An Editorial from the September 1998 issue of THE MACCABEAN
TIME TO END THE
POLICY OF RESTRAINT
By Bernard J. Shapiro
"He who is merciful when he should be cruel will in the end be cruel when he should be merciful."...Midrash Samuel (Jewish rabbinic text from early Middle Ages)
From the very early days of the Haganah and continuing with the emerging Israel Defense Forces (IDF), there was a policy of self-restraint or havlagah. This policy mandated that defenders could only return fire, hold their positions, and never to engage in counter-terror. This policy was based on the false premise that the Arab masses did not support the war against the Yishuv (the Jewish population before independence) and then the State of Israel and would be brought into the conflict if Israeli forces were too aggressive. There were some good and practical reasons for restraint in the early days. There was legitimate fear that the British would cut off immigration if the Jews were to go on the offensive against the Arabs. Havlagah was essentially a Haganah (Labor/Socialist) policy and many supporters of Jabotinsky's Revisionist Zionist movement broke off from them to form fighting units (Irgun Zvai Leumi and Stern) unrestrained by that policy.
The modern IDF was dominated by Labor and quickly adopted the policy of restraint and the concept of "purity of arms" as its official doctrine. The later reinforced the former by adding that a soldier should never have to obey an illegal order to commit some atrocity. The enemy, including prisoners of war, should be treated with dignity and civilian populations should be spared as much harm as possible, even if this causes greater Israeli casualties. There was some flexibility in this strict moral code. A young officer named Yitzhak Rabin (1948) was sent to fire on Jewish teenagers swimming to flee the sinking Altalena (he killed 16 of them). Many retaliatory raids were launched against terrorist targets in neighboring countries, killing numerous civilians as collateral damage.
This policy of restraint may have been practical during the pre-state days and even during the early years of Israeli independence. These periods were characterized by weakness and relative dependence on foreign goodwill. Following the Six Day War in 1967, the need for havlagah decreased and the damage it caused began to become more evident. Israel became the preeminent power in the Middle East, yet failed to grasp the strategic opportunities that came with such dominance. Here are some of the historical highlights of the failed policy of restraint:
1. Following the Six Day War (1967) and the capture of Jerusalem, Moshe Dayan turned over control of Judaism's most sacred place, the Temple Mount, to Moslem authorities. He did it to appease their sensibilities to the Israeli capture of the city. Jewish rights were ignored to please the defeated Arabs, who had plotted our destruction. Dayan also prevented a mass exodus of Arabs from YESHA, which ultimately led to the problems we face today.
2. During the War of Attrition with Egypt (1969-70), the Israeli forces adopted primarily a defensive posture. They built a system of bunkers (The Bar Lev Line) along the Suez Canal. Israeli soldiers were heavily pounded daily by Egyptian artillery. Finally they began to use aircraft to strike targets deep into Egypt. The policy of restraint kept them from striking anything but military and minor economic targets. Israeli soldiers died because the government was inhibited from causing Egypt 'real' pain.
3. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 is a classic example of restraint run amok. Israeli military intelligence did not fail to recognize the approaching danger as has been the common account. In fact, Israel's leaders made the political decision not to utilize the great power of the IDF to crush the Egyptian and Syrian armies that they KNEW were planning to attack. Thousands of Israeli soldiers died needlessly.
4. The Camp David Accord with Egypt was another example of the failure to exert Israeli power. The oil fields of Sinai would have given Israel economic independence from America. The cost of redeployment from Sinai placed Israel in almost permanent debt to American diplomacy (often pro-Arab). Did Israel achieve anything worthwhile at Camp David? I think not and believe history will bear me out. Egypt has become one of the most ant-Semitic and hostile Arab countries in the world. As a result of Camp David, the Egyptian army now threatens Israel, having been equipped with the most modern American weapons.
5. During the War in Lebanon (1982), the IDF reached Beirut and then failed to complete the destruction of the PLO. Our enemies were allowed to escape and prepare to fight another day. Why didn't the Israeli Navy sink the ships loaded with PLO troops (including Arafat) as they fled Beirut? RESTRAINT!
6. In 1987 the intifada began and the Israeli forces showed great restraint and thus were incapable of crushing it. Of course, Israel received no credit in the Western media for such restraint. The failure to defeat this uprising began a process of demoralization among the Israeli population.
7. The Persian Gulf War (1991) and the SCUD attacks on Israel led to further demoralization. The failure to adequately respond to Iraq's aggression and the humiliating sealed rooms, led to a rapid decline in Israeli morale and desire to defend itself. More and more Israelis began to feel impotent, weak and fatigued with the continuous battle for survival. The Oslo Accords were the logical outcome of this depression and feeling that they could not sustain the struggle.
8. The Oslo Accords (1993) were the ultimate failure of the policy of restraint. Israel actually was very powerful. The IDF was unequaled in the Middle East. Yet despite this power, its leaders, were ready to grant equal status to a band of murderers and ultimately create a state of "Palestine" which would challenge its right to the Land and its capital of Jerusalem.
9. Israeli forces in Lebanon should have been given a free hand to 'punish' all those who facilitate attacks on them including Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. No more agreements that tie Israeli hands.
The damage caused by havlagah (restraint) has been immense and it far past time to reverse that policy. Israel must massively and disproportionately retaliate for terrorist attack. The murderers of Jews must be plucked from their safe havens in Palestinian Authority areas. Oslo must be declared null and void due to Arafat's non-compliance with its terms. No more giving him "one more chance." The test is over. HE FAILED! He and his cronies should be arrested and tried for murder.
MAY THE LION OF JUDAH RISE ON THIS ROSH HASHANA AND RECLAIM THE SOUL OF ISRAEL AND WITH A MIGHT HAND VANQUISH HER ENEMIES....
Bernard J. Shapiro is Executive Director of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies and editor of THE MACCABEAN.