Sunday, September 16, 2007

And Back in the Army

The holiday went so fast but it was wonderful having Elie home. He talked of what happened that night in the north and what might happen in the coming weeks. The news is filled with stories of what the Israeli air force did, what it targeted, how it got there, and what this means on an international level. I have no real knowledge of what really happened, whether it was arms for Hizbollah or nuclear components from Korea or something else entirely. All I know, or rather all I can assume, is that if the stories are true, Israel felt it needed to take out a threat great enough to justify the action. This is the meaning of their action on a national level with international repercussions.

What this means on a personal level, was that the army woke my son in the middle of the night, telling him to get ready quickly; that it was not a drill but something real. As he had been taught to do, he and his unit swung into action and got ready. They knew the potential threat came from Syria and as the night wore on, they were told more. Bombs had been dropped on a target and there was every possibility that in the minutes that followed, Syria would make the wrong decision and draw the wrong conclusions.

The correct conclusions were there for Syria to grasp: Israel has the military intelligence to know what you are doing and the military power to stop you when you seek to escalate or exacerbate the situation in our region. We can hit where we need to, when we need to, how we need to, in order to protect our country. We are not crippled. We will act - swiftly, professionally, brilliantly to take out any threat to our national survival.

But in those tense minutes when my son and his unit prepared themselves, the wrong conclusions could have been there as well. Syria could have decided that Israel wants does not. Syria could have thought we were invading...we weren't. Syria could have started a war and though it is unlikely that Syrian forces could have accomplished much, soldiers and sons on both sides would have died.

By the time Elie called me, the minutes after the attack had spread to hours...hours in which I slept while my son was awake and perhaps minutes from war. This thought went through my head over the weekend, like so many others, never to be voiced. I stood in the synagogue praying for peace and thought how close my son had been to war...and I'd been asleep. It was a humbling thought, enough to cause a mother to vow never to sleep again. And then I remembered that night when Elie ran off into the darkness to help an accident victim. Don't you trust me? I have to trust Elie and the soldiers...even when I sleep.

In the days that followed the Israeli raid on Syria (if that's what it was), Elie's unit went about the task of ensuring they were ready while outwardly doing nothing to encourage the Syrians to attack. Israel did not confirm the mission or its goals, and Elie's unit cleaned their equipment, performed the daily and weekly maintenance tasks, and waited.

International news agencies and "secret" sources leaked what Israel had done or might have done, and Elie's unit patrolled within the boundaries of their base, and waited. If things stay tense and on alert, the unit will again be divided in the coming holidays and only a small portion will be allowed to go home to their families. Elie is unlikely to get home this coming weekend, when we will fast for Yom Kippur and contemplate the year that has passed and pray for the year to come.

If the army has any notion that the Syrians may attempt an attack on Yom Kippur, our holiest day of the year, as they did in 1973, it is doubtful that any of Elie's unit will make it home at all for the holiday and if that is the case, then Elie is unlikely to make it home for the festive holiday of Sukkot that follows Yom Kippur. Sukkot is a holiday of joy, of fun, of time with your family. It lacks the seriousness of Yom Kippur in which you feel you and all the world is awaiting judgement. Sukkot is about returning to the basics, leaving the comfort of your homes to the relative insecurity of temporary dwellings. But beyond that, it's about family meals and time together and the celebration of freedom, of eating outdoors under the stars.

Knowing that he may not make it home in the next few weeks, Elie took four huge containers of homemade cookies and brownies back with him. His backpack was overflowing when I drove him into Jerusalem last night to catch an army bus up north. In effect, it was his first experience with a mobilization. He was told that he would be contacted right after the end of the Sabbath and told where and when to meet a bus. He would be given not more than 2 hours to get himself ready and get to the meeting point. This is how Israel mobilizes in a time of war and this is what they wanted the soldiers to experience.

Driving him in to Jerusalem, with his sister and brother-in-law sitting in the back and Elie in the front, the discussion again turned to the Syrians. Elie was talking about the Syrian army and mentioned one major difference. The Syrians, Palestinians and Hizbollah, Elie explained, are given a mission, just as the Israeli soldier is tasked with a specific target or operation. The difference, Elie said, is that they rarely have a return policy. The need to get back safely is not stressed, not of great importance.

I knew this about the Palestinians. Few Palestinian terrorists enter a bus, crowded mall, or community with any goal other than to kill. They do not set bombs and run because there might not be any people around. It leaves too much to chance. Better to stand there, even carefully position yourself next to children or between families, as was done in so many horrible attacks in the last few years. Maximum death and destruction are achieved when you can see your target, when you can pick who you will kill, and so escaping is equivalent to failure.

I don't know if I knew this about Hizbollah, or just assumed it to be true. After all, their own leader said, "We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death." And, if Nasrallah says that, who am I to doubt it?

As for the Syrians, I guess I always assumed that their army was...well, an army. How can you send sons to battle without a plan for their return? It's an incredible concept and yet, maybe that is one of the reasons why we have been victorious in the past and why we have such a strong army - they fight to live, and not to die. They fight to return.

I think Nasrallah is right. The culture he and other Arab leaders have created is one in which they "love death." But where he is wrong, is in his promise of victory. They aren't going to win, because loving life doesn't lead to defeat. It doesn't make you weak, it makes you strong.

May Elie and the soldiers of Israel go from strength to strength and may they always know that we await their return.

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