A new front has opened in the incessant war against Israel, which has been undefeated on the battlefield and by a reign of terror: a campaign to delegitimize and isolate the state of Israel, Moshe Arens, Israel’s former Ambassador to the United States and Defense Minister told a local audience at Great Neck Synagogue on November 23.
With Iran edging closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon, new protests in Tahrir Square, and the Arab Spring seeing religious, rather than secular leaders coming to power, Israel’s former Ambassador to the United States, Arens nonetheless expressed confidence that Israel could withstand the political tides.
But others in the audience were more fearful about Iran’s progress in obtaining a nuclear weapon, skeptical about the decline in relations with Egypt and Turkey as new leadership seeks to ingratiate themselves with Islamic factions, and with elements in the United States and elsewhere using propagandist means to foster sympathy for Palestinians and coerce Israel to negotiate away its security by calling for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions.
Arens, on his way back to Israel after a tour to promote his new book, FlagsOver the WarsawGhetto, confronted the issue of Iran, which figured prominently among the Republican Presidential candidates in the national security debate the night before.
“Iranians are going hell bent for a nuclear weapon,” Arens said. “We’ve known this in Israel for many years.”
He was critical of Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian, who was the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”He felt his mission was to put the world to sleep. Under his direction, the annual report of the agency said there was no reason to suspect Iran is trying to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
But a year ago, ElBaradei was replaced by Yukiya Amano, of Japan, and the agency’s first report issued just weeks ago said there was no question the Iranians are going for a nuclear weapon.
“The good news,” Arens said, “is this is a wake-up call – as you can see from the reaction of Obama, Stephen Harper in Canada, and Sarkosy in France – calling on sanctions to be imposed on Iran. The Chinese and Russian are not cooperating, but at least a determined effort will be made. Short of military action, Obama has said, all the alternatives are on the table.
“People understand that an Iranian nuclear weapon is not just problem for Israel, but a world problem. I am convinced Obama understands, and that the subject is at the top of his agenda, despite all the other worries –economy of US. The world will change if Iranians get a nuclear weapon.”
The rift between the Ayotollahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadwill not change that. “Both want an atomic bomb and are mortal enemies of Israel….There is not much time left,” he said ominously.
The Arab Spring, which has toppled oppressive regimes in Egypt, Libya, Tunesia and now is affecting Syria, in a perverse way, has worked against Israel’s interests in the region, as secular leaders are toppled in favor of religious fundamentalists.
“There was great expectation, great hope, to some extent in Israel, too, seeing the crowds in Tahrir Square, standing up against Mubarak, demanding an end to dictatorship. We hoped the relationship between Israel and Egypt – one of peace, but a cold peace, not friendship – when there would be democracy, that we would see a warmer peace, a better relationship. But unfortunately, if anything, the opposite has happened. When elections come, as they have already in Tunesia and sooner or later in Egypt as well, and probably in Libya, and eventually in Syria, who will win? We don’t need to wait for ballots, we already know.
“How do we know? Even though there were young, secular modern people in the forefront in Cairo, people adept at using Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, the rate of reproduction of the religious Muslim population in the Arab population is far, far greater than secular segment and Christian… It is so far greater, we know the result… Tunesia was the most secular, most westernized of all the Arab countries. The dictatorship, the corrupt regime is gone, Muslims won the election, the secular party is far behind…
“This is first and foremost a tragedy for Arab societies, because [Islamic fundamentalist regimes] are dysfunctional – in our eyes in the West – the status of women, the high rate of illiteracy, the low level of education. If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over in Egypt, it won’t fix the troubles that afflict Egyptian society.”
Even with some in Egypt, in their burst of freedom, calling to undo the peace treaty with Israel that has been in place since 1978 – in which Israel returned the captured Sinai – Arens sees little likehood that the treaty will be undone.
“It is not likely, even if the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in Egypt, they will break peace treaty,” he said. “There are too many economic reasons not to do that – including assistance from US, which would surely be curtailed or cut. Even an anti-Israeli government would not break the peace treaty.”
