Les douze piliers d’Israël

DouzePiliersIsrael« Je ne suis ni meilleur ni plus intelligent qu’aucun de vous. Mais je ne me décourage pas et c’est pourquoi le rôle de chef me revient. » – Theodor Herzl

La terre d’Israël m’a toujours captivé. Jeune écolier, l’une de mes professeurs passait son temps à parler de la Palestine, gommant systématiquement le nom d’Israël de son vocabulaire puisque ce pays n’existait pas selon elle. Un certain lundi matin, elle nous demanda, fidèle à son habitude, ce que nous avions fait durant la fin de semaine qui venait de se terminer. Lorsque mon tour arriva, je lui mentionnai que mon père m’avait acheté un Atlas géographique et que cela m’avait permis de découvrir qu’elle nous mentait éhontément puisqu’aucun pays répondant au nom de Palestine figurait sur la carte du monde. Je fus quitte pour une petite visite chez le bureau de la directrice, une vieille religieuse souriante et bien compréhensive qui s’est beaucoup amusée de mon sens de l’argumentation.

Plusieurs années plus tard, il m’a été donné de fouler le sol de ce pays à plusieurs reprises. Je me suis toujours senti choyé de pouvoir visiter le kibboutz de David Ben Gourion à Sdé Boker ou encore le Menachem Begin Heritage Center à Jérusalem. J’aurais tellement aimé aller me recueillir sur la tombe de Theodor Herzl ou Yitzhak Rabin, mais je n’en ai pas eu l’occasion – du moins pas jusqu’à maintenant.

J’étais donc enchanté de parcourir – dévorer serait un qualificatif plus juste – le dernier ouvrage de Georges Ayache, Les douze piliers d’Israël : Theodor Herzl, Haïm Weizmann, David Ben Gourion, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Menahem Begin, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Isser Harel, Shimon Peres. Ces hommes et cette femme ont non seulement permis l’avènement de ce pays en 1948, mais ils et elle en ont assuré la survie, l’épanouissement au prix de sacrifices exceptionnels – l’un d’entre eux, Yitzhak Rabin, ayant même consenti au sacrifice ultime en 1995 en tombant sous les balles d’un extrémiste alimenté par la droite religieuse.

À plusieurs reprises, Georges Ayache revient sur une qualité ayant habité la plupart d’entre eux, soit le pragmatisme. Pensons notamment à un Begin faisant la paix avec Sadate ou à Sharon qui décrète un retrait israélien unilatéral de la bande Gaza. Ou encore à Shimon Peres revêtant les habits de la colombe après avoir consacré des décennies à construire les forces armées israéliennes.

Il met également en évidence le fait que, dès avant sa naissance, Israël doit composer avec le double-standard réservé à un pays qui « […] avait commis le péché de survivre. » C’est ainsi que, durant le mandat britannique, « peu soucieux d’interrompre les violences perpétrées par les Arabes, ils [les représentants de Sa Gracieuse Majesté] semblaient en revanche obsédés par la recherche d’armes chez les sionistes. » Des années plus tard, après la guerre des Six-Jours, « […] personne, à l’étranger, ne se souciait des violations permanentes du cessez-le-feu par les Égyptiens; en revanche, chacun scrutait à la loupe les réactions israéliennes, qualifiées mécaniquement d’« excessives » ou de « disproportionnées ». Comme quoi rien n’a vraiment changé…

Cela dit, le livre nous permet de constater à quel point l’esprit de plusieurs de ces figures fondatrices était empreint d’une anglophilie surprenante, si l’on prend en considération l’attitude de Londres par rapport au Yishouv. Que ce soit en apprenant que Jabotinsky s’est vu remettre la prestigieuse distinction de Member of the British Empire (MBE) « […] pour services rendus » for king and country, en lisant que Menachem Begin avait offert du thé aux policiers du NKVD venus l’arrêter chez lui à Wilno, en se régalant de lire que Abba Eban était accouru à la librairie Foyle’s sur la rue Charing Cross à Londres (un endroit mythique et légendaire pour tout bon féru de lecture qui se respecte) pour dénicher des livres à propos de l’ONU ou en s’étonnant de découvrir que Ben Gourion « […] préférait les méthodes classiques de l’armée anglaise ». Le britannophile en moi était très heureux de recueillir ces perles déposées à plusieurs endroits entre les couvertures.

