Israel Sobered By Syria Debacle

Netanyahu: We can only rely on ourselves.

0519_World_-NetanyahuSyria_full_600Saturday marks Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and, this year, the 40th anniversary of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, the greatest trauma in Israeli history.

On the morning of October 6, 1973—the day on which Yom Kippur fell that year—Chief of Staff David Elazar met with Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to warn that the Egyptian and Syrian armies were about to attack Israel. Elazar urged a preemptive strike; six years earlier, in the Six-Day War, Israel’s preemptive strike had proved highly effective.

But Meir and Dayan, who were under heavy pressure from U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger not to preempt, overruled the chief of staff. The result was near-catastrophic as later that day the Egyptian and Syrian armies attacked first and took battlefield advantages while inflicting heavy casualties.

Israel was able to turn the tide and, with the help of a massive U.S. airlift, prevail. But the price was almost 2700 casualties and a country shocked, depressed, and shaken to its roots.

It all comes back with added force as Israel faces a new year (on the Jewish calendar) with Iran closer than ever to crossing the nuclear threshold. The question—now as then—is how much to work in synch with the U.S. and how much—and at what point—to take matters in one’s own hands.

Israel Hayom reports:

Ever since U.S. President Barack Obama surprised the world by seeking congressional approval for a military strike on Syria, concerns have grown among Israeli government officials in Jerusalem about a decline of America’s status in the Middle East and the implications for Iran’s nuclear program. No Israeli spokesperson has made an official statement on the issue….

On Wednesday, though, addressing a graduation ceremony for navy cadets, both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon made statements that have been taken as implicitly critical of Obama’s confused, dithering approach to the Syrian chemical-weapons issue.

Netanyahu, invoking a “rule” from the ancient Jewish sage Hillel, said:

It…must be ensured that the Syrian regime will be disarmed of its chemical weapons, and the world needs to make certain that those who use weapons of mass destruction will pay the price for it. The message that Syria receives will be clearly heard in Iran.

Today, the rule that has guided me in most of my actions as prime minister and to which I adhere very carefully is perhaps more valid than ever. If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? And the practical translation of this rule is that Israel will always be able to defend itself by itself against any threat.

Yaalon said in a similar vein:

We don’t know how the Egyptian revolution will end or how Iran’s race toward nuclear weapons will be stopped. We don’t yet know how the free world will act in light of the massacres in Syria. We are monitoring events and developments responsibly and with sound judgment, with the understanding that ultimately we must rely on ourselves, on our strength and our deterrent capability.

Since at least the start of Netanyahu’s previous prime ministerial term in 2009, the Israeli top echelons have been bitterly riven by a debate over whether or not to trust Washington and the “international community” to handle the Iranian nuclear issue.

Reportedly, when Netanyahu and his then defense minister, Ehud Barak, ordered the defense establishment to prepare a plan to attack Iran, the defense establishment balked and, in effect, refused—and particularly the then Mossad chief, Shin Bet (domestic security) chief, and chief of staff.

After stepping down, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin went public (for instance, here and here, respectively) with ridicule for Netanyahu and Barak’s hawkishness on the Iranian issue amid assurances that Israel could rely on President Obama and the “international community.”

Although Dagan and Diskin are quiet these days, one wonders if they still feel so sure after Obama’s bungling of the Syrian issue, the British Parliament’s ringing slap to Prime Minister David Cameron, and the “international community’s” usual gullible quest for an easy “solution”—possibly Russian president Vladimir Putin’s patently unworkable idea for Syria to give up its chemical stockpiles.

Jerusalem needs to stay mindful of the Yom Kippur War precedent and of the fact that, after the last two weeks, the chances of the West posing a “credible threat” to Tehran are lower than ever.

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