As we approach the thirty-second anniversary of “Operation Opera,” the bombing and neutralizing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, which presented a “clear and present danger” to the Jewish State, during the tenure of Menachem Begin, one might think that history has a strange tendency to repeat itself. Back then there was a country in the Persian Gulf (Iraq) threatening to destroy Israel and growing increasingly close to having the (nuclear) means to do so. The world talked until it was almost too late. Israel reacted. The head of strategic planning of the IAF, a certain Colonel Ilan Ramon, devised a bold and daring plan, and the rest is history. Today there is a country in the Persian Gulf (Iran) who has openly threatened to wipe the “Zionist entity” off the earth and the world is still talking (and imposing ineffectual sanctions). As the Mullah’s are hurling towards the nuclear finish line the BIG question is, what is Israel going to do?
Recently I had the honour and privilege of speaking on the same stage as Yehuda Avner, whose bestselling book (recently released as a film) “The Prime Ministers” offers an unique insiders look at those fateful moments leading up to the dramatic and risky but ultimately successful raid.
Begin was deeply scarred by his family’s experience in the Shoah, as Avner eloquently states, “the pall of the Holocaust clung to Menachem Begin like a shroud.” The Nazis murdered both of his parents, his brother, and young cousins. He was spared from a similar fate only because he was deported to Siberia by the Soviets. He saw the State of Israel as the living proof that there will never be a second Holocaust as long as there is a strong Israel. He declared,
Let the world know that under no circumstances will Israel ever allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against our people. If such a threat reoccurs we shall take whatever preemptive measures are necessary to defend the citizens of Israel with all the means at our disposal.
Menachem Begin was a man of strong beliefs. Even his political foes acknowledged and respected this fact, though not necessarily agreeing with his all of his stances. According to Avner’s recollections, Begin had six guiding principals, coloured by the Holocaust, which effected his decision making throughout his long and illustrious political career:
- If any of the enemies of the Jewish people state that they are going to destroy Jews, believe them.
- Do everything within your power to help your fellow Jews.
- Jews must learn to defend themselves.
- Jewish dignity and honour must be defended under all circumstances.
- Stand united in the face of our enemies.
- With the establishment of the sovereign State of Israel we have broken the Jewish historical cycle of rising, falling, exile and return.
Begins credo can be summed up in his reaction to the world-wide condemnation of Israel following “Operation Opera.” He stated,
Whenever I have to choose between saving the lives of our children or getting the approval of the (UN) Security Council and all those other fair-weather friends, I much prefer the former.
In other words, it does not matter what the nations of the world say, the world will never pity slaughtered Jews, it matters (for the Jews) what the Jews do! The world may not like the fighting Jew, but the world will have to take account of them. What would Menachem Begin have done with Iran’s belligerent race towards its attempt to destroy the State of Israel? I think we all know the answer.