Inévitablement, la question se pose à savoir lequel de ces douze piliers retient ma faveur personnelle. Bien que je sois pris d’une affection historique pour plusieurs, pour ne pas dire presque tous, je dirais que Moshe Dayan est celui qui m’a le plus marqué.

Après qu’il eut perdu un œil en Syrie en juin 1941, à la tête d’une compagnie spéciale au service des forces britanniques, « sa mise à l’écart et, surtout, sa nouvelle apparence physique, défigurée par un bandeau noir de pirate lui barrant le visage, le démoralisèrent. » « Sa traversée du désert dura de 1941 à 1948 », mais il persévéra et parvint à surmonter son handicap pour devenir une véritable légende, transformant un point faible en une force redoutable. De quoi faire sourire Sun Tzu.

Au final, les éditions Perrin doivent être remerciées d’avoir publié ce livre, qui fait non seulement partie des meilleurs au sujet de l’histoire d’Israël selon moi, mais qui permet également de mieux comprendre ces onze hommes et cette femme qui ont posé les fondations de l’un des pays les plus fascinants – et résilient – du monde.

Je sais que l’actuel Premier ministre d’Israël ne correspond pas aux critères de Georges Ayache dans le portrait qu’il brosse des 12 piliers, parce qu’il n’est pas associé au moment charnière de 1948 (il est né en octobre 1949), mais je serais quand même curieux de savoir ce que Georges Ayache aurait à dire et écrire au sujet de Benjamin Netanyahou.

______________

Georges Ayache, Les douze piliers d’Israël : Theodor Herzl, Haïm Weizmann, David Ben Gourion, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Mehahem Begin, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Isser Harel, Shimon Peres, Paris, Perrin, 2019, 429 pages.

Je tiens à exprimer ma plus vive reconnaissance aux représentants de Interforum Canada qui m’ont généreusement offert un exemplaire de ce livre, ainsi qu’aux gens des éditions Perrin pour leur précieuse collaboration. Un blogueur ne pourrait espérer mieux.

The Rehabilitation of Ehud Olmert

ShadowStrikeReading Yaakov Katz’s book Shadow Strike, one literally feels in the midst of security briefings or witnessing military preparations. The political and military climates detailed are just surreal, as the main character walks a treacherous tightrope. I once was told that a good author can describe a situation or person in a convincing manner, but an excellent one will sweep you up in the action, making you feel as if you were there. In the case of Shadow Strike, I was so engrossed by the story that it was almost impossible for me to put the book down, so anxious was I to know how it would unfold.

Sandwiched between two larger-than-life figures – Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu – the career of Israel’s 12th Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, would seem to many observers as a footnote in Israel’s political history. Yet, Olmert took a fateful decision in September 2007. A decision shrouded in secrecy, to preserve the security and survival of his country. The genesis and evolution of this decision is masterly explained by the author, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, in this gripping book.

EhudOlmert
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Source: https://www.calcalistech.com/ctech/articles/0,7340,L-3759710,00.html

After learning from the Mossad of the existence of a nuclear reactor in Bashar al Assad’s backyard, the Prime Minister took the decision to take it out before it could prove harmful to his fellow citizens. To this day, too few people realize and understand that Israel cannot gamble with its security.

Along the way, he could not afford the diplomatic option favored by the Bush administration.  He also had to cope with the opposition and difficult temper of his own Defense Minister, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Every step of the way, secrecy was of the utmost importance in order to ensure the mission’s successful completion but also not to provoke the retaliation of the Assad régime. From the get-go, Olmert was ready to soldier on, showing that his political spine was made of steel.

