Daniel G. Saunders

History is now

The IDF, once feared as much as hated, hasn’t really won a war outright since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, 50 years ago. That’s partly because until last October, it hadn’t been involved in a really major war since then, on a par with the Yom Kippur War, the Six Day War (1967) or The War of Independence (1948-49). It’s partly also because it scared its major enemies so much that they have kept their distance. Egypt made peace in 1979, Jordan following in 1994. Syria rattled its sabre a lot, but never invaded after 1973 and then descended into civil war and internal carnage and is now basically an Iranian puppet state like Lebanon.

Israel’s intervention in the Lebanese Civil War in the ’80s was the one time it really behaved like the high-handed imperialist state it’s often accused of being, trying to impose a pro-Israel candidate, Bachir Gemayel, as president to make peace with him and then getting sucked into a moral and strategic quagmire after his assassination, particularly after Israel’s allies, the Christian Falange, avenged Gemayel’s assassination by massacring Palestinian civilians without Israeli intervention to stop them, resulting in a loss of domestic support for the war in Israel (although the IDF kept a presence in the country until 2000) and a loss of global support for Israel which it has arguably never really recovered.

Meanwhile, Israel’s major strategic concern shifted from invasion by external enemies (the surrounding Arab states) to managing the conflict with the Palestinians in repeated intifadas and minor wars with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, all of which were declared as victories by both sides and didn’t really have any clear winners. Hamas and Hezbollah don’t care about this, as their model for “resistance” is the Algerians against the French and the Vietnamese against the French and then the Americans, both guerrilla wars of attrition that slowly wore down the resolve of a mighty colonial power through the death of a thousand tiny cuts. The problem is that this can’t work with Israel, as Israelis, unlike French colonials and American soldiers, have no homeland to return to; Israel is the Jewish homeland.

Israel had several options, all of which it tried and none of which have worked: negotiation, unilateral withdrawal and endless occupation. Other possibilities are annexation, expulsion and/or genocide, which, needless to say, are off the table for most Israelis, but appear enough on the far-right fringe (some of whom are now in government thanks to Netanyahu’s desperate lust for power) to give Israel’s enemies ammunition.

The plucky state of socialist kibbutzniks and genocide survivors that won three major wars against superior forces in 25 years with limited foreign help while building a country in the desert almost from scratch is obviously a more appealing narrative to Westerners, particularly progressive Westerners, than the prosperous and secure high-tech capitalist US ally and alleged colonialist that is involved in endless low-level wars, apparently largely against poorly-armed guerillas and which cause heavy civilian Palestinian casualties, no matter than Hamas and Hezbollah are massively funded and effectively armed by Qatari and Iranian petro-dollars and display a ruthless brutality in targeting Israeli civilians while using their own civilians as human shields.

We long for a quick, clean and easy victory that will destroy Hamas once and for all, bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table with a mind to serious compromise and, after clearing out Netanyahu and his irridentist far-right comrades and replacing them with sensible moderates like Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, concluding some kind of meaningful, enforceable, treaty that will bring peace and prosperity to the region, but this seems unlikely for many reasons (aside from Gantz becoming Prime Minister, which seems to be only a matter of time now).

If you read Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the glorious campaigns of Yehoshua (Joshua) to conquer the land of Israel peter out into the interminable stop-start conflicts of Sefer Shoftim, The Book of Judges. Similarly, King David’s brilliant victories and the unprecedented peace and prosperity under his son Shlomo (Solomon) turn into the minor battles and geo-political manoeuvrings of later kings and the gradual decline of the Jewish states (two of them by the end). If you have read Tanakh, you’ll know that none of this ends well for the Jews, with the ultimate destruction of the Jewish states by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

If you’re religious, you’ll believe that ultimately Israel’s success or failure on the battlefield depends on its religiosity, not in terms of whether it keeps kosher or keeps Shabbat, but whether it keeps faith with God in a deeper way, not trusting in idols (in military strength or alien and dehumanising political ideologies in today’s terms) and whether it cares for the less fortunate among its population. Failure in these areas leads to failure on the battlefield. You can see this as divine justice or you can see it (as Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl said) as reflecting the need for strong morale in a small state with a largely conscripted army, a need for a common national purpose and identity and a sense that everyone really is in this together and that the rich and powerful really will look out for the poor and weak. Either way, these are troubling times for the Jewish State and the Jewish People with no obvious or easy solutions.

About the Author
Daniel Saunders is an office administrator, proofreader and copy editor living in London with his wife. He has a BA in Modern History from the University of Oxford and an MA in Library and Information Management. He blogs about Judaism, Israel and antisemitism at Living Jewishly
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