An Insider’s Perspective

Yedidya Atlas, Senior Correspondent for Arutz 7 Radio, Israel’s only independent national radio station, speaks out on two volatile issues of concern to Jews the world over.

Setting the Record Straight

Following the tragic assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin we were witness to two major outbursts of emotional responses.

The first, a deep sense of outrage and quasi-automatic guilt reaction by many Orthodox rabbinical leaders and educators, who felt it necessary to call for public introspection over the sad fact that not only was a Jew killed by another Jew, the confessed killer was a religious person, a product of “our” educational system.

The second, was that of the Israeli Left, including senior members of the Israeli government.  Here, the sense of loss and outrage could have been initially understood as a terrible and confused emotional reaction to this horrific event.  But its vehement manner, its longevity and its obvious government stamp of approval, leads objective observers to perceive a contrived pattern at work.  The open and poisonous verbal and even physical abuse suffered by the religious in particular, and Jews opposing the government’s policies in general, cannot be summarily dismissed by explanations of expressions of grief over the prime minister’s murder.  A well-fueled and financed public hate campaign against rabbinical leaders and religious institutions continued for weeks with great media fanfare.

Compare the constant and prominent media coverage of the very public questioning of respected Israeli rabbis by the police for the crime of “inciting to murder” by allegedly issuing halachic rulings declaring Yitzhak Rabin a “rodef,” with the unsurprising low key police announcement that after extensive police investigation, the allegations turned out to be all untrue.

Yet sadly, certain respected Orthodox scholars were quick to believe this deliberate lie and to publicly lament the breakdown and misdirection of religious Zionist education.  For those concerned scholars who are under the misapprehension regarding the views of those prominent rabbinical figures opposing government policies heading major educational institutions here — including leading disciples of Rav Kook, I bring here a few excerpts from public broadcasts on Arutz 7 Educational Radio before and after Prime Minister Rabin’s murder.

Several months prior to the assassination, Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, Rosh Yeshivat Birkat Moshe (Hesder) in Ma’ale Adumim, was guest rabbi on Arutz 7’s call-in “Ask the Rabbi” hour.  A caller insisted that Judaism allows for taking revenge following a terrorist attack.  Rabbi Rabinovitch responded:

       Your ideas of taking revenge and expulsion of Arabs are totally unfit and against the Torah.  Just as we are obligated to uphold the honor of Israel, and its security in accordance with Jewish Law, so too in relation to other nations we are obligated to the moral guidelines in the Torah.  There never was and never will be any concept, within the bounds of our Torah, of taking revenge without clearly distinguishing between the perpetrators and the innocent.

Students who study only selected segments of Jewish sources concerning these matters in essence know nothing.  Our Sages warned that concerning certain issues, a little knowledge is more dangerous than complete ignorance.  It is forbidden for random individuals to assume the authority of making decisions in matters of Jewish Law, especially when human life is in question.  It is an audacious act that has no place whatsoever…Where are these things written that you say are written?  They do not exist!  All of the sources quoted in random pamphlets that call for vengeance are in most cases either taken out of context, distorted, or plain misquotes.

       I wish to state unequivocally that it is forbidden [the word was repeated], forbidden for any person who sees selected quotes to assume that he has arrived at the Torah’s ruling…

And in an editorial broadcast one week before the assassination, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi of Beit El Aleph and Rosh Yeshivat Ateret Kohanim said the following in his weekly commentary entitled:  “Loving Someone With Opposing Views.”

      A friend of mine asked me: “How can I not hate those people? After all, they have terrible opinions and ideas which are simply dangerous for the Nation, the Land, and the State of Israel!  Must I retain cordial relations with them, and nod to everything they say?”

The answer, of course, is no, he need not agree with all that they say, and no, he must not hate them.  The question is based on blurring of two concepts.  Disagreements are legitimate, and sometimes necessary.  One is obligated to wage a forceful intellectual confrontation against ideas that may destroy the Jewish People.  But this is a far cry from an obligation to hate the person expressing those ideas.  Divided opinions — yes; divided hearts — no.  We must understand that even when an idea is hateful, the man expressing it is not.

“But,” comes the response, “it is too difficult to make this distinction.  After all, it is only natural to identify the person with what he says.”  The answer to this is that it may be hard, but we have no choice but to make this distinction…

And the day after the assassination, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Rabbi of Beit El Bet and Rosh Yeshivat Beit El, gave this editorial entitled: “In the Wake of the Assassination.”