The fact that Ehud Olmert carried the day against all odds is a powerful testament to the fact that his mandate has not only been successful, even though it will definitely have been marked by humility. He might not have the persona of those tenacious fighters who, like Ariel Sharon, protected Israel in the unit 101 and 202 in the early years of the State, nor the unique eloquence and intellect of Benjamin Netanyahu, but Ehud Omert did what he had to do during these fateful days of 2007. He safeguarded Israel and its future at a very crucial moment.

If only for that, I’m thankful for Yaakov Katz not only because he is one of the most gifted writers I have had the pleasure to read, but also for convincing me that this man has been an underestimated statesman. It’s about time we express some sort of heartfelt gratitude – no matter the fallout of his premiership.

Personally, I hope I will someday have the opportunity and pleasure of telling him in person.

P.S. I’d like to express special thanks to Mr. Joseph Rinaldi, from St. Martin’s Press, for his precious assistance, which proved very helpful in the preparation of this review.

_____________________

Yaakov Katz, Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2019, 320 pages.

Moshe Dayan – the Israeli Iron Man

MosheDayan
Moshe Dayan figurine by King & Country (IDF001) photographed on Professor Mark Raider’s article about the legendary Israeli warlord.

In May 2017, King & Country (the world’s most notorious toy soldier collectibles company) released a new series about the Six-Days War, featuring Moshe Dayan as its first figure (IDF001). From what I heard, this collection has met with lots of interest and success. And I will admit that I started collecting the IDF figurines and the legendary eye-patched General is my favorite, for the good reason that he never left me indifferent and I developed a profound admiration for him.

Back when I visited Israel in 2008, I purchased a poster of the famous picture of Uzi Narkis, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin entering Jerusalem in June 1967. And I hanged it proudly on the wall, in front of my bookshelves.

So what is it with a Canadian guy like me admiring this Israeli icon?

I have to admit that, since I’ve always been a staunch defender and supporter of Israel, I never really questioned myself about the phenomenon.

Up until I saw that Professor Mark A. Raider from the University of Cincinnati had written an article about it, pertinently titled “Moshe Dayan: “Israel’s No. 1 Hero” (in America)”.

And what a great treat it was. Trust me, I’ve read my faire share of boredom-summoning papers since my University days. But Mark Raider’s article is not among that lot.

In a nutshell, the author explains that the reason why Dayan became so popular in the United States is directly related to the fact that “he meshed seamlessly with the American faith in military heroes who became statesmen.” You can think of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Andrew Jackson or – one of my very favorites – Theodore Roosevelt here.

“In short, by the 1970s the cultural myth surrounding Dayan – cultivated by his promoters, embraced by his admirers, and encouraged by Dayan himself – not only conformed to the American hero pattern but became an indelible feature of American popular culture.”

So, that’s how and why Moshe Dayan became a heroic figure like Tony Stark or James Bond – “[…] safeguarding Western values and ideals […]” in my psyche.

I guess you can predict that, in such great company, Moshe Dayan’s fame and resonance as a member of the “[…] pantheon of the West’s outstanding war heroes […]” has a very bright future ahead.

And I truly hope that Professor Raider will decide to write a book on this fascinating subject. Under such an eloquent analytic pen, it would be a bestseller – no doubt about it.

How King Bibi Conquered the Throne

CoverBibi2In May 2007, I had the privilege of meeting with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then leader of the opposition in the Knesset.

During the conversation, I mentioned to the soon-to-be longest serving Prime Minister of Israel that I had recently penned an op-ed comparing him with his hero Winston Churchill and predicting his return to power eventually.

“Keep that article preciously, because I will indeed come back and I will prove you right”, he said with his legendary deep voice.

2 years later he was back at the helm of the country.

Three days ago, on April 9th, “Bibi” contradicted those who were already drafting his political necrology by winning a fifth term.

I was personally not surprised at all with this result and, in all honesty, I was happy with the outcome because I always admired the statesman who is now called “King Bibi” by many commentators.

I followed every campaign led by Benjamin Netanyahu (since 1996) with tremendous interest and the last one was no exception. And the best companion during the last couple of weeks was the excellent biography Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu by Anshel Pfeffer.

