Netanyahu cannot be Trusted on Iran

Netanyahu cannot be Trusted on Iran
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

The Need to Express a Position

I do not consider myself 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.

The Situation

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 process. Even if the State of Israel succeeds to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities, such an action apparently will not cancel this dangerous phenomenon, but merely postpone the date of Iran and other hostile states acquiring 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 that Iranian nuclear weapons are an existential threat to the State of Israel are simply not true. They constitute 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 advanced, as well as numerous other innovations that enable the interception of missiles by satellites, near their launching, and while still in the enemy 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 all enemies who rise up against us.

Weakness of Israeli Deterrence

Regrettably, instead of responding appropriately, and as promised, to 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, for a period of nearly 12 years, approximately 200 soldiers and civilians were killed (mostly in the Second Lebanon War). Even worse, as a result of the withdrawal, Hezbollah 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 in respect to Iran’s main threat against us, via Hezbollah and other of their proxy terrorist organizations operating in Gaza, the State of Israel demonstrates incompetence, eroding its deterrence to an absolute minimum, to the point where our enemies have the nerve to liken the State of Israel to a “cobweb”. Our weak image was deepened 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 kind of 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

All the same, 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 missile attacks 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 has yet to understand this.

Personal Motives

It is also impossible not to raise the suspicion of personal interests that affect the decision. It is obvious to me that, in principle, the Prime Minister is committed to the security of the State of Israel. Were he confronted by the difficult choice, he would be willing to give his life for the country’s existence. However, since he is known to have an inflated ego, there is fear that personal motives also spur him on to take action in Iran. The Prime Minister, despite being a capable and diligent person, is not perceived by Israelis as being a great leader, due to his serious credibility drawbacks. 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.
In such a situation, it is highly recommended for all ministers and political advisors who share responsibility in the decision-making process to be deliberate in judgment, and not be provoked by the vigor of the Prime Minister.

The Shape of the I.D.F.

The I.D.F. is not in the greatest shape either. 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. In the past, army commanders were not the most upright individuals either, 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 sections of the army, 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 that are advanced through the ranks. With the top brass of the army in such a state, 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.

International Pressure

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. – who 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 Iran was the catalyst for the U.S. and Europe readiness to wake-up and act, and that my comments, God forbid, might weaken this move. However, one who studies the situation will find that I actually strengthen the assessment that our leader is interested in a heroic military operation in order to upgrade his reputation, and thus, the threat remains in place.

The Roots of Crisis in the I.D.F.

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 base my position on the army’s poor preparation of equipment and tactical plans, and an inaccurate assessment of the enemy and their goals. 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 was 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. Beyond their regular security duties, the creative preparation 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 became striving for peace with the most despicable people and pleasing the Supreme Court and 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.

About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed; The 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: