Thursday July 31, 2014
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31.07.2014
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Dan Margalit

Back in 1948, Israel was also told to wait

The unrestrained and comprehensive debate over launching an attack on Iran's nuclear program also contains a chapter on historical parallels. A recurrent one is that of Menachem Begin, who over the objections of Israeli military officials and Shimon Peres, wisely ordered the destruction of the Iraqi reactor in 1981. Other comparisons are no less interesting.

On Channel 2 TV, Amnon Abramovich argued against an attack on Iran, saying that David Ben-Gurion would never have initiated such a move without the guaranteed support of a superpower. He was referring to the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and justifiably so. But Abramovich forgot that Ben-Gurion's biggest decisions were made independently and against the wishes of a friendly superpower, similar to the possible scenario we face in 2012.

In May 1948, the United States was chilly in its support of the establishment of the State of Israel and applied pressure on Ben-Gurion to agree to a United Nations trusteeship. Because then, just like now, "there was time." The respected general, Secretary of State George Marshall, sent Moshe Sharett to Israel to convince Ben-Gurion that the Arabs would throw the Jews into the sea. Marshall could not imagine coming to the aid of the people who had just escaped from the Holocaust.

But Ben-Gurion compelled the Provisional State Council (by a narrow majority of 6-4) to decide that the State of Israel should be established. Sharett was ordered not to tell others about Marshall's nightmare scenario.

In an interview with Haaretz's Ari Shavit, a senior Israeli official (apparently Defense Minister Ehud Barak) said that the Iranian sword that is currently up against Israel's neck is sharper than the threat that faced Israel in the period leading up to the Six-Day War in 1967. That sword caused anxiety. But it was nonetheless less sharp than the one in we faced in 1948.

In the wake of tensions on the northern border in 1967, then-Chief-of-Staff Yitzhak Rabin threatened to topple the pro-Soviet regime in Syria. Russia pressured Egypt to defend Damascus. This is what led Gamal Abdel Nasser to violate international commitments by closing the Straits of Tiran, sending forces into the demilitarized Sinai Peninsula and unilaterally expelling U.N. observers. Nasser taunted Israel, as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah would do many years later. War? "Ahlan wa sahlan" — we welcome it.

The Israeli public was in shock, and demanded that the defense portfolio, held until just before the war by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, be given to Moshe Dayan — a move that brought wisdom, restraint and strength back to the system. The government initially opposed this. (When the wives of reserve officers demonstrated in favor of appointing Dayan as defense chief, Eshkol jeeringly dubbed them "The Merry Wives of Windsor.") Rabin had no love for paratrooper Dayan (but no one prepared anything against Dayan like the Harpaz document). Time ran out, the Egyptians penetrated Sinai, establishing a zone of immunity for themselves, and Israel felt that time for an attack was running out. From Paris, Charles de Gaulle played the role currently filled by Barack Obama, saying "don't shoot."

Another American aspect to this story is that in 1957, after the Sinai Campaign, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower promised Ben-Gurion that if Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran, the U.S. would establish an international fleet to break the siege. In 1967, the Americans said that they couldn't find the document.

"Ladies and gentlemen, history repeats itself, nothing has passed and nothing is forgotten. We remember how under a rain of lead, the Palmach marched in Syria," wrote Haim Hefer in a song that has been passed down through the generations. Back then in 1941, in Syria, where Dayan lost his eye in battle. The situation today is no less complicated.

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