Israel and Mideast Armament: Gods May Do What Cattle May Not

We are a country without limits, not even the sky. Could one imagine a Syrian bombing of an arms shipment being unloaded at Haifa Port? It would be immediate grounds for war, of course.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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An Israel Air Force F-15 taking off.
An Israel Air Force F-15 taking off.Credit: Daniel Bar-On
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Is Israel permitted to do everything? Are Israel’s neighbors forbidden to do what is permitted to Israel? Why? For what reason? Can Israel arm itself as it pleases – and there is no weapon that it doesn’t have – while at the same time prevent its neighbors from acquiring arms?

Are even defensive weapons, those designed to protect them from Israel’s attacks and aerial bombardments, also to be denied them? Is Israel thus permitted to bomb anywhere? Is it permitted to undermine other countries’ sovereignty in any way it pleases? Is it permitted to do everything? Is it permitted to do everything just because it can? Is it permitted to do everything just because it is strong and its neighbors are weak?

And if it is so strong and its neighbors are so weak, why does it need to do these things? Won’t all this just blow up in Israel’s face one day?

No one asks these questions. In fact, they are not permitted to be raised in Israeli discourse; it is illegitimate to even mention them.

Here it is enough to hear every few months from foreign sources about another terrific bombing – in Sudan, in Iraq, in Syria, perhaps even in Iran, by land and by sea – to know that we’re in good hands, that there’s someone to rely on, that there’s nothing to ask. That if it worked before, it will work this time, too. That the spittle will just be wiped off the offended face and no one will retaliate. That you don’t argue with such success. That we love mysteries.

Here all we need is the prime minister’s wink or the defense minister’s half-smile, and we get the message. Here it’s enough to hear from our military analysts that the timing had nothing to do with domestic issues. Military operations never have anything to do with domestic affairs in Israel; how dare anyone even suggest such a thing? After all, these acts of heroism are planned for years (as if it’s impossible to pull out a contingency plan at any given time), and how can anyone say that about our noble warriors, who are above all suspicion and dirty politics?

Here you are not allowed to even think that there might be someone fooling those ridiculous military analysts. Here we don’t ask and we don’t argue. Here it’s, “quiet, we’re bombing.”

“We will get to anyone who tries to arm our enemies,” boasted Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday, on the eve of his party’s primaries. Anyone? And what if it’s Russia? Or China? It was two days after another anonymous bombing of Syria. Once again the Syrians wiped the Israeli spittle off their faces, which are rather bloody right now, and once again it was an a-maz-ing Israeli success. According to foreign reports, the Israel Air Force has bombed nearly 10 sites in Syria and one in Lebanon over the past three years. Of course, these were legitimate defensive actions, aimed at ensuring the continuation of that other legitimate defensive action – Israel’s regular reconnaissance flights over Lebanon.

We are a country without limits, not even the sky. Could one imagine Lebanese reconnaissance flights over Israel? It even sounds funny, no? How about a Gaza drone making regular runs over Tel Aviv? Or a Syrian bombing of an arms shipment being unloaded at Haifa Port? All these would be immediate grounds for war, of course. Hezbollah is forbidden to rearm, Hamas is forbidden to equip itself. Gaza must be demilitarized, as must the Palestinian state that will never be established. Why? Because they endanger the existence of the State of Israel. But doesn’t Israel threaten Gaza’s existence? Come on, how can you even compare?

And of course, the father of all prohibitions: Iran must not have nuclear weapons. “Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi” – “Gods may do what cattle may not.”

In the hush-hush state, questions like this draw ridicule. In the hush-hush state, we must blindly trust those in the know. It’s true that in other areas, where things are more open, we’ve discovered that there’s no one to rely on and we dare not do so, but if Israel decides to bomb a warehouse near Damascus International Airport, all we’re permitted to do is wink; it is also permitted to cheer quietly.

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