Ron Kronish

Sanity must prevail: Restraint is needed now, more than ever

Iranian missiles launched against Israel, courtesy of Wikicommons images
Iranian missiles launched against Israel, courtesy of Wikicommons images

Only a few days after the miracle of the defense against more than 300 Iranian drones and missiles shot into Israel, accomplished by the Israel Air Force in coordination with the USA, France, England, Jordan and other countries, I am sitting in my home in Jerusalem, worried, in fact very worried, about all the talk about the need for a military response from Israel. This is utter nonsense and complete madness, which is driving me and so many others in Israel and abroad crazy. Why?

According to Yossi Verter, one of Israel’s most astute political commentators, this kind of insane thinking is being driven by Israel’s far-right coalition partners, Betzalel Smotrich (“Religious Zionism”) and Itamar Ben Gvir (“Jewish Power”) who are opposing the good advice of President Biden and many other Western leaders to exercise restraint and not respond to the Iranians nowAccording to Verter:

They (Ben Gvir and Smotrich) have been pushing for an all-out war that would sow chaos, leave thousands of dead, and wreak destruction and ruin in order to carry out their determined plan: Annex the West Bank, restore Israeli governance to the occupied territories, and restore Gaza to its former glory.

The existential question being asked now in Israel is: Will Bibi give in to their demands? Will he capitulate to his fanatic right-wing base, and indeed bring Israel to the abyss, as many commentators in Israel have been warning for a long time? The answer provided by Verter is very disturbing:

When the future of the prime minister is held captive by his own choosing to right-wing extremist lunatics, there’s no reason to think that he will opt to do the right thing.

In other words, we simply cannot trust our Prime Minister to make a sane decision in this matter. This is why so many of us are so deeply troubled for the future of Israel at this time.

Once upon a time, Israel had great leaders, like David Ben Gurion, our first Prime Minister and the leader of the Labor party for decades. One of his most important policies was called Havlagah, “Restraint”. This was his policy during the 1936-39 Arab Revolt. He called upon the extreme right-wingers of his time (Etzel and Lechi and others) to refrain from engaging in retaliation against Palestinian Arabs unnecessarily. Rather, he encouraged the Jewish community to respond via non-violent ways or sometimes not to respond at all. His policy was adopted by the Haganah (“Defense”), the precursor to the IDF. In contrast, the Irgun, Lehi and other extremist groups rejected Ben Gurion’s idea and engaged in unnecessary and counter-productive violence against the Arab community, as do the followers of Smotrich and Ben Gvir today.

Where is Ben Gurion today? Or Abba Eban? Or other sane, thoughtful, responsible leaders in Israel?  Where are the leaders who will recognize the extreme danger in which Israel finds itself today and will realize that without the help of the USA, we cannot succeed in a war against the military giant known as Iran, and their proxies, especially Hezbollah in Lebanon, who reportedly have 150,000 precision missiles in their arsenal, just north of Israel??

Very few political leaders in Israel are speaking up for restraint against Iran now. In fact, I haven’t heard anyone from the political realm speak up for this. Most of them, including all the so-called “centrists”, are calling for a military response (and of course so are most of the military leaders). Perhaps not now, not right before Pesach, but soon. They speak like cowboys in the Wild West (or in the West Bank) or bullies in a school playground. It is surprising and shocking because they know very well that a war with Hezbollah and Iran would bring great destruction upon the home front in Israel and that it is not reasonable to go for it, certainly not alone.

One of my favorite columnists, Yossi Melman, who is a veteran analyst of wars and “intelligence” in Israel, put it this way at the end of a very important op-ed yesterday (April 15, 2024) in Haaretz entitled “Now is the time to Stop”:

Sometimes forbearance is strength and restraint is power… Now is the time to learn and draw conclusions. To exploit and leverage the opportunity and end the war in all arenas, to rehabilitate the economy, and return the evacuees to their homes. And this should be done by means of creative diplomatic steps, an attempt at a regional arrangement and close ties with the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, European Union countries and Arab countries which understand that Iran is a threat to them, too.

I hope and pray that our government will use common sense and exercise restraint right now by not responding to Iran’s attack last Sunday morning against Israel. This would be the responsible course to take.

While they are at it, they can end this useless war in Gaza (as Melman suggested)—which is not winnable without extremely high costs to people in Gaza or to the citizens of Israel—and which has failed to bring home the 133 hostages who are still in Gaza, most of whom, sadly, are probably dead. This government has completely failed its people by not doing what was necessary to reach a responsible deal to free the hostages, despite all the help from the USA, Egypt, Qatar and others.  When this is fully realized by Israeli society, there will be a huge uprising, and rightly so.

In the meantime, we need to believe that a war with Iran and Hezbollah can be avoided, for everyone’s sake.

On Passover, we open the door for Elijah, the harbinger of peace, to come into our homes and hearts. Elijah should remind us (again) this year that peace is preferable to war and that we need to open our minds to the possibilities and benefits of peace, rather than continuing to pursue endless counter-productive wars.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttelfield, in September 2017. He recently (September 2022) published a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine entitled Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is available on Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository websites,
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