Friday, June 9, 2017

A War That Shaped The World

     Fifty years ago, a major war was fought and concluded within a six day span. In terms of geopolitical impact, it was the most consequential war since World War II. A tiny nation surrounded on three sides by enemies and on the fourth by the Mediterranean Sea, defeated six much larger nations and in so doing extended its domain well beyond its original borders. At the conclusion of hostilities, the world was on notice: Israel stood ready to defend itself against any array of hostile forces and would do so a outrance.

     Yet Israel was perhaps not quite as ready as it wished, for six years later the Yom Kippur War brought Israel briefly to the brink of national annihilation. It had been a matter of policy: Prime Minister Golda Meir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and Chief of Staff David Elazar had conferred, and had decided to allow Egypt and Syria to strike the first blow. They believed that despite clear and unambiguous foreknowledge of the attacks to come, to strike first would isolate Israel from its chief ally and the source of a great part of its munitions, the United States.

     To preserve some vestige of international good will, Israel allowed Egypt, Syria, and their allies to draw the first blood. For three days Israel’s fate hung in the balance. It survived and prevailed largely due to the superiority and fighting spirit of the Israeli armed forces.

     Has it mattered? Yes, very much. Had Israel not extended its borders in 1967, allowing its enemies to strike first might have destroyed it. But given the developments since then, Israel’s decision to allow its enemies to strike first, despite the conviction among its political masters that to do otherwise would result in international ostracism, seems to have mattered very little, if at all.

     The Islamic states that surround it still hate Israel and work to undermine it in various ways, especially through the exploitation of the “Palestinian” problem. Europe is now hostile to Israel as well; its dependence on Arab oil and its vulnerability to terrorism from its Islamic immigrants have neutered the Old World’s better inclinations. In all probability, were it not for the nuclear deterrent Israel amassed after the Yom Kippur War, the country would have been attacked a third time and overwhelmed decades ago.

     Islamic enmity is absolute and eternal. Humiliating military defeats have only sharpened that enmity, for there is nothing so potent in the Islamic soul as its envy of truly civilized societies. The intensity of that envy is at its maximum toward Israel, for Muslims have been taught for centuries to hate and fear the Jews, and to seek their extinction.

     A hatred centuries deep will take centuries to quench...if any attempt is ever made to quench it. The consequences for the world have already been dramatic. Should any of the Middle Eastern Islamic states acquire nuclear weapons, those consequences will become apocalyptic. One or more nations will die.

     I remember the fears of the adults around me in 1967. They expected both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to intervene. The highest of the worries was a nuclear exchange – and not merely over Israel. The wounded egos of the Soviets, we young ones were told, had barely healed from the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was credible that they would see the war as an opportunity to assert themselves afresh – this time in “their” hemisphere, where American will did not prevail.

     I don’t remember any comparable fears over the 1973 conflict. It took a while before I discovered the reason: America’s strategic arsenal had gone to DEFCON 3, an elevation of our alert condition of which the Soviets were surely aware. Had the Soviets elevated their own alert status, America was prepared to strike first.

     Should Israel be attacked today, whether the U.S. would do anything that declarative is a matter of conjecture. Yet it strikes me as unlikely. The stakes would be the same, but our national weariness with war is far greater. Bluntly, we are not what we were. We’ll happily sell Israel military goods, but we expect it to look after itself.

     Israel could not survive without its nukes. It would be overrun – indeed, it would have been overrun long ago. Yet there are persons who self-righteously condemn nuclear weapons in general, and specifically condemn Israel’s possession of them. That’s worthy of much thought.

     As I’ve written before, nuclear weapons, especially the sort delivered by ballistic launchers, put the political elites on the battlefield. They who in earlier times merely commanded others to fight, bleed, and die now have “skin in the game.” No preparation for nuclear bombardment can be regarded as guaranteed protection. Yet no one has ever died as a result of a nuclear exchange. As Russell Baker put it, the H-Bomb has an unparalleled safety record: “You could almost grow fond of a bomb like that.”

     If they have the sense God gave a flea, five million Israelis thank Him every night for their nuclear deterrent, and for the men who stand ready to use it.

     “Before all else, be armed!” – Niccolo de Macchiavelli

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