulfill its national commitment to wipe us off the map, and we find ourselves in a multi-front war. And what were small problems that could have been dealt with one by one become components of an existentially dangerous complex. Nevertheless, we can prevail if we take control of the situation instead of simply reacting to events.
If you think that there is a good probability that war with Iran/Lebanon/Syria can be avoided, I would like to hear the scenario. Today – and a great deal of thanks is due to Barack Obama for this – the Iranian project to control the region and its resources is progressing rapidly and with little opposition. Iranian forces and proxies will soon link up at the Iraq-Syria border, creating a corridor for supplying game-changing weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and for threatening Jordan and even Jerusalem. In a very short time, Iran will have a nuclear umbrella under which to shelter its aggression. If nobody is willing to challenge the regime now, will they be more likely to do so then?
Analogies abound. Like Hezbollah, Germany after WWI rearmed itself in violation of international law. Could Hitler have been stopped more easily in 1936, when he remilitarized the Rhineland, than in 1939? Almost certainly. But nobody stopped him, and they didn’t stop him from taking Czechoslovakia in 1938 either.
There often appear to be good reasons for not doing anything about a threat. North Korea developed nuclear weapons over a period of decades, and manipulated the US into paying it to not do what it did anyway. The risk from Pyongyang’s conventional artillery aimed at the South was often cited as the reason for not taking stronger action. But it’s hard to believe that a power like the US could not find a creative way to neutralize that threat. And now the danger is nuclear.
War is a horrible thing for everyone involved, and starting a war of aggression is a crime. But wars of self-defense are a necessary evil, and it is the obligation of every regime to defend its population. There is no more primordial function of a government than that.
When you are certain that you will be attacked, you can wait for the attack and defend yourself, or you can preemptively attack your enemy (Sanhedrin 72a). Both options have advantages: it requires more firepower to attack an entrenched force than for one to defend itself. But a preemptive attack can benefit from the element of surprise, especially if the enemy is unprepared. A preemptive attack takes place at the time and under the conditions preferred by the attacker. And – this is very important for a country with little strategic depth like Israel – a preemptive attack puts the war on the enemy’s territory, not among your own population.
It’s likely that the Jewish state will never be the popular favorite in international circles. The longer a war continues, the easier it is for the international community to force Israel to stop fighting before its objectives are realized. So the best way for Israel to fight is to launch a sudden, massive preemptive attack that will destroy the enemy’s military capability before international opposition can mobilize itself to force an end to the war.
Although a preemptive attack would result in more civilian casualties on the enemy side, waiting to be attacked would shift the burden to our own people. The choice here is clear.
For some years, however, Israel has avoided preemptively attacking its enemies. One reason is that she has been at the mercy of the US for supplies. If Israel is perceived as the aggressor, she could be cut off from receiving resupply of materials it buys and otherwise punished. Thus Henry Kissinger told Moshe Dayan that Israel would “not have received as much as a nail from the United States” if it had launched preemptive attacks in 1973.
The presence of Russian forces in the region which could intervene quickly is another factor that has to be taken into account.
But winning the coming war with Iran and its proxies may depend on preemption, due to the large number of missiles possessed by Hezbollah, Hezbollah’s improved training and quality of weapons, and the number of fronts that might become active. Analysts have pointed to the ability of Hezbollah to make incursions into Israeli territory, something that could be devastating to our small country. So Israeli planners should think about how to manage a preemptive war even without assistance from the US – what should be stockpiled, and how to strike massive enough blows to end the war as quickly as possible.
In the very near future, Israel will face one of the greatest military challenges in her history. It will take determined action to survive. It will especially take planning, the same kind of meticulous planning that gave us one of the most successful preemptive air attacks in history, Operation Focus, which destroyed the Arab air forces on the ground in 1967. But if we don’t do it now, when will we do it?
The chances of curing cancer improve when it is caught early. And if you are going to perform surgery, you need to cut out the main tumor, not just its metastases. As the previous king of Saudi Arabia said, when you are attacked by a snake, you need to cut off its head, not its tail.