Israel’s War with Iran Moves Out of the Shadows

Feb. 12 2018

On Saturday, Iran flew a drone into Israeli airspace from a base located in Syria. The IDF shot down the drone and launched a retaliatory strike on the base, during which a Syrian antiaircraft missile apparently hit an Israeli F-16. (The pilot ejected to safety.) In response, Israel carried out extensive aerial attacks on targets in Syria. With this exchange, writes Yaakov Katz, the longstanding conflict between Tehran and Jerusalem—until now conducted by Iran through clandestine operations or via proxies—has moved out into the open:

This [moment] was long in the making. Years ago, the Iranians came to the rescue of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and, together with Russia, ensured his survival. The problem is that they haven’t left. On the contrary: even though Assad is today in control of the majority of Syria, Iran is staying put and trying to establish an even greater presence within the country. On Saturday, we saw how determined it is to do just that.

It is too early to tell what lesson Iran has learned from the clash on Saturday. On the one hand, it succeeded in infiltrating a drone into Israel [and] its ally Syria succeeded in shooting down an Israeli fighter jet. On the other hand, Israel carried out its most widespread bombings in Syria since it destroyed almost all of Syria’s air defenses in 1982. . . .

While the downing of a fighter jet is a heavy blow to Israeli morale, it was not totally unexpected and needs to be viewed through the wider context of what has been going on for the last five years. Israel has carried out more than 100 strikes in Syria, and in war there are always wins and losses. The fact that a plane hasn’t been shot down until now is the real story, and speaks volumes of the IAF’s superior capabilities.

Finally, Israel needs to be concerned by Russia’s response to the events on Saturday. In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling for restraint and for all sides to “respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria” [with no mention of the territorial integrity of Israel]. On the surface, it seems as if Russia is taking Iran and Syria’s side and not Israel’s, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s best efforts to win over Vladimir Putin. . . . Beyond the [Russian] statement’s rhetorical significance, it could have practical consequences if the Kremlin decides to deny Israel operational freedom over Syria in the future.

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More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war

 

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays