Analysis from Israel
If waiting would impair Israel’s ability to hit Iran effectively, the costs outweigh the benefits.
Of all the arguments against an Israeli attack on Iran, the most inane has to be the “legitimacy argument.” This argument, beloved of leftists like Haaretz columnists Sefi Rachlevsky and Ari Shavit, holds that Israel lacks either domestic or international legitimacy to attack Iran because it hasn’t done everything possible to show itself a peace-seeker. Without such legitimacy, they argue, an attack can’t succeed. Therefore, Israel must launch a far-reaching diplomatic initiative on the Palestinian front, and at the very least postpone any strike until spring, to satisfy U.S. demands for more time to try nonmilitary means of stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
This theory is so patently historically false that it’s hard to believe anyone could seriously propound it – which is precisely why most proponents eschew any attempt to provide evidence. Just consider the “proof” offered by those who do make the attempt, like Shavit: Israel, he claims, won in 1948 and 1967 because both the world and Israelis themselves “recognized the legitimacy” of its actions, but failed in 1973 because its “inflexible” policies undermined its domestic and international legitimacy.

In reality, Israel certainly didn’t enjoy international “legitimacy” in 1948, despite the recent destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust and its adoption of the UN Partition Plan (which the Arabs rejected): Its declaration of independence had so little international support that the entire world, including the U.S., slapped an arms embargo on it, even as Britain was pouring arms into the five Arab armies attacking it. Israel won a decisive victory not because of international “legitimacy,” but thanks to a global arms smuggling network run by pre-state leaders and Jewish supporters worldwide, bolstered by Czechoslovakia’s courageous decision to sell it planes despite the embargo.

Nor did Israel benefit from global “legitimacy” in 1967, despite having as yet “occupied” no territory: UN peacekeepers in Sinai tamely packed their bags and left at Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s request; the U.S. reneged on its 1956 pledge (given in return for Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai after that year’s war) to ensure that Egypt didn’t close the Straits of Tiran to Israel; France, Israel’s main arms supplier, halted all arms sales the moment the war began, refusing even to deliver planes and boats that Israel had already paid for; and most of the Communist bloc severed diplomatic relations with it. Instead, its stunning victory stemmed from a superbly executed battle plan built around a preemptive strike. And that victory over two Soviet-supplied armies (Egypt and Syria) at the height of the Cold War, rather than any global “legitimacy,” is what led to the ensuing American-Israel alliance.

In contrast, Israel actually went to extraordinary lengths to secure international legitimacy in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, to the point of refusing to launch a preemptive strike or even mobilize its reserves, lest it be accused of warmongering. That quest for international approval cost it dearly: Though it ultimately won a smashing victory, it came within a hairsbreadth of losing the war and suffered higher casualties than in any other war since 1948. And it got nothing in exchange: Every country in Europe still sought to block America’s emergency arms airlift, refusing to let the planes refuel on their soil or even overfly their territory (Portugal ultimately backed down and offered the Azores Islands after President Richard Nixon said that if necessary, he’d use midair refuelers instead). And due to the ensuing Arab oil embargo, Israel still lost diplomatic relations with most of the Third World.

Moreover, by the left’s standards, the 2008 Gaza war should have enjoyed unparalleled international legitimacy: It was launched in response to three years of nonstop rocket fire from territory that Israel had evacuated to the last inch, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was then conducting far-reaching peace negotiations with both the Palestinians and Syria. Instead, it produced unprecedented condemnation, culminating in the infamous Goldstone Report and its allegations of war crimes, which even some of Israel’s self-proclaimed best friends refused to oppose at the UN (though its author has since recanted it). And so on and so forth.

As for domestic legitimacy, the Israeli public has consistently judged military actions by one, and only one, criterion: whether they achieved their goals at a reasonable price. Hence Israelis deemed the Second Lebanon War of 2006 a resounding failure despite its unquestioned “legitimacy” by the leftist yardstick: Israel was responding to a cross-border attack launched after it withdrew from every inch of Lebanon, while Olmert, having just been elected on a platform of sweeping territorial withdrawal from the West Bank, was lauded as a peace-maker both overseas and by Israel’s left. The war did enjoy enormous public support initially. But the incompetent way it was waged soon turned Israelis against it.

Nor did Israelis turn on the government after the Yom Kippur War because they deemed the war in any way “illegitimate.” On the contrary, most Israelis could imagine nothing more legitimate than repelling an invasion by two Arab armies on the holiest day of the Jewish year. What outraged them, again, was solely the incompetent way it was waged.

The bottom line is that most Israelis couldn’t care less about the left’s “legitimacy” criteria; indeed, most support the government’s policy on the Palestinian issue, viewing the Palestinians as utterly uninterested in peace. Rather, they’ll back an attack on Iran if it proves successful at a reasonable cost and oppose it if it doesn’t.

As for the “international community,” it is guaranteed to condemn the attack regardless of any efforts Israel makes to appease it, just as it has every other military action Israel has ever taken. But the alliances that matter, like the American one, will survive, just as they survived spats over previous Israeli operations. Nor will a strike affect international efforts to prevent Iran from reconstituting its nuclear program (as I explain here).

Thus if waiting until spring would significantly impair Israel’s ability to launch an effective strike, the costs of doing so far outweigh the benefits. Because the one thing that is certain is that only a successful strike will have any “legitimacy” at all.

The writer is a journalist and commentator.

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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