Karen Sutton
Karen Sutton

The Defenders: A Tale of Two Cities–Kabul and Jerusalem

In 1973, the Israeli Air Force threw everything they had at their Syrian attackers-armaments such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder, C-141 lll, and C-5 Galaxy technology. Much of these high tech products were supplied by the Americans.

So too, for various political and strategic reasons the United States had been supplying the Afghanistan Air Force with American troops and war materials to buffer the  Afghanistan military and air defenses against the Taliban insurgents. However, when it came right down to it, just last week, the military and government leadership defending the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul chose a different strategy-flight.

The elite of Afghanistan leadership chose not to fight for their country but rather to flee for their lives. Nor did the populace choose to defend their homes by throwing rocks or any other available means of resistance.  Kabul was simply a cake-walk for the Taliban.

Like many others, I was taken back by the news that the Afghani capital was in Taliban hands.  Where was the Afghanistan army and air force that the United States paid dearly for at the cost of 2,500 American servicemen and women deployed there, not to mention billions of tax dollars? Why didn’t Afghanis even lift a finger to resist?  So, with Olympic-like racing speed, the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, fell to the Taliban invading forces.

How this happened and what it means to the Afghani population, the U.S., and the rest of the world is more troubling and complex than is fathomable to explore in a blog.

Instead, let’s compare this scenario to that of another small country in the Middle East which was also bolstered by American support.  Israel was caught by surprise on October 6, 1973 when the Egyptian and Syrian armies attacked.  Over three days, Egyptian and Syrian surface-to-air missiles were able to down much of the Air Force that Israel had painstakingly built up since its independence. Due in part to a U.S. presidential order, Israel fared much differently than Afghanistan.

I had an opportunity to learn about this firsthand as part of a delegation from Touro College to Israel this summer. In recounting the difficulties of the first days and the extreme vulnerability of Israel’s position, a former officer of the IAF told our group that, against the advice of his National Security Advisor,  President Richard Nixon ordered the commencement of Operation Nickel Grass on October 3, 1973 to replace all of Israel’s losses in battle.  Nixon’s decision contributed heavily to Israel’s turnaround and eventual victory in the Yom Kippur War.  It is clear that a presidential order, when given at the exact right moment, can make a crucial difference to a war’s outcome.

But outside intervention is not enough. People also need to fight heroically on their own behalf.  Miracles appear to occur only under the direst of circumstances. The battles for Jerusalem which took place between December 1947 and July 1948 offer an example. By the end of 1947 Arab forces had cut off the road to Jerusalem.  Palestinian ambushes of transports carrying food and water became more sophisticated and frequent.  Their intention was to isolate and starve out the Jewish residents of the city.

When Jewish convoys carrying foodstuffs were unable to reach the city in enough number by spring 1948, Jewish residents of Jerusalem took the matter into their own hands.  Men and women went out to the fields to pick mallow leaves which are rich in iron and vitamins.  The King was truly in the fields during May of 1948. The Jerusalem radio station broadcast instructions for cooking mallows.  When Radio Amman picked up the broadcasts, great victory celebrations broke out throughout Jordan.  “The Jews are eating leaves, food for donkeys and cattle.” The Arabs believed that was a sign that Jews were dying of starvation and would soon surrender.

Jewish victory in the Battle for Jerusalem came at a difficult price.  In May defenders of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City were forced to surrender, and the Jewish population was expelled.  The Israeli forces launched three assaults to free the road to Jerusalem without success.

In the interim, supplies trickled in to prevent mass starvation.  The unlikely heroes of these dangerous transports were some 200 men, men in their 50’s from the Home Guard (Mishmar Ha’am). Using mules, they each carried a 45 pound load over a steep, narrow road that led to Jerusalem.  They made the trip twice a night.  Their efforts lasted for five nights.

Finally, the next month soldiers launched a successful assault on their ambushers while, civilian workers built an alternative road , breaking the blockade.

We thankfully know the end of that story.  With marathon human effort and with miracles from Hashem, even in the direst of circumstances, a story can have a surprisingly positive ending.

My group from Touro heard these stories directly from sons and daughters of firsthand participants.   Our trip this past month to Israel has left us proud of what was achieved. At the same time our hearts go out to the people of Afghanistan, particularly the women. Without the will to continue fighting and without support from the foreign countries, a miracle seem harder to come by. During Elul when G-d is in the field, we pray that they will not face the worst abuses that the Taliban rendered in the past.




About the Author
Dr. Karen Sutton is associate professor of history at the Lander College for Women, a division of Touro College, in New York City.
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