Every year around Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, ever since 1973 we are confronted with the haunting memories of those who fought and survived and the loved ones of those who didn’t. Every year more details are revealed although one would think that after 41 years pretty much everything would be out in the open by now. One of the interesting details that is coming to light is that contrary to the narrative that the war was a total surprise, quite a lot of commanders in the IDF knew that hostilities were to break out or expected them to break out on or about the time they eventually did. Not suprisingly, quite a few took action within their command to be ready and prepared, just in case. And sure enough, when the attack came, the standing army performed, by and large as expected and stopped the onslaught of the Arab armies on both fronts providing time for the reservists to get to the front so they could help turn the tide of the war.
Things generally went as well as could be under the circumstances, except for some local mishaps, the partial neutralizing of the air force by anti-aircraft missile batteries and last not least, some real panic among the political leadership of the time. Contrary to some claims, the State of Israel never really faced either conquest or destruction in 1973 not only because of the material support by the US. Nevertheless, almost 3,000 soldiers died, severely shaking up the State of Israel and its political system. Indeed it was the politicians that failed Israel, not the military.
The days when large armies confront each other along clearly defined front lines are over. None of Israel’s adversaries are in a position today to seriously threaten the borders of Israel. The IDF remains one of the most powerful armies in the world that can deal with any serious military threat. Unfortunately, as just proven in Gaza, it is severely limited in its ability to deal actively with the threats that appear the most pertinent ones for Israel these days: Cross border terrorism, rockets and mortars launched from densely populated urban areas and civil insurrection in the territories. The IDF can certainly deal with these challenges in a purely military fashion exerting brute force, as it has just recently done in operation “Protective Edge”. However the collateral damage, both in civilian casualties and international damage to Israel’s reputation is evidently too large to bear, a determination completely in line with the rules of asymmetric warfare according to which the party exerting overwhelming force loses.
Today Israel is not really in a position anymore to determine a clear and positive outcome in any military engagement vis-a-vis the Palestinians by force only. That conclusion unfortunately has so far eluded the Israeli political leadership just like the imperative for a political solution to avoid war with Egypt eluded Israel’s leadership prior to October 1973.
Unlike 1973 however, when the price tag of evading a political solution with Egypt included a long list of casualties and 10 years of depressed economic development, nowadays evading a political solution with the Palestinians will have two results, closely connected: It will require more and more brute force to be applied to keep the occupation in check and that force that will be progressively less efficient. Just look what happens in Jerusalem these days.
As always in an asymmetrical conflict the application of force will be completely counterproductive as the more of it we apply, the more we will instigate further civil insurrection in the territories, as long as there is no political horizon. And the government of Israel absolutely refuses to provide one.
At the same time continuing to avoid a political solution will accelerate the demise of the State of Israel as a democracy as we know it: The methods and enforcement policies used in the territories against the Palestinians will continue penetrating into the State of Israel (as they already are) and make the state more repressive and brutal not only with regard to the maintenance of civil liberties but also in the application of economic practices. Israel will be a lot less fun to live in and those Jews that have the option will draw their conclusions and leave for greener pasture of which there are many.
Zionism which was created to liberate the Jews and provide them with a safe place to prosper is mutating into a repressive and reactionary force. Today it is first and foremost concerned with the shoring up and consolidation of territory outside Israel’s internationally sanctioned boundaries and of course with the survival of the state. That survival has never ever really been in question since the end of the War of Independence.
If we don’t stop this process and put Zionism back on a track where it will serve to realize its original aims, to foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel, to ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex, to guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture, to safeguard the Holy Places of all religions and to be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, we will not be worthy of the Jewish State we built.
*The text in bold is paraphrased from Israel’s Declaration of Independence