Wanted: Signs and Wonders
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 28, 2008
On his visits to America, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, Hy'd, used to frequently speak to groups of American teenagers and encourage them to ask him questions about current events. And then he would proceed to interpret those events according to Torah. There is no one today of Rav Elchonon's stature who regularly writes and speaks on world events and offers a Torah perspective on what is taking place.
But each of us from time to time has the sense that the Torah has just illuminated some recent event or item from the nightly news. I had such an experience recently listening to an Israeli new broadcast discussing the recent – and very temporary – embargo of supplies on the Gaza Strip. When describing the civilian population of Gaza, not only do international humanitarian organizations and Palestinian propagandists regularly use the term "chaf m'pesha – free of all guilt," so do Israeli news outlets.
In what sense, one might wonder, are the civilians of Gaza free of all guilt. They voted overwhelmingly for a Hamas government, and opinion polls show that the majority continue to support that government. Those same polls show that they also support the rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel. Perhaps more important, those rocket attacks could not take place without the complicity of both the government and the civilian population.
When the Hamas government wants to stop the rocket fire – i.e., when it feels a temporary ceasefire with Israel serves its interests – the rocket fire stops. Otherwise the large security forces maintained by Hamas, the same forces that so humiliatingly evicted Fatah from the Gaza Strip, stand by and make no attempt to stop the rockets.
The rocket crews openly maintain their workshops in densely populated civilian areas and many of the rockets are even launched from those areas. If the civilians living nearby were to rise up and throw the workshops from their midst, that too would bring the rocket fire to a halt. They have shown neither the desire nor inclination to do so. That alone removes the status of "innocent of all sin" from them.
Regarding the killing of the men of Shechem by Shimon and Levi, many commentators locate their "accursed anger" not in the killing itself, but in the way they took the decision without consulting with their father Yaakov. The Rambam, for instance, writes that the men of Shechem were guilty of violating one of the seven Noachide laws – the requirement of establishing a system of justice -- because they failed to try Shechem for having violated Dinah. In other words, according to the Rambam, they were held responsible for not rebelling against their chieftain and bringing his son to justice. If that failure to act condemned them, how much more so does the complicity of the people of Gaza in the rockets shot at Sderot implicate them in those rocket attacks? So much for "chaf mi'pesha."
The theory behind embargoes on Gaza is to make the civilians there feel that there is a cost for their support for the rocket crews of the various terrorist organizations, and it will not be borne by Israeli civilians alone. At another level, the Israeli embargo does not even need that much justification nor that of the Torah. The customary behavior of all nations under attack will do.
Gaza is a completely self-governing area, and its government has chosen to wage war on Israel. Who in the history of the world ever heard of a country supplying vital materials to another state that has declared war upon it in the midst of warfare?
What kind of twisted morality would tie the arms of a country under attack from defending its civilian population lest it harm enemy civilians. During the entire Cold War, it was precisely the threat to respond to any nuclear attack on the United States with a return salvo that would leave tens, if not hundreds of millions, of Soviet citizens dead that preserved the peace. The average Soviet citizen would have had far less input into any decision launch a nuclear attack on the United States than Gaza residents have on the decision to launch rockets at Sderot and Ashkelon. But they would nevertheless have been incinerated by the American retaliation.
Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) was based on the theoretical willingness to make tens of millions of citizens pay the ultimate price for the folly of their leaders. But throughout history, the matter has been far from theoretical. Siege and starvation has always been a major element of warfare. During World War I, the Allied blockaded the Central Powers to force them into submission via starvation. And in 1943, Churchill unleashed Bomber Harris and his thousand bombers on Hamburg.
The firebombing of Dresden killed tens of thousands of German civilians, and the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki far more. Yet there was nothing self-evidently immoral about the former if it saved the lives of thousands of Jews in concentration camps, who were truly free of all sin, or the latter, if it saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers that would have been lost in the conquest of Japan.
Today the very survival of Israel may depend on the belief of the leaders of Iran and Syria that Israel will respond in kind to any attack on Israel's population centers. The more that we obsess about the innocent civilians of Gaza or the humanitarian crisis (largely manufactured by Hamas for propaganda purposes) while remaining indifferent to the far greater trauma being inflicted daily on the Jews of Sderot, the less likely is that threat to be credible.
That is why the Israeli attack on a nuclear facility being built in Syria did nothing to restore Israel's deterrent capacity. For it involved only a one-time strike, no matter how impressive, at an isolated facility, and a minimal risk of international condemnation.
