Contemplating the War Just Past in the Sukkah

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After each of Israel’s wars, there has always been a vast gulf in perception between the Torah and non-religious communities. Israel’s lightning victory in the Six-Day War, the dramatic rescue at Entebbe, even the way that Israel was able to completely reverse its fortunes in the midst of the Yom Kippur War and finish the war with the Egyptian Third Army completely surrounded and helpless in the Sinai provided Torah Jews with unmistakable evidence of the Yad Hashem.

In each case, it was possible to point to many indications of Divine intervention. At the outset of the Yom Kippur War, Syrian tanks overwhelmed the outnumbered Israeli forces and pushed almost to the edge of the Golan Heights. Instead of pressing his advantage, the commanding Syrian general inexplicably ordered his tanks to stop and gave Israeli forces time to bring in reinforcements and regroup. That general was subsequently executed.

The Entebbe raid would have been impossible had Israel not had complete plans of the Ugandan airport where the hostages were being held. Fortunately, an Israeli contractor had built the airport decades earlier. At exactly the moment that Israeli fighter planes appeared over Bagdhad’s skies in the 1981 raid on the Osirak reactor, the Iraqi crews manning the anti-aircraft guns were switching shifts and the Israeli pilots faced no anti-aircraft fire at all.

Where we saw the Yad Hashem, however, others not so predisposed saw only confirmation of the might of the IDF. Where we saw miracles, they saw only fortuitous coincidences.

THE RECENT WAR WITH HIZBULLAH WAS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. While Israeli soldiers fought well and bravely, by almost universal consensus the IDF’s overall performance was lackluster.

There were no examples of the daring and initiative at the individual command level to compare to previous wars. Nothing like Ariel Sharon’s decision to cross the Suez Canal and take the offensive against Egyptian that turned the tide on the southern front in 1973; nothing like Avraham Kahalani’s stand against far more numerous Syrian tanks on the Golan in the same war.

The ability to innovate in the face of changing circumstances and unforeseen surprises that has always characterized the IDF was nowhere evident in the recent fighting. Rather the IDF appeared like a lumbering and not-too-bright giant unable to do anything other than carry out its assigned battle plan. Even the most daring Israeli military action – the commando raid on Baalbek deep in the Beka Valley – was widely criticized as having involved too high a degree of risk for no obvious military objective.

If the IDF’s performance was disappointing, that of the political echelons was incomprehensible. The government continually redefined its goals throughout the war. But no matter how it defined the goals, it was impossible to discern any clear link between its military strategy and the achievement of those goals. The government’s chronic indecision resulted in the IDF remaining in stationary positions for prolonged periods of time, which left bivouacked soldiers far more vulnerable to Hizbullah anti-tank missiles (also effective against houses) than they would otherwise have been. Further the government appears not to have coordinated sufficiently with the Americans, and the result has been damage to Israel’s most important alliance. Had we promised the Americans less that damage would have been less as well.

Clearly the results of the war have been a big blow to the kochi ve’otzem yadi crowd. But what has not been noted is that those results also provide important ammunition for those who see the Yad Hashem in current events. For despite the blundering of the political and military echelons, Prime Minister Olmert may well be right that Israel is in a better position today than it was on July 12.

True, Hassan Nasrallah’s stature has grown on the famously overrated Arab street. But ever since the days of Gamal Nasser that street has been highly excitable. True, the IDF’s image has been tarnished. But Arab governments know that Israel unleashed just a fraction of its airpower, and that that airpower would be far more effective against a conventional army than against Hizbullah guerillas.

Certainly Nasrallah knows that his situation has grown vastly more complicated. He has taken up residence underground, even complaining in one interview that he doesn’t know where he is as he is shuttled from one underground hiding place to another. And Hizbullah’s political position has been weakened considerably. That is the meaning of Nasrallah’s declaration a few weeks back that had he known how forcefully Israel would respond, he would never have kidnapped the two IDF reservists on July 12.

Such a statement flies in the face of the traditional behavior of Arab leaders. Nasser claimed victory in 1967, and the Yom Kippur War is still celebrated in Egypt as a great victory though it ended with the Israeli army 50 kilometers from Cairo and 20 from Damascus. Nasrallah’s statement must therefore be read as an apology to the Lebanese people, including his own Shiite population, for the destruction he visited upon them. And he knows such apologies will not be accepted a second time.

Moreover, Lebanon has been forced to exercise its sovereignty over Southern Lebanon. It can no longer play the role of the long-suffering innocent if Hizbullah again attacks Israel from there. Lebanon is responsible; and Israel has an address to respond.

There is even some evidence that UNIFIL and Lebanese Army troops are doing more to prevent Hizbullah from quickly rearming than their public statements would indicate. And finally, Hizbullah’s premature use of its missiles against Israel and loss of its most powerful ones, has deprived Iran of the major deterrent, designed to shield its nuclear program from Israeli intervention.

IT IS DAVKA AFTER A WAR LIKE THAT JUST CONCLUDED, when Israel’s strategic situation has been improved in many ways, despite the massive failures on the political and military level, that we most feel Hashem’s enveloping protection.

What feelings could be more appropriate for Sukkos? We will soon leave our man-made, reinforced homes to enter ramshackle huts and place ourselves under Hashem’s direct protection, just as our ancestors did when they entered a howling desert, protected by the enveloping Clouds of Glory.

The special rejoicing of Sukkos comes from the reminder of the Clouds of Glory, which returned, after the Sin of the Calf, on 15 Tishrei, and signaled that we were once again under Hashem’s special protection.

Hashem has provided us with one more reminder this year.

Originally appeared in Mishpacha October 5.

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6 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Ralph Kiner (former Pirate slugger and Mets broadcaster) was quoted once as saying:

    “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but where you place the blame”.

  2. Mordechai says:

    I believe the name of the Golan hero was Avigdor Kahalani.

  3. Jewish Observer says:

    “the kochi ve’otzem yadi crowd”

    the gedolim do not characterize it as two crowds, but 2 forces within each person. we should not raise ourselves above it.

  4. Jewish Observer says:

    “Clearly the results of the war have been a big blow to the kochi ve’otzem yadi crowd”

    if good performance can be explained by either kochi or yad hashem, poor performance can just as easily be explained by lack of yad hashem as by loack of kochi.

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Ein Somchim Al haNes, we do not count on miracles. The Israeli government and military are supposed to manage themselves in such a way that G-d will not need to bail them out with obvious miracles.

  6. Mordechai says:

    But, doesn’t all the finger pointing at “political indecision” and the like imply that with better leadreship IDF could have had a real winning strategy; i.e we are still in the midst of kochi v’otzem yadi, at least in principle!