Sunday, August 06, 2006

Rabbi Eliayashiv Decides

The leader of the Degel Hatorah political party as well as the chief rabbinical decisor (posek hador) of the Ultra Orthodox, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliayshiv, went against the official position of the government in recent days, and expressed his support for a cease fire between Israel and Lebanon. Eliayshiv said recently "the decision makers must take into account the position of the world nations. They shouldn't ignore or take lightly the ideas raised by other nations. If the United States raises solutions that could bring about the end of the war and save Jewish lives, they should be heeded. No offer or idea should be dismissed offhand. We mustn't anger the nations of the world.” (Haaretz 8/3)

What would happen if a cease is agreed on in the next few days? A commonplace is that without a decisive victory or minimally a successful outcome, Israel would lose its deterrence capability. The Hezbolah would declare a great victory, the Arab and the rest of the world would agree. I imagine many in Israel would not be able to say they are wrong. Segments of the Israeli population would believe Israel lost the war.

Defense Minister Peretz as well as the IDF general command feel they must destroy Hamas to a point where no fair minded person will be able to say Israel lost. I am not sure what such a victory would look like? I think everyone acknowledges it is impossible to kill all or even 60-70% of Hezbollah without a very long war. If this is correct, I wonder what difference it makes if we end up killing another 350 guerrillas. How will this change the perception? Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of the security cabinet, laid out the government’s definition of success: "Full implementation of UN Resolution 1559, deployment of a capable international force with powers of enforcement and the ability to prevent the smuggling of arms into southern Lebanon, and the return of the two abducted soldiers. Anything less than these three conditions will be considered a failure.” Here the issue is to prevent Syria and Iran from rearming Hezbollah. Even if UNIFIL is reinforced with French troops it is not going to be easy to prevent a re-supplying of Hezbollah. The Syria-Lebanon border is very long and unprotected. It is very difficult to close such a border hermetically. We will not know if these conditions are satisfied for quite some time.

After having defeated the combined forces of the Arab armies time and again, to lose to a bunch of radical crazies is indeed humiliating. Apparently Rabbi Eliayshiv believes the saving Jewish lives is worth the humiliation. He is undoubtedly aware about the point of future deterrence. He must feel the certainty of saving lives in the present outweighs the possibility of an increase in the number of lives lost in the future.

I have a second deeper question. I am not at all sure I believe the thesis that if Israel were perceived to have lost the war its deterrence would be degraded. Who would start a war? Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia…no way. These are real countries with capitals and responsibilities. Israel has shown it can defeat the Arab nation states. Nothing has changed. Hezbollah, for sure, but they will continue to fight even if 80% of its members are destroyed. That is what Hezbollah does, fight, terrorize, kidnap. Same for Hamas. Israel has exhibited overwhelming military force to the Palestinians during the last two intafadas. Instead of intimidating the Palestinians and teach them a decisive lesson, the Palestinians chose to fight some more. They elected Hamas on a platform of no negotiations, etc. In the current war, Israel has fired 12,000 shells at the Gaza strip, 170 Hamas militants have been killed, there is no sanitation and yet they continue to fight.
Some people when intimidated and given every reason to believe they are up against an overwhelming powerful opponent choose to keep on fighting. One reason might be some societies just like to fight. Examples are Somalia, the Sudan, the Congo. Another reason, which I think is operative in the Middle East, is honor. In the case of radical Islam, the more they are defeated, the greater the humiliation, the more they are dishonored, the more they feel they must keep on fighting to defend their honor.

The results of an Israeli defeat just might be somewhat counterintuitive. If the Arabs can feel they won a war, any war, their shame will decrease, their pride and feeling of being strong will be bolstered, and maybe, their rage will subside just a bit. Rabbi Eliyashiv, as a scholar of Torah who has no feeling for military honor, and hence has no problem with the dishonor or shame of defeat, intuitively sees this point. Notice his emphasis on not angering the nations of the world. In the case of the Arab societies, I would describe it as not increasing their shame and subsequent rage. It is difficult for Olmert and Peretz, neither of whom had any prior military experience or military honors, to be equally sanguine.

