The Truth about Judah the Maccabee’s Military Prowess

“In Your abundant mercy, . . . You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, . . . and the wicked into the hands of the righteous,” reads the traditional Hanukkah prayer thanking God for the Hasmonean victory over the Syrian Greeks. But, asks, Allan Arkush, “were the Maccabees actually underdogs?” The Israeli historian Bezalel Bar-Kochva has argued that the reality is a bit more complicated:

Bar-Kochva distinguishes between the period prior to the purification of the Temple in 164 BCE, when the Maccabees were indeed outnumbered but achieved impressive success in guerrilla warfare, and the period that followed, when Judah’s forces, having proved themselves to Jews who had previously been sitting on the fence, grew considerably stronger and acquired much better equipment. In some of their later battles they outnumbered the Seleucid forces and, for that reason, were able to enjoy victories over them in conflicts even on level terrain. . .

Bar-Kochva’s Hebrew book on the Maccabees, published in 1981, served as the basis for his Judas Maccabaeus: The Jewish Struggle against the Seleucids, which was published by Cambridge in 1989. . . . Among many other things, it provides an illuminating account of the battle of Elasa, where the badly outnumbered Judah met his death in 160 BCE.

That Judah, the great victor of the Hanukkah story, ultimately died fighting the Seleucids is something that surprisingly few Jews know. But it is a fact that should not tarnish his memory. As Bar-Kochva puts it at the end of his book: “Judas Maccabaeus lost his last battle, but paved the way to the victory as a whole by developing a large and well-equipped army, which, though defeated at Elasa, later on by its very existence forced the Seleucids to come to terms with, and concede to, the Jewish demands. The real test of military leaders has always been in the endurance of their achievements rather than in brilliant one-time strategies.”

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More about: Hanukkah, Hasmoneans, History & Ideas, Religion & Holidays

Israel Should Try to Defang Hamas without Toppling It

Feb. 22 2019

For the time being, Hamas has chosen to avoid outright war with the Jewish state, but instead to apply sustained, low-intensity pressure through its weekly border riots and organizing terrorist cells in the West Bank. Yet it is simultaneously engaged in a major military build-up, which suggests that it has not entirely been deterred by the previous three Gaza wars. Yaakov Lappin considers Jerusalem’s options:

In recent years, the Israel Defense Force’s southern command, which is responsible for much of the war planning for Gaza, identified a long-term truce as the best of bad options for Israel. This is based on the understanding that an Israeli invasion of Gaza and subsequent destruction of the Hamas regime would leave Israel in the unenviable position of being directly in charge of some two-million mostly hostile Gazans. This could lead to an open-ended and draining military occupation. . . .

Alternatively, Israel could demolish the Hamas regime and leave Gaza, putting it on a fast track to a “Somalia model” of anarchy and violence. In that scenario, . . . multiple jihadist armed gangs lacking a central ruling structure would appear, and Israel would be unable to project its military might to any single “return address” in Gaza. This would result in a loss of Israel’s deterrent force on Gaza to keep the region calm. This scenario would be considerably worse than the current status quo.

But a third option, in between the options of leaving Gaza as it is and toppling Hamas in a future war, may exist. In this scenario, the IDF would decimate Hamas’s military wing in any future conflict but leave its political wing and police force in place. This would enable a rapid Israeli exit after a war, but avoid a Somalia-like fate for Gaza with its destructive implications for both Israelis and Gazans. . . .

On the one hand, Hamas’s police force is an intrinsic support system for Gaza’s terrorist-guerrilla forces. On the other hand, the police and domestic-security units play a genuine role in keeping order. Such forces have been used to repress Islamic State-affiliated cells that challenge Hamas’s rule. . . . Compared to the alternative scenarios of indefinite occupation or the “Somalia scenario,” a weakened Hamas might be the best and most realistic option.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security