Good Advice from Confucius

Our government addresses the inhabitants of Sderot with infantile slogans like “there is no bang, it’s over,” or “there is no magic solution.” In other words, you better get used to it.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on November 21, 2006.)

“Put brain in gear before opening mouth” is an American version of one of Confucius’ many maxims. Now this is good advice for everyone, but particularly for politicians who vent their views on a daily basis. But, most particularly for those who, like our prime minister, issue dire threats against Iran.

Not that we, like the rest of the world, should not be concerned about Iran’s program to achieve nuclear weapons capability. But what use are the threats? They are not likely to induce the Iranians to abandon their program. They just help Ahmadinejad to put the spotlight on Israel, increase the tension and provoke fear in the Israeli population.

Pense toujours, n’en parle jamais, the French used to say about Alsace-Lorraine after France lost these provinces to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Think of it always, but never talk about it. This is good advice for Israelis regarding Iran’s nuclear armament program. As for the many speeches Israeli politicians make threatening Iran, one is reminded of a remark by Chaim Weizmann made on hearing a speaker at Zionist Congress session: Zum schweigen kumt es nicht – this can’t compete with keeping your mouth shut.

Israel’s enemies should, by now, be used to threats uttered by Israeli leaders, and have good reason to believe they are not to be taken too seriously. It started with Ehud Barak’s unilateral withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the southern Lebanon security zone and his announcement that any further Hezbollah activity against Israel after the withdrawal to the international border would be met by a most violent Israeli response. Despite numerous Hezbollah provocations over the years, that response never came, and the stage was set for the recent war in Lebanon in which Israel fared so badly.

A similar situation developed with the more recent unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif and from the settlements at the northern end of the Gaza Strip. Government ministers issued grave warnings to the Palestinians about the consequences if acts of terror were carried out against Israel from the Gaza Strip after Israel “had left Gaza.” When Qassam rockets were fired into Sderot and Ashkelon after the withdrawal, government ministers threatened indiscriminate artillery shelling of Gaza in response. The tragic results of some of the Israeli artillery shelling that presumably was aimed at specific targets made it clear that indiscriminate shelling of the civilian population in Gaza was completely out of the question. The withdrawal has brought about the worst situation in the Gaza area Israel has experienced in its entire history. Threats have certainly not been the answer.

One begins to wonder whether some of our politicians really have a brain to be put into gear, or if their reactions to events are simply Pavlovian responses. During the second Lebanon war, you just had to utter the words “Lebanese quagmire,” and any suggestion of a ground offensive to put an end to Hezbollah’s Katyusha shelling of the Galilee was rejected out of hand by the prime minister and the defense minister, as memories of the IDF’s stay in Lebanon surfaced in their brains. This left little room for the government to conduct a rational examination of alternative tactics to defend the civilian population in the North. Over a million Israelis there paid the price for this incompetence.

Just utter the words “conquering Gaza,” and any suggestion for having the IDF take over certain areas in the Gaza Strip so as to put the Qassam rockets out of range to hit Sderot and Ashkelon is rejected in horror. The very word “conquest” has become taboo, and what’s more, such a military move might even give the impression that the whole disengagement plan had been one big mistake. Perish the thought!

Our government addresses the inhabitants of Sderot with infantile slogans like “there is no bang, it’s over,” or “there is no magic solution.” In other words, you better get used to it.

So what are we left with? Empty threats. The empty-threat department has recently received substantial reinforcement in the person of the new strategic threats minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

His solution to the shells falling on Sderot is to threaten the members of the current Palestinian government. That is not likely to get us very far. He, too, should take some advice from Confucius.

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