The flyby over the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp by three Israel Air Force planes 10 years ago was a significant event for the service. The air force’s commander, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, still keeps the flight's documentation close by in his office (Ari Shavit, Haaretz Magazine, September 4).
Four air force commanders at different times were involved in preparing and carrying out the flyby – Dan Halutz, Eliezer Shkedy, Ido Nehushtan and Eshel, who led it. It was no simple operation, among other things due to the Polish government's objection to letting Israeli war planes into its airspace.
Senior air force officers, whose hands were full of planning and conducting operative missions, insisted on carrying out the flyby and planned it meticulously. They testified that it constituted a demonstration of Israeli might where a Jewish tragedy had taken place 60 years earlier, when no international aircraft came to the rescue of the massacred.
The great value that senior air force officers attribute to the Auschwitz flyby - whose photographs were distributed to every air force squadron commander and base commander - points to the Gordian knot between the Holocaust trauma and the perception of security and army in Israel. This knot has been preserved to this day. The people in charge of the attacks in Syria and Lebanon (according to foreign sources) and of preparing the air force for a future attack in Iran, see the September 2003 flyby as one of the most important flights of their lives.
This means that the awareness of the Holocaust and the dread of its recurrence are consciously and deliberately blended into the air force's policy, and into the IDF and defense establishment's policy in general. At the same time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently compares the Iranian nuclear threat to the murderous outcome of the Nazis' rule, and warns time and again that the Jewish people can trust no one but themselves to prevent another tragedy of the Holocaust's proportions.
Journalist Thomas Friedman wrote years ago that "Israel is Yad Vashem with an air force." Not only is this provocative statement not denied by Israel's policy makers and military top brass, it is defiantly adopted by them.
Israel today is a strong, independent entity that has been accepted by the international community. The Holocaust's memory is a historical obligation, a monument to human brutality that must not be forgotten. But it cannot constitute a strategic or security consideration that statesmen and army chiefs must deal with today. They must outline Israel's strategy and its diplomatic and military way, while focusing on its future and on the needs of its people, who want to live not as captives of past traumas.
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