Through this real page-turner, Pfeffer offers the key to understand Netanyahu.

In a nutshell, the leader of the Likud comes from a family of political outsider, people who were outsiders not only in the Revisionist family (you can call them the conservatives), but also in Israeli political life in general. Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest achievement was to have “[…] transformed his father’s ideology into political capital.”

Throughout the years, the young Netanyahu spared no effort to master the art of public relations, networking and political maneuvering to reach the top of the greasy pole. And the ride was everything but smooth, if only because he had to confront and vanquish those we call “the princes” – the sons of the Herut-Likud establishment, of which Netanyahu was never a part. Their importance on the political chessboard was such that Anshel Pfeffer refers to them frequently in his book. But that does not change that fact that, even if Ehud Olmert, Dan Meridor, Ronny Milo, Benny Begin and even Tzipi Livni were all once key figures in Israeli politics, they’re now a footnote in history. Netanyahu outsmarted them all and his name can still be read in the headlines.

Right from the start, Bibi learnt to swim against the current and how to rebel against authority. From his “defiant opposition” to his father – with whom he had a particular relationship and who was against his decision to do his military service – to being yelled at on the phone by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and navigating in the cut-throat and unpredictable environment of the Likud, where today’s friend is tomorrow’s nemesis, Netanyahu conquered the iron throne of Israeli politics and cut himself a place as a dominant figure on the world’s scene, from the Halls of the Kremlin to the Oval Office passing by an official visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

I’m realistic enough to know that Bibi’s reign will come to an end one day – even though I will be among those who will be sorry to see him go. No one, after all, is immortal. But if one has to learn only one lesson from last Tuesday’s election, it is that “King Bibi” does not intend to let any prince touch his crown.

Long after the famous HBO legendary series will have ended, the game of thrones of Israeli politics will continue. It will be fascinating to observe and I’m sure we’re in for many surprises.

________________

Anshel Pfeffer, Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu, Toronto, Signal, 2018, 432 pages.

Les premiers héros du Mossad

Espions-de-nulle-partJ’ai toujours été fasciné par l’histoire du Mossad. Durant mes années universitaires, je parcourais jusqu’aux petites heures du matin les ouvrages relatant les exploits des hommes et femmes qui ont écrit les grandes pages de cette institution légendaire

Vous ne serez donc pas étonnés si je vous dis que je me délecte actuellement des épisodes de la série Mossad 101 sur Netflix.

Quelques jours avant d’être rivé au petit écran pour suivre les péripéties de Yona, Abigail et les autres, j’avais eu le bonheur de dévorer Espions de nulle part : l’avant-Mossad de Matti Friedman.

Fascinant à plus d’un égard, ce livre se veut également novateur dans le sens où il nous plonge dans les péripéties qui se sont déroulées avec la création officielle de l’ « Institut ». L’auteur nous permet donc de remonter dans la généalogie de l’histoire du renseignement israélien et la trame de son récit se concentre sur quatre individus, des Juifs qui passaient pour des Arabes (puisque « […] nés dans le monde arabe [et] aussi autochtones que les Arabes ») et dont la contribution s’est avérée inestimable durant les vingt mois les plus cruciaux qui ont permis la naissance de l’État d’Israël. Le qualificatif « cruciaux » prend ici tout son sens, si on prend en considération le fait que « […] la Section [arabe] [dont ils faisaient partie] fut l’un des seuls outils efficaces du renseignement dont disposèrent les Juifs pendant la guerre de 1948. »

Sans ces individus, que je qualifierais sans hésitation de héros, on n’ose à peine imaginer quelle aurait été la suite des choses au pays du miel et du lait. Tristement, cette contribution est cependant peu connue puisqu’elle se perd en quelque sorte dans le fossé qui existe historiquement entre les Juifs du monde islamique (Mizrahim) et les Juifs du monde chrétien (Ashkénazes), les seconds dominant largement les premiers dans le récit national. L’un des nombreux mérites du livre de Matti Friedman est de rendre justice aux premiers pour avoir formé « […] l’embryon de l’un des services de renseignement les plus extraordinaires au monde […]. »

Chaque page du livre de Matti Friedman relate le parcours et les sacrifices à donner des frissons (je pense ici principalement au risque constant d’être démasqué en territoire ennemi au péril de sa vie) de ces héros pratiquement anonymes dont les exploits auraient facilement pu inspirer la célèbre création littéraire de Ian Flemming.