The former Defense Minister added, “It is unlikely that any of the countries, considering the chaos, will go to war. They are not in position to go to war against Israel for many years.”
The deterioration in relations between Israel and Turkey is another example of the rise of Islamic-oriented political landscape, but Arens said it will not deteriorate to the point of armed conflict.
“We are not going to have war between Israel-Turkey. For quite a number of years, Turkey and Israel developed a close relationship – we have certain common strategic interests, the Turks were eager to receive Israeli technology for their army and Israel refurbished their tanks, fighter aircraft, sold some systems. We wish it would go on forever – Turkey is a near neighbor, an important country militarily and economically, Muslim country to be on close relationship – current prime minister, [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, is the leader the of Islamic party. He is not that moderate but not a radical. In the past two years, he decided to take on Turkey to be the leader of Islamic world. Being leader of the Islamic world in his view is not consistent with being friend of Israel – that’s why the relationship has deteriorated. It is not at zero, there are still diplomatic and commercial ties, but the relationship is not as good as in the past.”
What about the pressure on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, especially with the alliance between Hamas and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas?
“What people don’t seem to understand, whether right or left in Israeli politics, there are two basic conditions that have to be satisfied for Israel to agree to cede control over certain territories that border Israel’s population centers: an agreement that would call for that would have to be the end of the conflict, no more additional demands on Israel, not territorial, not the right of return… Second, that the areas we cede do not become bases for acts of terror against Israel. We need a partner who can make those commitments – that the conflict is over, and no future terror acts.
“Abbas is not capable of making that kind of commitment. He doesn’t speak for all the Palestinians. He doesn’t have full control of Judea and Sumeria, He can’t assure Israel there won’t be further demands. Hamas is not a part, doesn’t want to be, and doesn’t recognize Israel right to exist.
“It is correct to say there is nobody to talk to. Palestinian society, the political organization, is dysfunctional, and not in position to negotiate.
“Abbas understands that. That was behind his move to get a motion [for recognition] at the United Nations. Then, he doesn’t have to negotiate with Israel, he doesn’t have to commit, the UN will do the job for him.”
Is Obama a friend of Israel?
The question sparked laughter in the audience of the largely Republican congregation. Arens, who served as Israel’s Ambassador to the US, and is the author of Broken Covenant: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis between the U.S. and Israel(1994), noted,”I was a diplomat – though not by training; I was an engineer,” and diplomatically answered, “Every president of the United States is a friend of Israel.”
New Examination of Warsaw Uprising
An aeronautical engineer, researcher, and politician who served in the Knesset, 1973-1992, 1999-2003, three times as Minister of Defense, once as Minister of Foreign Affairs, as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, and a professor at Technion, Arens was born in Lithuania, and emigrated to the United States in 1939. He studied engineering at MIT, and aeronautical engineering at CalTech. After Israel’s independence in 1948, he made emigrated to Israel. He entered Israeli politics after the Yom Kippur War.
Arens was in Long Island for a brief stop on his way back to Israel – in fact he was literally on his way to the airport – after a tour to promote his new book, Flags Over Warsaw.
Now a columnist for Ha’Aretz and a professor, he wrote about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising because its historical message resonates today, and because the full story of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising has never been told.
In the book, he revisits the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising to show that there were, in fact, two rival factions who mounted the revolt – the one which is better known was the Socialist-Zionist ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa – Jewish Fighting Organization) led by Mordechai Anielewicz which is famously given credit for mounting the rebellion. But in his research, Arens said there was a second group, ZZW (Zidowski Zwiazek Woskowy- Jewish Military Organization) led by Pawel Frenkel, which has never been given credit.
The subject resonates in today’s politics. Reflecting back on the Holocaust and the Warsaw Uprising, Israel’s former Defense Minister said that what happened to the Jews in Nazi Europe would not happen again. Then Jews were defenseless. Now, because of Israel, Jews can defend themselves, and have, multiple times, since Independence in 1948.
