Saturday, October 07, 2006

The IDF and the Israeli Spirit

From an article in Azure Magazine, by MOSHE YAALON, who served as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces from 2002 to 2005. He is currently a distinguished military fellow at the Shalem Center. The paper, which addresses the challenges facing the IDF and Israel, is adapted from the Zalman C. Bernstein Memorial Lecture in Jewish Political Thought, hosted by the Shalem Center and delivered by the author in Jerusalem on January 19, 2006. Follow the link for the full paper. The summary [with my own emphaisi added] is posted below ....

Let me conclude by saying that today, Israel’s strategic position is much stronger than it has been in the past, but the challenges of the future are great. The central one, as I have suggested, is to persuade hostile neighbors to recognize Israel, and to reconcile themselves to its right to exist as an independent Jewish state.

This is connected to the second major challenge: To internalize the advantages of a Western “society of plenty” without losing Jewish patriotism and identity, and without weakening the Zionist ethos. This, in my opinion, is more worrisome than the external threat: Within Israel and without, the fundamental question of the legitimacy of an independent Jewish state is being questioned, and not only on the fringes.

My mother survived the Holocaust. My father came to Palestine in 1925 from the Ukraine as a fifteen-year-old after one of his brothers had been murdered because he was a Jew, and another brother had been arrested because of his Zionist activity. My grandmother comes from a family that came to Safed after escaping the Spanish Inquisition, and has remained there ever since. To me it is clear that in a world divided into nations and countries, there must be at least one Jewish state, or else we will endure continuous persecution. With all the disagreement and confusion and mistakes, everything comes down to this one irreducible fact: We have no choice but to prevail.

In one of his last poems, Natan Alterman wrote:

Then the devil said:
This besieged one–
How shall I defeat him?
He has courage and skill to act
He has weapons and wisdom on his side.
And he said: I will not take away his strength
Neither bridle nor bit will I put on him
Nor will I make him fainthearted
Nor will I weaken his hand as in days of old.
Only this shall I do:
I shall dull his mind,
And he will forget that his cause is just.
Thus said the devil
And the heavens paled with fear
As they watched him rise
To carry out his plan.

As a commander, I have seen the next generation of Israelis–before they enlist, during their regular military service, and later in the reserves–and I can testify that this generation is prepared for any challenge. In many ways this generation is superior to my own, just as I am convinced that my generation was superior to that of my parents. From the point of view of the quality of human resources, the State of Israel has people it can rely on. But without a national consensus as to the country’s aims and justification, military might is of little use. Our enemies draw encouragement from Israeli self-doubt. The greatest challenge facing the State of Israel, therefore, is to restore to Israeli society its faith in the righteousness of its path.

Note that Lieutenant-General (res.) Moshe Yaalon will visit Australia in November 2006. His public meetings are not to be missed...

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