      …The elementary foundations of our unity have begun to erode.  Cracks are beginning to appear in our feelings of a common destiny, national brotherhood, and mutual love.  The recognition that all of us, together, belong to a special nation with a unique mission — different than all other nations — has begun to dissipate.  This, therefore, is our challenge:  to renew and rebuild the togetherness that is the essential hallmark of the Jewish nation.  This, of course, requires mutual consideration of the highest order.  Any course of action that touches upon the fundamental nature of our nation must be decided upon only by a wide national consensus.  We must spare no effort to improve the relations between the religious and non-religious sectors.  We must carefully safeguard that which allows all of us of the various groups within our people to live together as one nation….

… Only a broad national commitment to our common destiny, based on mutual consultation and discussion, will be able to safeguard the unity that is the lifeblood of the Jewish nation.  We cannot allow a situation to develop wherein whichever side is in power forces the other to accept its terms.  We must return to that which our Rabbis have taught us:  “All of Israel are responsible for one another”…

On Peace and Security

Can a peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors be like the symbiotic, harmonious peace existing between the United States and Canada, as the Peres government believes, or a “Cold War” type of peace as per America and the former USSR?  Former Chief of Planning for the Israeli Air Force, Col. (Res.) Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto analyzed it thus:

      In the United States/Canada model, the two parties are both established democracies, sharing deeply rooted democratic norms, values, cultures and traditions, with no aggressive motivation on either side.  Such a peace doesn’t require bolstering by armed forces.

      Whereas, in the U.S./USSR model, one is a democracy, the other was a dictatorship.  Enormous political, economic, cultural and even religious (communism was a quasi-religious dogma) discrepancies existed, resulting in an acute aggressive motivation.  Experience shows that armed conflict between the two superpowers was prevented only by means of the building up of a U.S. military deterrent, capable of matching Soviet forces, and by displaying U.S. national will to use it if necessary.

      Given the Mideast’s geopolitical realities, it would be fallacious to assume the possibility of a U.S./Canada style peace.  At best, we can hope to achieve a “Cold War” type peace.  Why? Because Israel is a democracy, and the Arab states are not.  An enormous political, economic, cultural and religious gap exists between the parties, translating into a virulent Arab aggressive motivation rooted in Islam, enhanced by the asymmetry in size, numbers and political economic power.

      The U.S.coexisted peacefully with the late Soviet Union due to a strong and strategically positioned American military deterrence.  So too, Israel can achieve a type of peace with her Arab neighbors based on a strong strategically positioned Israeli military deterrence.

      What is deterrence? The capability to prevent war by possessing the capacity to wage and win it; possessing the will to exercise that capability when necessary, and letting the antagonist be aware of both.  The capacity to wage and win a war means the successful management of the factors of firepower, mobility and terrain.  Firepower:  Israel is hopelessly outgunned by the Arabs’ sheer numbers and vast resources.  Mobility:  Israeli forces are highly mobile, but her enemies can buy the same, or better.  Terrain means geography: distance and topography; obstacles and observation highground vital to intelligence.

      Demilitarization and/or International Guarantees, the suggested replacements for distances, obstacles, and intelligence gathering highground, have historically never worked.  The French didn’t prevent German remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, or keep their guarantee to Czechoslovakia in 1938.  The United States and the U.N. failed to prevent the remilitarization of Sinai in 1967.  And even if the guarantor country keeps its word, what about the time factor?  Following the 1991 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Coalition took six months to project sufficient military force to free Kuwait.  How many days, or even hours, can Israel afford to wait?

      High technology is no substitute either.  The Gulf War proved technology helped win the battle with fewer losses, but to win the war, a movement of ground troops over terrain had to be initiated.  When the movement stopped prematurely, the war was not won.  Also proven false was the contention: “in the age of missiles, territory and frontiers become irrelevant.”  Missiles can cause damage to Israel’s reserve mobilization process (80% of her army are reserve troops) prolonging their deployment, and diverting the Air Force from providing proper cover to IDF ground forces by making necessary deep strikes and other anti-missile activity.  But Israel can only be defeated when her small standing army fails to stop enemy invasion forces on the ground.”

A specific example currently in the news is Mr. Peres’ apparent willingness to compromise Israel’s security as evidenced by his rush to give up the Golan Heights for a signed agreement with Syria before the next Israeli elections.  When Yitzhak Rabin ran for election in 1992, he publicly declared, in line with the Labor Party platform, that the Golan Heights were not negotiable.  His famous declaration at a vast election rally just two weeks before the election: “Whosoever gives up the Golan Heights, abandons the security of the State of Israel,” is known to all Israelis.  Enough people believed him that the Labor Party won the election.  The terrible tragedy of his murder does not change the fact that he misled the public on this key issue.

