Samuel Heilman
Distinguished Professor of Sociology Emeritus CUNY

Bibi Take the Win, and Then Go Home

It’s the morning after the first ever direct attack by Iran on Israel, with about 300 launches of a combination of drones and missiles against Israel.  In our home in Jerusalem, my wife and I have slept in our safe room, listening to the ominous announcements about Iran’s revenge attack, and later the warning sirens and red alerts informing us at about 1:45 A.M. that the missiles, drones and other projectiles have arrived and that Jerusalem was targeted.  Enclosed in our concrete and steel reinforced space we have been listening on our smartphone the broadcast bulletins and play-by-play of a rain of terror dropping on all of Israel, from the desert to the cities, from the north to the south.  We hear about an alert over Dimona, site of Israel’s nuclear reactor but also above the Temple Mount and in civilian areas.  Unlike the Israeli pinpoint targeting of Iranian commanders or their government scientists at work on weapons whose goal is to attack us, Israeli targeting leaves civilians untouched, while the Iranians aim at all of us.

Finally, after hearing Israel has closed its airspace, we can no longer tolerate the excited commentary on the airwaves, and hoping for the best, we finally turned off the drone of drone reports to get some fitful sleep.  In the morning, when the airspace over Israel was once again opened up, we learned that this time the boasts of our government and IDF spokesmen that we were fully prepared to repel this onslaught were supported by facts and Israel, along with the help of our American and British allies (as well as some of our Arab neighbors in the region like Jordan) our defenders shot down 99% of the projectiles launched against Israel, an incredible success rate.  For the moment, Israel had displayed what it could do when it was prepared and the mighty skills of our defense forces while also demonstrating for the world to see how Iran’s bluster was far worse than its might.  Only one casualty, a 7-year-old Bedouin girl, injured by shrapnel from a downed Iranian missile, was in Soroka hospital fighting for her life.

When by the dawn’s early light, we woke to see Israel’s flag flying and our country still there, Israel had both the moral high ground (temporarily, something the world only gives us when we are victims of aggression on the verge of destruction) and the satisfaction of an Iran that was for the time shown to be a paper tiger.  To be sure, Iran has been trying to present the attack as, the New York Times put it, “a highly choreographed spectacle,” that was “designed to create maximum drama while inflicting minimal damage.”  Maybe.  But I think this after-the-fact back-channel claim certainly was not perceived as that nor presented that way here in Israel or in the lead-up to the attack.  Iran knew it and used the same drones that Russia is using to great effect in Ukraine, as well as the Kheibar Shekan ballistic missile, one of its newest and most advanced.  All were unsuccessful in the attack on Israel. Some choreography!

Israel also learned that our great friend in the White House, God bless him, whose back-up assistance was an essential part of the success in thwarting the Iranians had on the morning-after informed our fool (or worse, knave) of a Prime Minister that if he launched an ill-advised counterattack on Iran, he would be “on his own.”  Given Netanyahu’s obvious desire to keep this war going for his own selfish political benefit, we here in Israel hope he got the message and will not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by ignoring President Biden’s advice.

While Iran’s proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the Houthis of Yemen, continue their attacks against Israel, the Iranians having for the first time directly attacked Israel themselves and failed were quick to announce that unless our government counterattacks, their night of  aggression was for now the full extent of their direct assault on Israel for its recent targeting of their military leaders. Apparently, Iran wanted to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, by spreading the message through its back-channels that what they did was a show more than an attack.  Quite a few analysts chose to believe and assist this charade, refusing to accept the more obvious evidence of an Iranian defeat.

At the same time, many of the governments that had earlier announced an embargo on arms for Israel, were having second thoughts.  What if Israel in return embargoed its extraordinary weapons from them, a defense system that was shown to be so powerful it knocked out 99% of the attack.  Orders from countries like Germany and Ukraine and others like Finland came in to Jerusalem and were quickly sealed..

The right step for Israel is to accept its victory and take Iran at its word that it will not attack again if Israel does not.  Let the world live with the realization that Israel and its allies have thwarted Iran.  Let the result work to undo the ignominious failures of October 7 and its aftermath.  Let Israel not change the subject from redeeming its hostages to a new series of direct battles with Iran. Let those who have looked to Iran to back them up in the battle against Israel, live with the reality of Iran’s recent 300 failures.

With all this, as I predicted, Hamas has once again rejected a deal for the hostages.  This is no surprise since the way this war has been conducted by this failed government has already given Hamas what it asked for without getting anything from the terrorists in return.  Most combat troops have been withdrawn, aid has been pouring in to Gaza and as always taken control of by Hamas, and now, although Netanyahu government denies it, Gazans have been allowed to return to the northern part of the Strip, as demonstrated in videos that can be seen on our news.  What leverage does Israel have left to make a deal?  Too little too late.  Here we have already been losers in spite of the so-called victories over Hamas fighters. For an organization like Hamas that embraces the idea of martyrdom, the fact that Iran may not be able to save them is not all that disturbing.

The continued attacks by the fundamentalist Hamas and Hezbollah who believe in martyrdom rather than making deals on behalf of their people demonstrate the sad truth that this government still has no idea how to end this war and make up for its failures preceding 7 October, 2023.  After so much death and destruction, it is hard to point to any victories other than last night’s overwhelming defeat of Iran’s aggression.  The entire world is urging Netanyahu to take his victory and stop.  If the past is prologue, we cannot be sure that Bibi and company will not ruin that too. His coalition partners Smotrich and Ben Gvir, two ministers with no military experience or strategic understanding have already foolishly called for a counterattack on Iran, giving the Prime Minister who continues like them to encourage a forever war the political support he would need for such a foolhardy act. Let’s hope this government heeds the White House warning, and takes this rare victory over Iran.  There will be plenty opportunity at another time to flex Israeli muscle or better smarts in the struggle against Iran.

But if more than likely the Netanyahu gang does not do the wise thing, we need the remaining true leaders of the Likud who surely understand that this government must fall if Israel is to be saved to join now courageously and like opposition head Yair Lapid to follow the lead and abandon this government coalition. Where is their moral outrage?  Where are the one-time prisoner of conscience Yuli Edelstein, and all-business rational Nir Barkat, and the others in Likud who by now know that Bibi is no longer fit to be Prime Minister who could  let this government fall?  They have very little time left to demonstrate that they are not party hacks and deserving of anything but the dustbin of history.  We need a new government.  The Brits knew when to dump Neville Chamberlain.  It’s time for Israelis to do no less.

About the Author
Until his retirement in August 2020, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Queens College CUNY, Samuel Heilman held the Harold Proshansky Chair in Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center. He is author of 15 books some of which have been translated into Spanish and Hebrew, and is the winner of three National Jewish Book Awards, as well as a number of other prestigious book prizes, and was awarded the Marshall Sklare Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry, as well as four Distinguished Faculty Awards at the City University of New York.He has been a Fulbright Fellow and Senior Specialist in Australia, China, and Poland, and lectured in many universities throughout the United States and the world. He was for many years Editor of Contemporary Jewry and is a frequent columnist at Ha'Aretz and was one at the New York Jewish Week. Since his retirement, he and his family have resided in Jerusalem.
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