I don’t have the words to describe the cruelty and brutality of our enemies. That would take a Chaim Nachman Bialik, but I’m sure you can find descriptions, photos, videos, and recordings of unanswered cries for help in other places. At least 1400 [updated 10-18-23] of us were murdered and thousands injured in a typical Arab Muslim blood frenzy. Some 200 were taken hostage, to be tortured over the coming days, months, and perhaps years.
Although the attack itself was a surprise, the horrifying nature of it should not have been. This is who they are, who they have always been, and what they do. A lot has been written about Hamas’ motivation. Did they want to damage the possibility of an Israeli-Saudi agreement? Did they want to encourage Qatar to send them more funds? The truth is simpler: they wanted to kill Jews as cruelly as possible. Yes, they intend to use their hostages to try to free Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, but that’s only an intermediate objective. The long-term goal is to kill enough Jews so that the rest of us will either leave or be forced to accept subjection to Arab Muslim rule.
There is also a spiritual/psychological objective. By torture and murder, by the blood of their victims and of their “martyrs,” they add to their honor and subtract from that of the Jews. This strengthens them and weakens us. Although most Westerners don’t understand this, honor is real, and the loss of honor can be catastrophic. It will not be enough for Israel to control the territory of Gaza, Judea and Samaria. To survive in this place, the Jews of Israel must regain their honor.*
I also don’t have the inside information to explain who in Israel was responsible for the failures. How was none of the planning for this picked up by our intelligence? Where were the helicopter gunships when the terrorists were pouring through the gaps in the fence? Where was the army for the first five hours of the attack? Isn’t the border monitored 24/7 by high-tech sensors as well as by human soldiers? Did we not learn from 1973 not to send everyone home for the holidays? I could go on.
There will be answers to all of these questions, and more. Assuming that the State of Israel survives long enough, there will be the Commission of Inquiry to end all Commissions of Inquiry. Politicians and military officers will lose their jobs in disgrace. Lessons will be said to have been learned. Procedures will be put in place. But we will not remain here unless we are capable, as a culture, of learning and internalizing some concepts that seem to have been lost to the West roughly since the end of World War II. For example, those of Honor, Enemy, and War.
Honor and deterrence are two sides of the same coin. If you do not aggressively defend yourself against the efforts of others to take your property, if you do not retaliate against injuries inflicted on you, if you try to guarantee peace by paying ransom, then you send a message that you are prey, and you will be the victims of predators. Israel has been paying ransom to Hamas in various forms for decades; this is the result. Honor and deterrence are achieved by disproportional retaliation, not by attempts to improve the enemy’s economic condition.
An enemy is someone who wants to kill you. The best way to defend oneself against an enemy (as the sages of the Talmud noted) is to “arise and kill him first.” Israel’s approach to self-defense has become primarily passive, not active. We hunker down in our safe rooms and try to ward off the blows of our enemies, as demonstrated by Iron Dome, a device that is both impractical (it can be overwhelmed by massive barrages of rockets and drone swarms) and economically unsustainable (each interceptor costs $40,000 while rockets and drones can cost a few hundred dollars). And then our enemies come on motorcycles and pickup trucks and drag us out of our “safe” rooms.
And finally, war is … war. The goal of war is victory, the imposition of your will on what is left of the enemy, such as was done to Germany and Japan in WWII. If there is no victory, then the war continues. A ceasefire that allows the losing side to rearm, such as those that followed the numerous previous wars between Israel and Hamas, is a battle lost. The policy of the US has always been to deny Israel victory, for some reason that is still incomprehensible to me, but at some point – as Menachem Begin realized when he ordered the air force to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor – Israel needs to defy the US.
If the goal of war is victory, then the policy of not attacking a military target because of the presence of civilians is irrational: the enemy will simply place its assets among civilians. The laws of war take account of this, and permit attacks in which collateral damage is proportional to military advantage. I needn’t mention that even this degree of restraint was not observed by the Allies in WWII, when strategic bombing deliberately targeted civilians. Israel’s excessive concern for the “optics” of its actions is exploited by her enemies – and hostile media and NGOs accuse her of war crimes in any event.
After WWII, there were large movements of populations as a result of the political changes wrought by the war. Hundreds of thousands of “innocent” ethnic Germans in countries east of Germany were expelled. Needless to say, millions of Jews that had survived the Holocaust could not return to their former homes. When Jordan conquered Judea and Samaria in 1948, Jews were forced to flee. Victory against our enemies and Gaza and Judea/Samaria must also lead to the emigration of many who are implacably hostile to the Jewish state.
So what are the chances that Israel will change her policies of appeasement and paying ransoms to those of aggressive and necessarily brutal retaliation? One positive sign is that Israel cut off the supply of electricity and fuel to Gaza (but not yet water). It’s impossible to predict, but one thing to keep in mind is that those making decisions, both in the political and military echelons, are the ones responsible for the present policy, and they are not likely to be replaced in the near term.
I do not consider myself a religious person, but it’s hard to avoid mentioning that the Torah prescribes a very harsh approach to Israel’s historical enemy, Amalek. King Saul was removed from his position because, he failed to carry out the order from the prophet Samuel to wipe out the Amalekites, all of them, including their children and animals. I don’t advocate killing either children or animals, but our enemy’s policy of using human shields – a war crime – will naturally result in more collateral damage. And we need to understand this and not shrink from doing what is necessary to win, despite the suffering that this will cause to enemy populations.
We live in the Middle East and not in Europe or America. European-style moral considerations are not in play here, nor even European-style rationality. In the Middle East, if someone hurts you, you take revenge – or they will hurt you again. If you don’t internalize this, you will not understand events here.
We are at the beginning of a long and probably vicious struggle, which may end with the destruction of Hamas, the death of its leaders, and a massive number of refugees from Gaza. Or it may continue, and move into an even more bitter conflict with Hezbollah, and ultimately the “head of the snake” in Iran.
May we receive the strength we must have for victory in all these conflicts, in order to preserve the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
* There are relevant parallels for the USA and Europe.