The fate of the Golan Heights, designated by law as part of the State of Israel, is not merely a legal question, or an issue of thirteen thousand Golan residents, but a question of national life and death.

The Golan is a 60 km. long by 20 km. wide mountainous plateau running from the upper Jordan Rift Valley and Lake Kinneret in the west, the Yarmuk Valley in the south and Mount Hermon in the north.  On lsrael’s side, there is a steep incline from the Golan plateau down to the densely populated Hula Valley and eastern shore of the Kinneret.

The Golan Heights, one of three sources supplying Israel’s fresh water needs, comprises the headwaters of the Jordan River (60%), and the mountain streams (40%) that flow down into the Kinneret.  However, with the widespread contamination of the coastal plain’s aquifers, and the Rabin/Peres government’s declared intention of giving over control of the aquifers and rain flow runoff from the hills of Judea and Samaria over to control of Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, the Kinneret becomes Israel’s main, even sole, fresh water source.  Today, water flows freely into the Kinneret and then, via massive pumps using 5% of Israel’s electric power, the National Water Carrier supplies this water to the rest of Israel.  It was not always so.

In 1964, Syria, then occupying the Golan Heights, tried to divert these critical headwaters away from Israel in a blatant attempt to cripple Israel’s fresh water supply.  Ironically, The IDF operation that destroyed the Syrian damming project was carried out under then Israeli Chief of Staff, Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, who recently was prepared to return control of Israel’s fragile water lifeline to the Syrians, trusting them not to repeat past sins.  Today Mr. Peres is ready to take the same gamble.

Israeli military control extends just over the crestline, giving the IDF direct eye and radar contact with the 65 km. plain that runs from the Golan to Damascus.  Just 20-30 km. from Israel’s forward positions, are the deployment areas of Syria’s armored divisions — a two-hour tank ride to Israeli territory.  The Golan Heights acts as a defensive wall protecting Israel’s north.  A Syrian attack is channeled via two passes where armored vehicles can cross.  In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, about 150 Israeli tanks stopped invading Syrian columns — with more than 1,400 tanks — in the “bottleneck” Valley of Tears pass in the north, and the pass through the volcanic hills in the south.  The surprised, and vastly outnumbered Israeli troops held off the invaders for the 48 hours it required to mobilize and move in sufficient forces to beat back and defeat the Syrian aggressors.

Having these critical passes in Israeli hands is no less important now, with Syria’s enormous buildup of highly advanced weaponry, than it was in 1973.  Since 1982, the Syrian army has doubled in size, achieving military parity with Israel.  So clearly, it is better to concentrate a small standing force on the high ground, defending the 10 km. area of the passes, than having to defend a 60 km. line.

Any proposed Israeli pullback from these passes returns Israel to her pre-1967 vulnerability, and worse.  Only the vast number of Israeli artillery and tanks in the Golan Heights targeting the Syrian army’s deployment area beyond, and the capability to shell and bomb the outskirts of Damascus at a given moment keeps Hafez al-Assad from implementing his “Greater Syria” strategy.

Imagine a Syrian repeat performance of the 1973 surprise attack, with 4,000 tanks, and 100 Scud-C missiles fired upon Haifa and Tel Aviv within a two-hour span, causing civilian panic and disrupting Israel’s emergency reserve mobilization.  Remember, Syrian Scuds are twice as powerful as the Iraqi Scuds that hit Israel during the Gulf War, and the Scud-C is four times as accurate.

Can Israel really afford to even partially pull back her forward positions from the Golan crestline, giving Syria control of the key passes in exchange for a signature on a piece of paper?  Yitzhak Rabin ran on the election platform that he would not withdraw from the Golan.  He told the Golan settlers, the Israeli public, and personally assured Israeli war hero, Avigdor Kahalani, who risked his good name by then assuring voters that a Rabin-led government would not withdraw from the Golan.

As tragic and traumatic as Mr. Rabin’s murder is to us all, it didn’t lower the Golan Heights or cause Syria to dismantle even one Scud-C missile launcher or reduce the number of tanks in one of the Syrian deployment areas.  The Golan Heights is no less vital to Israel’s future security as it was until now.

Rabbi Atlas is a graduate of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav Kook in Jerusalem.  His articles have appeared in several publications including The Wall Street Journal, Insight, Midstream, The Jerusalem Post and Nativ, and have been reprinted by Israel’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the United States Overseas Information Service and in the U.S. Congressional RecordA reserve officer in the Israeli Army, he resides with his wife and seven children in Beit El in northern Judea.

Arutz 7 Radio is based in Beit El and broadcasts off a ship anchored in international waters off the coast of Israel.

This article was featured in the Spring 1996 issue of Jewish Action.