Emanuel Shahaf

Netanyahu Chooses War

Towards the end of Elul and right after Rosh Hashana,  most of the publications naturally deal with memories  from the 1973 Yom Kippur war, emphasizing the tragic mistakes and arrogance of the politicians who lead our nation in the early 70ties of the last century. And a sorry tale it is, indeed. I would like to take this opportunity to remind us of another period, several years before 1973. I refer off course, to the 1967 war, the Six-Day War.

Most of those who remember, think of it as a roaring success, a war of pure survival in the face of overwhelming odds, annihilation just avoided. Other than the hugely problematic long-term fallout of the war, a sober assessment of what happened during those scary days of May and early June 1967, brings up an uncomfortable truth: Israel at the time was militarily much stronger than its Arab neighbors and the performance of the IDF in the war was pretty much as predicted by the CIA: Less than a week of fighting and it was all over.

During the nerve-racking build up towards the war, there were plenty of opportunities to deescalate. To make the closure of the Straits of Tiran into a casus belli (red lines anyone ?) was not necessarily the correct choice and it might have been smarter to put the US on the spot and insist on the fulfilment of its commitment to keep the Straits open to Israeli shipping. To make a long story short, most scholarly accounts of the build up towards the Six-Day War attribute its eventual outbreak to an unwanted escalation. Despite a desire to avoid war on all sides, everyone was in the end responsible for making it unavoidable.

Then as now, Israel does not deescalate – we like to up the ante, project force in line with one of our worn mantras that this is a bad neighborhood and those who live here only understand force. That incidentally includes us, first and foremost.

It’s difficult for us to keep still when all those around us are sharpening their knives noisily. We have to do something proactive. We can’t just sit and wait or even, g-d forbid, try to calm things down, or even more unlikely, use diplomacy and compromise on something, anything. If somebody threatens us, no matter how ridiculous the threat or even worse, someone insults our honor, history or the ultimate, denies the holocaust, we respond. We have to set the record straight. We have to make our point. Regardless how idiotic the original provocation is or how ludicrous the provoker’s record, we will respond and will do so in kind. And, since we are in this kind of neighborhood, we have willing partners who love to join us in mutual escalation. As a result, every once in a while, on average every 8 years or so, we have a war.  It has never been the aim of the Israeli Army to prevent war despite all the fancy talk about deterrence, but to decisively win wars, once they break out or are initiated by us, whatever it may be. The winning part incidentally, lest anyone forget, didn’t work out too well in the last war.

PM Netanyahu in his recent UN speech has just emphasized the point I am making. Nothing in his speech, absolutely nothing could be interpreted by anyone as an attempt to lower the flames.  This speech was a glorious ode to confrontation. And confrontation it shall be. At least now we know, that should national elections be held in spring 2013, they will be really over one issue and one issue only: To go to war or not to go to war with Iran. And the economy be damned.

At least there will be a clear choice.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is Vice Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce, Vice-Chairman of the Israeli-German Society (IDG), Co-Chair of the Federation Movement (, member of the council at and author of "Identity: The Quest for Israel's Future".