“Like most Jews today of all generations, we live with the Holocaust. The question surrounding that terrible tragedy, 6 million killed, 1.55 million children – what happened, how happened., not just addressed by us Jews, but historians, who try to understand what happened in Germany – Hitler’s willing executioners, ordinary men killed women, children… In Herzog’s biography of Hitler, he raises the question how was it, in the last year of World War II when it already crystal clear that the war was lost, how was it in that last year the German people, almost to a man and woman, kept on fighting, regardless that the outcome written on the wall…
“And how is it, they kept on killing Jews, right to the end, with death marches of those evacuated from death camps who had survived until that point.
“We in Israel often ask, ‘How was it that 6 million went to their deaths? Why wasn’t there resistance? Could there have been resistance? Under what circumstance would resistance have been possible?
“The Jewish people in those days were defenseless. We are defenseless no more. We have the state of Israel, we can defend ourselves and have a long reach. But in those years of war, Jews were defenseless. Nobody came to our aid, nobody tried to protect us or interfere with the killings of millions, year after year. It is no wonder: defenseless women and children, with no weapons, how could they have resisted?”
There used to be an expression that was used, that suggested the Jews went “like sheep to the slaughter.” But over the last 10-20 years, Arens said, “We don’t use that expression any more. It is demeaning. They had a choice?”
This is the question he examined by focusing on what happened in Warsaw ghetto uprising. “It was the first uprising against German rule in WWII. It is important chapter in Jewish history, in Holocaust, and the history of WWII.
Arens started by asking the question, Under what circumstances, faced up against the German army – at the time, the most powerful in the world – without weapons, defenseless, was it possible to resist the Germans?”
Two conditions had to be satisfied:
“They needed the support of the population in the ghetto. You couldn’t have a few young people go out and begin to fight the Germans, and take upon their shoulders the responsibility for what the German response would be: to kill everyone in the ghetto. So unless the population in the ghetto was supportive, or at least not opposed, there could not be an uprising.
“Why would they oppose? They wanted to survive, to live… even after the killings had begun, those that survived thought they had chance to outlive the war, so why risk everything, why bring certain death on everybody…
“Jews even in the worst of circumstances, during most of the war, lived with the hope that tomorrow was another day, and tomorrow they might survive, and soon the war might be over.
The Warsaw Ghetto uprising began on April 19, 1943, Erev Pesach (the night of Passover). By that time, 270,000 Jews had been sent to Treblinka, the death camp. Every day, 8000 to 10,000 men, women and children were shipped out, beginning on Tisha ’B’Av – it was a German demonic method, to pick days of commemoration of the Jewish people – and they continued until Yom Kippur – 270,000 sent to their death
At the railroad siding at Warsaw where the cars were loaded, there was no resistance. Day by day no resistance, and the reason there was no resistance is that those that were not sent away that day thought this was last shipment, they heard rumors it would stop, or believed what Germans said that the people who were sent away were not productive….There were workshops in the ghetto for the German war effort using Jewish slave labor – those who productive were supposedly safe, and their families safe
“Everybody wanted to believe if they worked they would get a certificate or would buy a certificate that showed you worked there and then you and your family were safe… But most of the ghetto population was eventually transported to death camps, and they found the certificates were valueless, some of workplaces shut down.
“And by the fall 1942, of the population that once was close to 500,000, decimated by sickness, starvation, transports to Treblinka, only 50,000 were left.
“At that point, and only at that point, did the population of ghetto realize this was the end.
“They knew they had no chance of survival, that the Germans would kill everyone… Whatever opposition to an uprising there had been, was ended… There were those who supported, and those who were passive, but there was no opposition… That made it possible for the uprising to take place….”
The second condition also had to be met, though, in order for there to be an uprising.
“There needed to be an organization, leadership. Who would provide the leadership? What had been the largest Jewish community in the world next to the US before WWII (in Poland), with Zionists of all stripes the Bund, Orthodox, great rabbis, all the leadership of Polish Jewry found itself leaderless.
“So who would lead an uprising against Germans? The answer was the youth, the young people, the youth groups.? Both Pawel Frenkel and Mordechai Anielewiczwere in their early 20s, and the soldiers who were ready to follow them were 16 to 19 years old.
