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

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine