Sunday, August 19, 2012

Refusing orders is a dangerous sign

A number of bad things have happened recently to the public debate over the Iranian issue: Not only are some participants unaware of the facts - nor do they have any way of knowing them - recently various important people have been calling on the military leadership not to obey the elected political leadership's decision if it decides to attack. In addition, pilots have been called on to refuse to carry out such an attack.

I am one of those who have doubts about the necessity and wisdom of a military operation against Iran at this stage, but the things that several writers and journalists have said on this issue are infuriating, and they are a dangerous sign. They have no place in a democratic state, even if one can understand the agony and sincerity of opponents of an Israeli action.

Israel's achievements as a democratic state were in evidence at the time of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of the Israeli settlers. There was a dual achievement here: The fact that the difficult decision passed all the relevant institutions, from the cabinet to the Knesset to the Supreme Court, and the fact that despite the belligerent words heard from some settlers and their supporters, the evacuation was accomplished without violence and without casualties. Few democratic countries would be able to boast of a similar achievement, and the combination of determination and sensitivity was more than an empty phrase.

The majority of the public understood that the call to disobey the government's decision, which was heard from several rabbis, undermines not only democracy but the very existence of the Jewish state. In the absence of official sovereignty, over the generations rabbinic Judaism could have adopted the Mishnaic saying "Make for yourself a rabbi," which is not only a recipe for pluralism, but for anarchy as well.

One of the achievements of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, for which he was often criticized, was his firm decision after the establishment of the state to ensure that it would retain a monopoly on exercising force. That was the source of the difficult decision in the affair of the Altalena, and the disbanding of the right-wing Irgun and Lehi militias in Jerusalem after the assassination of Count Bernadotte. It was also the reason for the other, but related decision to dismantle the headquarters of the Palmach commando force.
There is only one authority, and this helped Israel avoid the dance of death that characterized nationalist movements and countries such as Ireland, where this principle was not carried out.

Those who wanted to place the principle of Greater Israel or rabbinical decrees above the principle of accepting the authority of the elected government, in effect expressed an exilic legacy of the absence of sovereignty, the absence of a government, and "everyone doing whatever he feels is right."

It is regrettable to see that now those questioning democratic authority are personalities from the left. The decision regarding Iran is not in the hands of one or two people: Clearly before the final decision the subject will be discussed in the government, in the political-security cabinet, in the "octet" of leading ministers and in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, where the opposition has representation. According to reports, there are differences of opinion among the octet as well, proof of the strength and proper functioning of the democratic system. Neither journalists nor writers nor generals can serve as a substitute for it.

If any of the senior officers has doubts about the political decision, he has the option of resigning from his post and even warning the public against the path being adopted by the political leadership. (That is what Col. Eli Geva did, for example, in the first Lebanon war ). But a refusal to obey a decision of the political leadership means a putsch and a military coup. I am certain that nobody in the Israel Defense Forces leadership will follow such Balaam's advice, coming from people from whom we can expect moral and democratic responsibility.


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