Dans la bibliothèque de tous ceux et celles qui s’intéressent à l’histoire d’Israël, Gamliel, Isaac, Havakuk et Yakuba font désormais partie de ces « […] sionistes [qui] avaient l’art de changer l’humiliation en idéal. »

Pour comprendre l’ethos d’Israël et pourquoi ce pays – la première ligne de défense de l’Occident comme me le déclarait l’ancien et futur Premier ministre Benjamin Netanyahu (il était alors chef de l’opposition) – ne pourra jamais se payer le luxe de la faiblesse devant des adversaires qui représentent autant de menaces existentielles à sa survie, il faut absolument lire Matti Friedman. Vous ne le regretterez pas.

Sous une plume alerte et sensible, c’est le genre de livre captivant qu’on souhaiterait avoir toujours sous la main.

______________________

Matti Friedman, Espions de nulle part : l’avant Mossad, Paris, Éditions Liana Levi, 2019, 312 pages. Continue reading “Les premiers héros du Mossad”

Why the IDF prevails

MosheDayanQuoteMy understanding of history and my numerous visits in Israel nourished my conviction that – confronted with continuous and lethal threats since its rebirth in 1948 – this country would not have survived without the capacities of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

A recent article by Raphael D. Marcus in the Journal of Strategic Studies has brought yet another proof to support this assertion.

In July 2014, Israel was forced to launch Operation “Protective Edge” to counter Hamas murderous attacks on Israel from Gaza. Along the way, IDF would have to turn on a dime, since “[…] Hamas had developed an extensive network of tunnels, with some designed to infiltrate large numbers of fighters into Israel to kill or kidnap soldiers and civilians.”

If it was to be victorious, IDF needed to cope with the new reality. And, based on a “[…] leadership style that is open and dynamic [and] which improves its ability to learn and adapt” – in the pure German military tradition of Auftragstaktik – it did just that, relying on the autonomy, creativity and audacity of its human capital – its boots on the ground.

The Yahalom Unit (the main unit with expertise in underground warfare) was therefore tasked with the development of the operational response to Hamas tunnel warfare and to share its expertise with other units on the ground. The forces active on the theater of operations could then implement the lessons learnt and improvise the actions to be taken to destroy the tunnels and neutralize the enemy.

At the end of the day, the unconventional mindset of the IDF was the best asset to prevail over an irregular enemy that will never stop seeking to hurt Israel. In the words of a former Bridage Commander involved in the 2014 war: “Surprises are part of war. The question is who recovers first.”

I just loved every page of that excellent article, which I recommend to anyone interested in learning how the best military minds craft victories.

Commemorating the Victory of 1967

IDFTrio
King and Country figurines IDF006 (Radio Operator), IDF001 (General Moshe Dayan) and IDF004 (Officer w/UZI) pictured on a flag of Israel.

Some time ago, I was thrilled to learn that King and Country was about to release the very first IDF (Israel Defense Forces) figurines of its fantastic collection, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War in June 1967.

To quote from the text accompanying this collection:

“This dramatic new postwar military series of figures and fighting vehicles will tell, in miniature, just why Israel had to do what it did and how with a relatively small regular and part-time army it fought and defeated some of its most numerous, best equipped and belligerent neighbors.”

That says it all and I’m very happy that King & Country has decided to honour the sacrifice of these men and women at a time of great peril for their homeland – the State of Israel.

At the same time, we have to be lucid enough to recognize all the courage it took for this company to make such a bold decision and go forward. In a world where Israel’s enemies are always prone to deny it any quality and even its basic right to exist, it’s imperative to salute those who are not afraid to row against the current. The brave men and women who serve Israel in its armed forces deserve it. Fully.