The fundamental issues that will be raised as a result of this war will lead to major discussions, criticism and disagreements in Israel and America. I recommend Ari Shavit’s important article as a good place to start. Fasten your seatbelts, as they say…the war is drawing to a close, the intellectual fireworks are about to begin.


At 6:03 AM, Blogger LitaLives said...

OK I adjusted my pacemaker, rested up over the weekend & am now ready for more arguments.

Rav Shach, in my humble opinion, is not intuitively grasping your point, but rather he is selling the methodology used by Jews in the Diaspora for centuries for their survival. Don't piss off the nobleman but rather dance for him & perhaps you'll live another day.
It didn't work in 15th century Spain nor in 20th century Europe & I don't see it working today. It is not that he lacks military hubris but rather he lacks any national feeling for Israel. His existence in Israel is no different than his existence in Lita & if things get really tough, he'll just have to go off to Boro Park (or Shanghai).

As far as Ari Shavit's article is concerned, he seems to be saying that the leftist elite has some serious soul searching to do. Instead of mumbling mantras, they should looking at the situation for what it really is or in other words "wake up & smell the coffee". I couldn't agree more.

As regards your point that if the Arabs gained some face, they would be more amenable to making peace...
I am afraid you are living in Disneyworld. Hizbolah is not trying to recover lost territories (as did Sadat in the 70's) & there can be no rational explanation for their policy on a "Lebenon vs. Israel" scenario. Rather they are performing for their Shi'ite masters in Iran whose agenda is the destruction of the Little Satan (together with the Big Satan).

If you think a hizbolla "victory" may do Israel any good on the Palestinian front, I suggest you read today's front page of Haaretz which states that the moral of this war to the Palestinioans is that they have to get their hands on more rockets. They see the effectiveness of these weapons and especially in light of the fence being built to stop suicide bombers, this will now become their weapon of choice.

I don't know if they will have second thoughts if we manage to hang Nasrallah's head in Teddy Stadium but I KNOW we will be in deep trouble, if we end this war with a whimper.

Pacificism might work for the Quakers, but Jews were never pacifists - even if we were impotent for a long part of our history. I, for one, can't think of one nation-state which practices a policy of turning the other cheek. It just doesn't work in the real world.

At 1:31 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Lita- I am so happy to see you rested up over the weekend. I believe Rabbi Eliyashiv’s advice is not only good for Israel but also for America. If President Bush stopped angering every country in the world, he might have a better chance of putting together a coalition on the important issues. As for this policy not working for the Nazis or the Inquisition, I agree about the Nazis but not about the Inquisition, Many Jews converted, became conversos and lived to return to Jewish life at a later point. Many emigrated. It is unfair to say Rabbi Eliyashiv has no feelings for Israel when the community that he is part of began moving to Israel around 1800, way before Hertzel was an idea in his mother’s eye. If things get tough enough, I imagine more than a few people will find themselves in Boro Park.

Ari Shavit raises serious questions for both the left and the right. He blames right-wing hedonism and capitalism more than he blames the withdrawal from Gaza. In the article that you cite from Haaretz, you forgot to mention the ending, after they have their wet dream about missiles, they hope they can negotiate and reach a peace agreement.

I agree with your last point that you can not negotiate with people who have a death wish. I believe there are two viruses operating in the Mid-East. In the case of Hezbollah and Iran, an apocalyptic vision of taking everyone down. In the case of the Palestinians, mostly but not entirely, a rage of having been shamed and made to feel small for so many years. It is possible to deal with the rage and I hope Israel does.

At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Rabbi Shael Siegel said...

The arab mentality respects power and will take advantage of weakness. Case in point was the withdrawal from Lebanon and later from Gaza. In each case while Israel exhibited good will , they were taken advantage of. The Arab mind assumed Israel's will was weakening and thus attacked at will. In Gaza, rather than build a viable entity they spend their time hatching terrorist plots. The arabs assume that Israel's will has weakened and continued terror will ultimately eject israel from that part of the world. Final note: Rabbis should continue doing what they do best-learn for the sake of learning and keep out of affairs of state!


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