IN RECENT WEEKS, WE READ over and over of how of Hashem's insistence not only on bringing the bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, but on doing so in the most miraculous fashion possible. Even before the first plague, Hashem already informed Moshe Rabbeinu of the "signs and wonders" and "great judgments" to come, until Egypt finally understood that no power in the world can stand before Hashem.
Not only Israel but the entire West would benefit from a better appreciation of Hashem's shock and awe tactics in Egypt. As Osama bin Laden famously put it, "If people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will naturally prefer the strong horse." As long as the Islamic world perceives itself as the strong horse, with the brighter future in front of it, the West is in mortal danger.
As a variety of experts on Islam continually remind us, the only hope that the Islamic world will ever reform itself and escape from its current pathologies is for it to first experience itself as fully defeated. Bernard Lewis points out that only after a series of military defeats at the hands of the European countries was the Ottoman caliphate open to adopting Western ways. In a similar vein, Daniel Pipes argues that only Japan's total, unconditional surrender in World War II made it possible for Japan to move from a feudal monarchy to a Western democracy. And the same was largely true for Germany.
Today, however, everywhere Moslems look they find evidence of their growing power and the weakness and lack of resolve of the West. The narrative of Islam ascendant begins with the retreat of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and their replacement by mujhadeen and continues through the Islamic revolution in Iran.
And that narrative is reinforced by the obvious fear that Islamists see in the eyes of Western elites. What can they think of Western resolve, for instance, when the British government, in wonderful Orwellian doublespeak, decides to refer to acts of Islamic terror as "anti-Islamic activity." It gives Islam a bad name, you see. As Mark Steyn notes, by that measure the Luftwaffe's terror bombing of London was anti-German activity.
Moshe Sharon, Professor of Islamic History at the Hebrew University, has summarized the failures of Israeli, American, and European elites to understand their situation as well as anyone. Their fundamental failure is to understand that "fanatic Islam, which no engulfs the entire Islamic world, has declared [war] on the West." The characterization of Israel as the Little Satan reflects the fact that the destruction of Israel is only the first item on the Islamists agenda.
Nothing better indicates that failure of Western understanding more than the seasonal outbreak of "peace initiatives," writes Sharon. For Moslems, he argues, peace treaties with those they view as occupying their lands, are never more than temporary ceasefires to be used to better prepare for the next war. And negotiations are but a method to win time. Hamas needs time to arm themselves with more deadly weapons. Syria needs time to absorb the vast weaponry it has absorbed from the Soviet. Hizbullah needs time to entrench itself further in South Lebanon and upgrade its arsenal. And Ahmadinejad needs time to acquire his nuclear bombs.
And the West is always ready to give them that time. Pressure on Israel to return land captured in aggressive wars launched against it – something without precedent in human history – demonstrates to the Arabs that aggression is a no-cost option. And the Israeli retreat from Gaza for no tangible gains has only strengthened the Arab believe that terror pays. They have discovered that "no matter what they do the Western media will condemn the Israelis and Americans." Finally, the Arabs have learned that "democracies can be lured to agree to terms that endanger their very existence if these terms are written down on paper and are accompanied by a signature."
What is needed, writes Sharon, is an entire paradigm shift: a recognition that "negotiations come only after victory, not before victory and not instead of victory. . . . Negotiations before victory are the ultimate sign of weakness and are a clear sign of fear and defeatism." The words "peace" and "negotiations," he argues, serve only to "addle the brain and lead one to do stupid things." They need to be replaced by the word "victory."
On this view, the single most dramatic reversal of fortunes would be a successful American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities – not that there is much chance of that happening in the wake of the recent National Intelligence Estimate. The rapidly accelerating pace of Iranian nuclear enrichment and the danger that a nuclear Iran sitting athwart the Persian Gulf and providing a shield for various Islamic terror groups around the world provides the justification.
But the greatest benefit from a successful American attack, involving both aerial bombing and the capture of Iran's limited oil refining capacity, which would bring the country to a quick standstill, would be psychological. For it would dramatically bring home to the Moslem world that the West is still capable of thinking in terms of victory, rather than appeasement, and that the Moslem world, as constituted, remains the weaker horse. Most importantly, it would give lie to the narrative of Islamic ascendancy that fuels worldwide jihad.
Oh, for a little shock and awe.
This article appeared in Yated Ne'eman Jan 28 2008
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