“Young people don’t generally lead a nation, they not sufficiently mature or well known to command a following. But Warsaw’s leaders were gone and youth groups were the only ones organized in the ghetto.”
Here is where Arens’ research breaks new ground in understanding the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: that there were two rival resistance organizations.
“It turned out that the ideological differences that had existed before the war continued in the ghetto in the youth organizations – indoctrination before war continued.
“Until the shipments to Treblinka, life in the ghetto was difficult, but continued. Youth groups indoctrinated their charges the way they did before… so there were two separate resistance organizations, both prepared to fight to the death.
“As the day of the uprising approached, they realized that they needed to unite and negotiations began between Anielewicz of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) and Frenkel of the Jewish Military Organization (ZZW). But it was too late, it was impossible to put the two structures together.”
Frenkel, Arens contends, was the more savvy military strategian and better armed, and his group raised the Zionist and Polish flags in Muranowska Square to encourage Poles to join the uprising against the Germans.
SS troops under SS General Juergen Stroop were charged by Himmler to bring the flags down. The battle became one for the “Flags of the Warsaw Ghetto,” the title Arens chose for his book.
The Germans suffered major casualties against this rag-tag, badly armed group; over 100 fighters in Frenkel’s organization fell. They were able to fend off the mighty German forces for four days.
How Arens uncovered the information about the two resistance groups comes from the daily operational reports filed by SS General Juergen Stroop.
“He was an animal, he hated Jews, hunted them like you would hunt rats. He considered Jews subhuman.”
Stroop learned there were two groups, because he interrogated those he captured – before killing them. Stroop was awarded the Iron Cross first class, for his suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt.
The existence of two organizations has not come to light until now, he said, for two reasons: all of the senior fighters in Frenkel’s organization died in battle. – a few minor people did get to Israel… senior people in Anielewicz’s Jewish Fighting Organization, the Socialist Zionist youth organization, survived and came to Palestine and became the ruling elite of Palestine and then Israel, and wrote the history.
The Warsaw Uprising resonates in understanding today’s history, as well, Arens, a former Defense Minister and Ambassador, said.
The State of Israel has been under attack ever since it was established in May 1948. Neighboring countries, Arab, Muslim world did not want to accept existence in Mideast of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. In 1948, we had to fight for existence when surrounding Arab armies attacked. Out of 600,000 Jews, 1% died, 6,000. We had nothing but an ill- armed militia at beginning.
“The Arabs had many armies. Most people with military experience thought the Jews did not have a chance; Truman considered recognizing Israel in May 1948, but his Secretary of State George Marshall, the greatest American general of World War II, said the Jews would lose, so it doesn’t make sense to recognize Israel and estrange America from the Arab world when the Arabs would win…
“There were those who thought victory would lead to peace…. But for Arabs, this was just the first round of many more rounds until they brought about the destruction of Israel: in 1956; the Six Day War with Egypt in 1967; the Yom Kippur war in 1973.
The Yom Kippur War was particularly difficult for Israel, when 2300 died. “The war began under difficult circumstances – a surprise attack from the north and the south. Before we mobilized reserves, they scored significant advances in the first 48 hours – Egyptians crossed the Suez, Syrians captured the Golan Heights, on were on their way to the Sea of Galilee, but on the 18th day of the war, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) stood 101 km from Cairo, 40 km from Damascus, the Egyptian third army was cut off on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, and Egyptians and Syrians were begging for a cease fire….
“That was the last war on the battlefield Israel had to fight… Since 1973, more than 40 years, it has been clear to Arab generals and their armies, and in Egypt today too, that they have no chance to hit the IDF – There is no point. That’s what brought about the peace treaty with Egypt; that never would have happened without that victory of Israel..
“But if we thought that was the opening for further peace treaties, and an end of Arab aggression against Israel, we were wrong… The second wave has been a wave of terror against Israeli civilians.
“Terrorism is endemic in Mideast. We had it from the beginning, but 2000 was something not seen anywhere in the world: suicide bombers. That is a very effective weapon – pinpoint accuracy…. For two years, there hardly was a day without a terror attack.
“The peak was Erev Pesach 2002, at the Park Hotel in Netanya, when a terrorist walked into the middle of a seder; 39 were killed and over 100 wounded.
“There was a period where there was hardly a day without an act of terror against Israeli civilians. In the streets and cities, people were afraid to travel on buses, mothers were afraid to send their children to school, people were afraid to go to restaurants…
“All of a sudden, you could feel how terrorism could destroy a society –not an army, an air force, but individual terrorists could destroy a society. Terror organizations said we can’t beat Israel with aircraft, artillery, on the battlefield, but we can beat with terrorism, and they weren’t too far from wrong –
“After Netanya, we sent the IDF to Sumeria, which had been vacated after Oslo. This is the so-called ‘West Bank’, the ‘Occupied’ territory – mistaken names. That’s how we put an end to terror attacks to this day, the IDF in this area – if the Israeli concession is ending Israeli occupation, people who live in Tel Aviv, next door, know the risk if we would evacuate without finding a partner who could assure no acts of terror would come.
“We are not at that point now…”
But another dimension has been added, Arens said: rockets, which have been fired from the Gaza strip into civilian centers for years.
“One million Israeli citizens in the South live under the threat of rockets, they run for shelters when the sirens sound – and then have to decide whether to open schools next day.
“This situation where one million live under constant threat of attack cannot continue. That will have to change.”
Israel has been very inventive in implementing rocket interception systems, “a great technical achievement” but also very expensive, Arens said. While the rockets may cost $500 to $1000, the system costs $100,000.
“In the long run, you can’t win war like that… It is a temporary palliative but doesn’t solve the problem.”
Thousands of rockets have been fired by Hezbollah in the north, against civilians.
“Think about it – if there were a military strike against Iran, not even by Israel, the immediate response would be rockets against Israel, Israeli citizens…
But, he insists, Israel has shown that terrorism can be defeated.
“That was not obvious before we did it – there was a big discussion in Israel and abroad that you cannot defeat terrorism by military means.
“‘You have to talk to them, to make a deal with terrorists, to use political incentives, you can’t defeat them,’ they would say. The more moderate position, is that you cannot defeat terrorism only by military means but also with incentives.”
But Arens position, which he said Israel has proved works, is that terrorism can be defeated by military means.
“Terrorism is worldwide war – affecting America, too.
“In recent years, we are facing a third wave of attack against Israel – they haven’t succeeded on the battlefield or by terrorism. Now the enemies of Israel are trying to delegitimize Israel – to contest the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence” pushing for disinvestment, sanctions, boycott against Israel.
The Palestinians have brought their complaints to the United Nations, “an organization built on the highest of moral principles,” he said with a tinge of sarcasm. “Almost one third of members are Muslim countries. Any resolution against Israel passes automatically.”
Now there is a quartet putting pressure on Israel: through the United Nations, the European Union, United States and Israel.
A plethora of organizations – on college campuses, through the Internet, Youtube are mounting this campaign to delegitimize and isolate Israel. Who is behind it? “Blatant anti-semites,” Arens says, “who are against Jewish people and not just the State of Israel. Many who thought it was not politically correct to attack Israel in such blatant terms in the wake of Holocaust, now find an opportunity…
“There are people who misunderstand, who thought the Arab Spring would bring democracy to the region, are finding how wrong – among them self-hating Jews and self-hating Israelis, also – that unlike war on battlefield, the war against terror, the war to delegitimize Israel is worldwide.
“Israel has to take active part to combat this new war. As we fought other wars, and won on the battlefield and against terror, I have full confidence we will win. We already see the avalanche of political propaganda beginning to wane.
Sounding an optimistic note, Arens said, “Israel is a great country, a strong country, militarily, economically, with young people with high motivation, prepared to defend ourselves. We know how to defend ourselves. And the Jewish people are not defenseless anymore.”
Arens’ appearance at Great Neck Synagogue was organized by the Jewish Political Education Foundation, which publishes the Jewish Political Chronicle.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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