Home May 2012 The Real Decider

The Real Decider

Should Israel Attack Iran? The question is being debated the world over. Some say it’s the only way to prevent Iran, whose stated goal is Israel’s destruction, from obtaining nuclear weapons. Others argue that the risk is too large; an Israeli attack could erupt into a regional conflict engulfing the United States and other countries.

As Jews, we have to ask the question in a different light. How do the Torah, Jewish law and tradition view this crucial question? What should be the deciding factor?

The legal principle is embedded in the Jewish legal tradition on the issues of life and death. Who decides if a sick patient should fast on Yom Kippur? Is it the rabbi, the patient himself or the doctor? Jewish law is clear; it’s up to the medical professional who is intimately involved with the patient. If his professional medical judgment is that by fasting, the person’s life would be at risk, we are forbidden to fast.

The same principle applies to Israeli security. Does Jewish law permit Israel to give up land in the quest for peace? If the military experts currently involved with the security of the state are of the opinion that by relinquishing the territory, there is no real danger to country, then it can be permitted. If not, we are forbidden to put lives at risk. We cannot put life at risk for just a hope of peace.

During the disengagement from Gaza, a senior military commander of Gaza privately beseeched a friend of mine with political connections in Israel, “Please do something. Withdrawing from Gaza will endanger Israel.”

Then-Prime Minister Sharon made the decision. He was an experienced general. Wasn’t he qualified to decide? Jewish law is clear: you have been a great general, but today you are a politician. In that role you may be driven by different considerations, political pressures from abroad, your chance of reelection or place in history.

One of Sharon’s top aides confided to me: “He thought he would always be around to take care of Israel.” The military leadership at the time opposed Sharon’s decision. Now it is clear that the withdrawal from Gaza has caused a serious erosion of Israel’s security and political position. Hamas, an Iranian proxy, seized control of Gaza. Southern Israeli towns are under bombardment. Israel had no choice but to launch another costly defensive war. Internationally, support for Israel has dropped significantly. In recent weeks the press has reported that the Army is suggesting another incursion to curtail the slowly rising number of missile attacks — even the retaking of the Philadelphia Corridor, the strip of land that buffers Gaza to Egypt, to stop the flow of weapons across the border.

Halacha, Jewish Law, mandates that the crucial factor is the expert opinion of the current military experts. They are driven not by political considerations, rather by one factor: If we give up this ground, will the security of the country be put at risk?

The same principle can be applied to the question of a preemptive strike on Iran. If the military experts now in command perceive that there is a real threat to Israel that can be mitigated by an attack with a good chance of success, then, according to Jewish law, it would permissible to attack. A strong argument could be made that an attack would be required if the military experts assess an imminent threat to Israel.

The actual decider in a democracy must be the political leadership of the country. Driving the decision-making process should be the question of the security and welfare of the Jewish people. Binyamin Netanyahu was a commando in the Israeli Army (his unit commander: Ehud Barak). Today he is a politician. He has a fateful decision to make in the upcoming months. Hopefully, he will follow the guidelines of Jewish tradition and listen to the advice of his military experts in this crucial issue.

As for my view, I defer to the military experts.

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