The American Myth of the “Three A.M.” Phone Call and Its Israeli Reality

Jan. 26 2017

Since the image was used by Hillary Clinton in her 2008 electoral campaign, the idea of the president being wakened by a late-night emergency has been a prominent one in U.S. politics. In reality, however, such emergencies are rare. Less so in Israel, writes Tevi Troy:

President Obama told the talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel that he had only been wakened three or four times over the course of his presidency, and never in the face of any kind of existential threat. But . . . the late-night wake-up is a recurring reality for Israeli prime ministers. Unsurprisingly, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was the first to experience a prime-ministerial wakeup call, which came before he was even officially prime minister. Ben-Gurion was wakened at 1 a.m. on May 15, 1948—he became prime minister on the 17th—to be told that President Harry Truman had recognized the fledgling state of Israel. Ben-Gurion was then disturbed at 4 a.m., without having fallen asleep in the interim, to be brought to speak over the radio for an American audience at what is now Tel Aviv’s Independence Park. While he was in the midst of speaking, Tel Aviv was attacked, a point Ben-Gurion made sure to include in his broadcast.

This would not be the last time affairs of state intruded on Ben-Gurion’s sleep, even if it was the most momentous. And his successors would have their own share of after-midnight emergencies. Israel has also disturbed the sleep of American presidents:

[One] Israel-related presidential wakeup happened in January 1991, during the first Gulf War. President George H.W. Bush had been working to keep Prime Minister Yitzḥak Shamir from retaliating for Iraqi Scud-missile attacks aimed at drawing Israel into the fray. As Bush recalled, “[I] put on the hardest sale I have ever used” to persuade Shamir not to respond. . . . Following Bush’s successful lobbying, Iraq attacked Israel again. The national-security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, woke up Bush 1:30 a.m. to let him know. Bush feared the worst, writing in his diary that “they are going to retaliate.” Yet Shamir kept his cool. Bush called the prime minister to express his gratitude and followed up by sending Israel a shipment of Patriot missiles.

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More about: David Ben-Gurion, George H. W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history

No, Israel Hasn’t Used Disproportionate Force against Hamas

Aug. 15 2018

Last week, Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza launched nearly 200 rockets and mortars into Israel, in addition to the ongoing makeshift incendiary devices and sporadic sniper fire. Israel responded with an intensive round of airstrikes, which stopped the rockets. Typically, condemnations of the Jewish state’s use of “disproportionate force” followed; and typically, as Peter Lerner, a former IDF spokesman, explains, these were wholly inaccurate:

The IDF conducted, by its own admission, approximately 180 precision strikes. In the aftermath of those strikes the Hamas Ministry of Health announced that three people had been killed. One of the dead was [identified] as a Hamas terrorist. The two others were reported as civilians: Inas Abu Khmash, a twenty-three-year-old pregnant woman, and her eighteen-month daughter, Bayan. While their deaths are tragic, they are not an indication of a disproportionate response to Hamas’s bombardment of Israel’s southern communities. With . . . 28 Israelis who required medical assistance [and] 30 Iron Dome interceptions, I would argue the heart-rending Palestinian deaths indicate the exact opposite.

The precision strikes on Hamas’s assets with so few deaths show how deep and thorough is the planning process the IDF has put in place. . . . Proportionality in warfare, [however], is not a numbers game, as so many of the journalists I’ve worked with maintain. . . . Proportionality weighs the necessity of a military action against the anguish that the action might cause to civilians in the vicinity. . . . In the case of the last few days, it appears that even intended combatant deaths were [deemed] undesirable, due to their potential to increase the chances of war. . . .

The question that should be repeated is why indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli civilians from behind Gazan civilians is accepted, underreported, and not condemned.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict