Israel Pulse

Should Israel protect Jewish Diaspora or its own citizens?

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Article Summary
Israel must concentrate on protecting its own citizens, in spite of the risks for the Jews of the world, focusing on military targets and not potential reprisals against Jewish targets outside its borders.

The Jan. 19 death of Jewish Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, a short time after he predicted that he would pay with his life for accusing President Cristina Kirchner of a cover-up in the bombing of the Jewish community center Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, reminded me of an important Spanish word I learned while covering the attack in the Argentine capital in 1994: “impunidad,” meaning impunity.

A local Jewish journalist I met there, next to what was once Buenos Aires' large Jewish community’s center of cultural life, proposed to me a wager that no one would pay for the deaths of 85 people in the terror attack and for the wounding of dozens of passers-by. He told me then that in the two years since the explosion of a booby-trapped car at the entrance to the Israeli Embassy in the Argentine capital — an attack in which 29 Israelis and Argentinians were killed and more than 200 were injured — police investigations had gotten nowhere.

Nisman, who was 51 at the time of his death, told Haaretz seven years ago, “Iran’s top leadership, with the help of Hezbollah, was responsible for the attacks.” As my journalist friend predicted, 22 years have gone by since the attack on the embassy and 20 years since the bombing of the AMIA, and no one has paid. Synagogues, Jewish schools and museums and Kosher food stores around the world are still targets of radical Islam. And until the wave of terrorism that recently hit Europe, authorities across the continent treated the activity of extremist Muslims and anti-Semitic organizations with indifference, sometimes to the point of ignoring them entirely.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attack in the Quneitra area of the Syrian Golan Heights over the weekend also took me back 20 years to the tragic event in Argentina. Tourism Minister Uzi Baram, who traveled to Argentina to represent the Israeli government at the funerals of the AMIA victims, invited me to join him at a meeting with Jewish community leaders. The head of the community, Reuven Bracha, started off by thanking the minister for his comforting words and for troubling himself to journey to faraway Argentina to lift the spirits of his Jewish brethren. After this polite introduction, he went on the offensive. “I ask that the next time that the Israeli government decides to eliminate the leader of an Islamic terror organization,” he said, “consider us, too. Think of the broad implication of the expression, ‘All the people of Israel are responsible for one another.’”

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Bracha was referring to the elimination of Hezbollah leader Abbas al-Musawi by Israel in February 1992. His wife, son and four others were killed in the attack on the convoy in which Musawi was traveling. Israel admitted that the operation was a planned assassination. Hezbollah said the mass murders in Buenos Aires were revenge against Israel for murdering its leader.

This week, Hezbollah once again vowed that Israel would pay dearly for the death of its people. As far as it's concerned, when revenge is at hand, there is no difference between an Israeli resident of Tel Aviv or a Parisian Jew. In fact, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps proclaiming that he is the “leader of the Jewish nation,” repeatedly calling Jerusalem “the capital of the Jewish people.”

Israel's embassies around the world tightened security Jan. 19, the day after the attack on the Golan Heights in which 12 Iranian officers and soldiers and Hezbollah militants were killed. Among them were Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi and Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was eliminated several years ago. Senior Israelis traveling abroad are now ordered to take extra care, as are Jewish schools and sites around the world.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Uri Sagi, who headed the IDF’s military intelligence branch at the time of Musawi’s assassination, shared his doubts about such operations with the public some years later. In an interview with the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sept. 4, 2009, Sagi said, “In hindsight, perhaps there wasn’t sufficient awareness of the possibility of revenge, and we did not factor it in when we adopted the decision to attack.” He added that had there been sufficient awareness of the extent of a possible reaction in Argentina, this would have invariably resulted in “additional thinking” ahead of the decision to pursue the operation. From conversations held by Al-Monitor with senior political and military officials, it transpires that there has never been a serious debate at the senior diplomatic level on whether possible damage to Jews abroad should be taken into consideration before ordering the IDF to take out a leader or senior figure of a radical Islamic organization.

Israel’s citizens expect the decision-makers in Jerusalem to do everything in their power to safeguard Israeli lives and well-being. Every time the leaders believe that a military operation is essential to the security of the country’s citizens (Jews and Arabs alike), it is their duty — and not just their right — to carry it out. Israel’s doors are open to any Jew in the world who wishes to enter through them; the IDF is happy to recruit them into its ranks and the revenue service welcomes new taxpayers. When weighing the set of security, diplomatic and obviously political-electoral considerations (as Gen. Yoav Galant, who just joined the Kulanu party, hinted the day after the Golan strike), leaders of a sovereign state must take into account the implications of their decisions over their citizens. They cannot and should not include in this set of considerations the interests of Jews who choose to live in other countries.

A military operation to thwart terrorism against Israel’s citizens should not be discounted out of concern over terrorist revenge on a Jewish activist in Buenos Aires or on worshipers at a New York synagogue. On the other hand, there is certainly room for the representatives of the Israeli public to conduct themselves in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, defending democratic values and acting to narrow the gaps in Israeli society. To be a full member of the family of enlightened nations and a safer place for Jews, Israel must shake off the yoke of the occupation and courageously put out its hand in peace to the Arab neighbors.

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Found in: jihad mughniyeh, jewish diaspora, israeli strike, israeli security, imad mughniyeh, hezbollah, argentina

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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