The Essence of Israeliness: A Herd Mentality

Why should ordinary Israelis trust the defense establishment? They did during all Israel’s debacles, and they’re doing it now with Gaza and Syria

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot visits a Golani brigade, April 7, 2016.
IDF Spokesperson's Unit

It’s doubtful there’s anything more Israeli than conformism and herdlike behavior regarding issues fateful for this country’s future. As Yitzhak Rabin put it — referring to politics and security matters — when he was Ariel Sharon’s unofficial adviser during the siege of West Beirut in the first Lebanon war, “there is no position and no opposition.” This bizarre formula expressed a concept whereby in matters of war and peace the government and the herd that follows are always right.

With us, that’s the meaning of patriotism. This is why it was forbidden to question the wisdom of the reprisal operations in the 1950s or the Sinai Campaign in 1956 (the only wise and courageous person then, Moshe Sharett, was removed from office). It’s why it was forbidden to oppose the folly of holding on to the Sinai Peninsula, and up to the Suez Canal at that, and of course we weren’t allowed to bring up the crime of the 1967-1970 War of Attrition.

It’s obvious that as long as casualties didn’t pile up, no one questioned Sharon’s grand strategy in the 1982 war of deception in Lebanon. The Second Lebanon War erupted without the military leaders thinking twice about what they were doing, while the long campaigns in the Gaza Strip didn’t really bring us the results we were hoping for.

At this point Benjamin Netanyahu could teach his friend Donald Trump a fascinating lesson: An economic blockade doesn’t easily break a determined people, not even in an impoverished and destitute enclave like Gaza, let alone a power that, though beset by severe problems, isn’t hungry for bread and has oil reserves that for a suitable price will find buyers.

If not for fear of standing out, maybe someone would have voiced the possibility that the defense minister and General Staff aren’t blessed with intelligence, intuition, knowledge and foresight, characteristics that were in short supply with their predecessors as well. The general staff of Rabin and Aharon Yariv didn’t dream of a war before 1970, and no words need be added to the matter of the 1973 debacle.

Less than a decade later Sharon and Rafael Eitan planned to destroy the PLO and hand Lebanon over to Christian gangs. Due to the wisdom of our actions, Lebanon was transformed from a neutral state, even if a relatively unfriendly one, into a Hezbollah state. Years went by and we marched into Lebanon again, no more prepared than we were before.

Thus the question must be asked: Why should the ordinary citizen trust the defense establishment? The defense minister is demanding that Bashar Assad throw the Iranians out of his country, but why didn’t we intervene in Syria when this was possible instead of treating it like another planet? Why did we tell ourselves that the northern front had ceased to exist? It wasn’t only the United States that handed Syria to the Russians and Iranians — Israel too is responsible for this colossal failure.

One can understand the Americans. For them, Syria isn’t worth one more coffin. But what about us? What’s the army for? For massacring unarmed civilians in Gaza or for facing a new and dangerous situation in the north?

Netanyahu is a public relations expert and a politician afraid of his voters and investigators, not the judgment of history. The operation of capturing Iran’s nuclear archive serves his personal and political needs much more than it serves national security. The same applies to Washington’s leaving the Iranian nuclear agreement. In the United States too, many political and defense officials, as well as journalists very familiar with the issues, believe that leaving the accord basically just inflates the ego of the U.S. president.