Bold in War, Bold in Peace

The other day The New York Times reported on an interesting Israeli military exercise over the Mediterranean. Over 100 warplanes—F-15s and F-16s—flew a long distance west over the sea, far enough to have to refuel. Just far enough, in fact, to have reached Iran’s nuclear facilities had they flown east instead.

In the ‘80s I met a charismatic IDF pilot who was studying at the U.S. Air War College in Alabama, where he sat shoulder to shoulder with Arab pilots. (In those days the Muslim pilots ate kosher meals, since officially halal food was not yet common.) He loved the F-16; there was a glow in his eyes when he talked about it.

He was said to have taken part in the raid on Iraq’s nuclear reactor, destroyed by Israel in 1981. That move was roundly condemned by a world that lived to look back and be grateful. A similar move against a North Korean-built Syrian nuclear facility last fall produced barely a peep out of those countries and widespread diplomatic silence from others.

A move against Iran would be far more complex and risky. Iraq and Syria had one reactor each, above ground. Iran has many, most of which are buried and fortified; hence an exercise deploying 100 planes. Iraq and Syria had no plausible way to respond to those attacks; Iran can reach Israel with its missiles and can launch a campaign of terror using its proxies in Hezbollah and Hamas.

But many think that Iran’s response would be minimal and symbolic; they are too afraid of what Israel might do next. Meanwhile Palestinian terrorists in Gaza known as Islamic Jihad broke the truce begun last week by once again firing rockets at Sderot. Israel had been easing the blockade, but re-imposed it after the truce was broken. As always, the gates remain open to Palestinians needing medical care, which, as always, they will get in Israel’s hospitals, among the best in the world.

Today Tzipi Livni, the brilliant Foreign Minister, called for the IDF to retaliate against the Gaza jihadists. She and Shaul Mofaz, the former Defense Minister, are vying for the Prime Minister’s job when it comes open, and they both have to sound tough. Mofaz said recently that an attack on Iran’s nuclear plants was inevitable.

Yet, at the same time, bold peacemaking is under way. Talks with President Assad of Syria may eventually lead to an agreement that would neutralize this once-implacable enemy. Such an agreement would be good for the world. Syria, which is Sunni and Arab, does not belong in the orbit of Iran, which is Shi’a and Persian; that is just one of Iran’s imperial dreams.

But if Israel can help pry Syria away, it may aid the U.S. and the world by weakening Iran and strengthening the moderate Arab coalition. The boldest peace plan involves water from Turkish rivers. Turkey has far more water than it needs, and has good relations with both Israel and Arab countries including Syria, but it leans toward the West.

The plan involves diverting water toward Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, going through the Golan Heights. In a crowning irony, Arab countries that once threatened to strangle Israel by cutting off the Jordan River—a 1960s cartoon from a Saudi Arabian

daily promoted the idea—might actually become agents of peaceful cooperation providing unprecedented water supplies for Israel and others.

Of course, in this deal Israel would have to give up most of the Golan, captured from Syria during the 1967 war. If you have stood, as I and many others have, in a former Syrian bunker on the Heights, where you can look and easily shoot down on a playground in a Jewish settlement below, you will know why capturing those heights was important.

Yet most Israelis are willing. Military advances allow Israel to monitor enemy army movements moment to moment with or without full possession of the Golan. Still, minorities have a way of controlling events for a long time, so it is not clear that this very bold plan will come to fruition.

And perhaps it shouldn’t; that’s for Israelis, not me to decide. But I do know that while boldness in war has protected Israel from its enemies, boldness in peace has neutralized some of them as well. A cold peace with Egypt and a warmer peace with Jordan both have allowed Israel to focus on other enemies and other domains of life.

Boldness in war will continue to enable survival, but boldness in diplomacy may yet enable peace.