Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanyahu are as unalike as two prime ministers of the same party could possibly be. But there are certain points in their stewardship of the one and only Jewish state when prime ministers will all sound alike, regardless of party or ideology. And Israel has reached one of those moments, as Bibi and his war council insist that Israel and Israel alone will decide when its mission in Gaza is complete and what happens next.
Israel is treating this war as an Osirak moment.
In 1981 the Israeli air force pulled off its most famous secret mission. On June 7 of that year, Israeli pilots successfully bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, near Baghdad.
It was an extremely difficult task. Israeli pilots had never flown a mission that far from home—650 miles. And the explosives had to hit their target and detonate at the right depth to ensure the core was destroyed. The pilots returned to Israel safely, defying the odds that any number of things could have gone wrong on the way.
Begin knew the world would react in horror to Israel’s bombing of Iraqi territory, and that there was no guarantee the mission would succeed. He agonized over it. “For months I had sleepless nights,” he told the American Jewish philanthropist and Republican confidant Max Fisher. “Day after day I asked myself: to do or not to do? What would become of our children if I did nothing? And what would become of our pilots if I did something? I couldn’t share my anxiety with anyone. My wife would ask me why I was so disturbed, and I couldn’t tell her. Nor could I tell my son, whom I trust implicitly. I had to carry the responsibility and the burden alone.”
Begin told his advisors, after reading off all the protestations from world leaders, “I’ll share a personal secret with you. Whenever I have to choose between saving the lives of our children or getting the approval of the Security Council and all those other fair-weather friends, I much prefer the former. But keep that to yourselves.”
Yesterday Netanyahu, his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, and his rival-turned-war-minister Benny Gantz all pushed back on the specific criticisms of various countries one at a time. French President Emmanuel Macron was told in no uncertain terms he’d made a factual and moral error in suggesting Israel had targeted civilians; the Biden administration’s plan for the transfer of a post-Hamas Gaza to the Palestinian Authority was rejected; British leaders were encouraged to stand firm in the face of anti-Israel pressure; and a group of Muslim leaders representing, among others, Iran and Saudi Arabia, was told that Hamas was their problem too.
Israel will “stand firm against the world if necessary,” Netanyahu said.
The reason for the drawing of such red lines was made clearer this morning in a Washington Post report on the ramifications of the intelligence discovered since Oct. 7:
“Some militants carried enough food, ammunition and equipment to last several days, officials said, and bore instructions to continue deeper into Israel if the first wave of attacks succeeded, potentially striking larger Israeli cities. The assault teams managed to penetrate as far as Ofakim, an Israeli town about 15 miles from the Gaza Strip and about half the distance between the enclave and the West Bank. One unit carried reconnaissance information and maps suggesting an intention to continue the assault up to the border of the West Bank, according to two senior Middle Eastern intelligence officials and one former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of the evidence.”
Hamas planned and trained for over a year before launching the attack. It collected intelligence on the Israeli border towns from drones and real estate postings and Gazan day laborers with permits to work in the communities who then returned home each day. Hamas leadership spent months planting fake stories and hints of the organization’s new pragmatism and turn away from violent confrontation.
The aim seems to have been to spark a regional war in the near turn that would, in the long term, allow Hamas to bring down and possibly replace the Palestinian Authority.
The most chilling quote in the piece comes from former FBI analyst Ali Soufan: “If you’re in prison, you study the prison security system. That is what Hamas has been doing for 16 years. Their on-the-ground intelligence was way better than anything the Iranians could have given them.”
For decades, the phrase thrown around peace negotiations was “the status quo is unsustainable.” But of course it was sustainable, and so it sustained. But now it genuinely is unsustainable, which is why it has been shattered. And Israel’s united front is dead set against letting the international community guilt-trip Israel into gluing all the pieces back together. Israel has taken action it sees as being in the same vein as the Osirak strike. There is no guarantee of success, but there is also no going back.