The grave situation in Israel’s north gives the lie to a fantasy underpinning the West’s desperate push for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza—that there is such a thing as the “day after” for Israel. Rather than a permanent peace being on the table, Israel’s enemies—and America’s, since they are all working on behalf of Iran—merely shift their forever war to a new front each time Israel temporarily pacifies one of the conflict zones on its border.

Israel will not get a reprieve. There may be a “day after” the Gaza conflict for Western states thousands of miles away, but there will be none for the Jewish state.

The whole situation, including a recent diplomatic tiff with France, serves as a reminder of wars past. And the most important lesson to derive from those reminders is that every second counts.

This year marks the 55th anniversary of the famous story of the boats of Cherbourg. Israel’s magnificent victory in the Six-Day War in 1967 changed the understanding of the power dynamic across the Middle East. The European powers saw Israel as needing to “take the win,” much as the international community urged Israel to do after it came out unscathed from Iran’s unprecedented missile attack in April.

But in fact the aftermath of the 1967 conflict had exposed weaknesses in Israel’s defenses that could have proved fatal. Its navy was, in effect, not a real navy at all but a glorified coast guard. It was easy to imagine Israel getting cut off from the seaways around it.

Israel needed boats with speed, maneuverability, offensive weapons, and basic defensive capabilities—at a price it could afford. The breakthrough came when Israeli engineers began studying how to make the country’s Gabriel missiles compatible for naval use. The boats themselves would be modeled on a German craft and built in France, in Cherbourg.

What happened next is famous. What happened after that is less so.

Charles de Gaulle imposed an arms embargo on Israel, halting the transfer of the last five boats despite Israel having paid for them in full. De Gaulle’s successor, Georges Pompidou, upheld the embargo.

The Israeli government accepted the French slight; the Defense Ministry’s procurement team did not. They kept up the production and testing of the boats in Cherbourg while manufacturing a misleading sale to a Norwegian front company to get around the French embargo. On Christmas eve 1969, amid stormy waters and brutal winds, and with ghost crews brought in over time under France’s nose, the boats sailed home to Israel.

But, as Abraham Rabinovich, who wrote the definitive book on the mission, explains, during that same time the Russians began supplying Israel’s Arab neighbors with naval missiles even more capable than the ones Israel was developing. Israeli engineers had to develop some kind of radar-scrambling system to effectively reduce the Soviet missiles’ range.

Rabinovich describes the nailbiting timeline before the Yom Kippur War: “The Navy now began the arduous process of fitting out the 12 vessels as missile boats and devising an operational system and tactics for a totally new kind of naval warfare — as innovative as the first use of ironclads or the first modern naval guns. Full scale maneuvers of the missile boat flotilla were held for the first time at the beginning of October, 1973. The vessels returned to Haifa on the eve of Yom Kippur. The next day war broke out.”

The next day war broke out. During the war, the scrambling system and the missiles worked as planned; Israel won a couple of brief naval battles and that was enough to establish deterrence on the water.

It was easy enough for the Europeans after 1967 to sit back and call for calm all around. But the Arab states and their Soviet backers didn’t hesitate for a second, and so neither could Israel. The Yom Kippur war—the military-intelligence failure that comes closest to the Oct. 7 attacks almost exactly 50 years later—was the last time the Israeli state saw its life flash before its eyes. Had the navy not been overhauled feverishly and round the clock, Israel’s survival would have been far from assured.

This week, with Israel’s attention turning toward the barrage of rockets from Hezbollah’s perch in Lebanon, France once again told Israel to cool its jets and let a Europe-led diplomatic process run its course. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant responded forcefully, surely aware of his state’s history and the necessity of not wasting time. “As we fight a just war, defending our people, France has adopted hostile policies against Israel,” Gallant said. “In doing so, France ignores the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israeli children, women and men.”

He was rebuked by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which was eager to avoid a falling-out with its French counterpart: “From the start of the war, France has taken a clear line of denunciation and sanctions against Hamas, and takes an aggressive line in everything having to do with sanctions in the EU against Iran and its missile and drone project, and was a partner in the IAEA Board of Governors decision to advance a sanctions process against Iran’s nuclear program.”

As in the past, French policy has been schizophrenic but not wholly unhelpful. Nevertheless, Gallant knows that in war, time is not a renewable resource. His outburst was therefore a very good sign: the government has not forfeited its sense of urgency, which in the past has meant the difference between life and death.

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