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.

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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.

Riding with Napoleon

AndrewRobertsLeadership

In April 2013, I made a point to be in London for Lady Thatcher’s funeral, on my way back to Canada from Rome. Throughout my youth, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain had always been one of my favorite leaders. It was therefore an honor to stand on the street and see her casket pass in front of me on a morning of reverence.

Just a few days ago, I finished reading Andrew Robert’s last book, Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from those who made history and, to my great delight, the 9th leader about whom he writes is Margaret Thatcher (the preceding 8 are Napoleon Bonaparte, Horatio Nelson, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, George C. Marshall, Charles de Gaulle and Dwight D. Eisenhower). I was pleasantly surprised. After all, if the Iron Lady doesn’t deserve a place in such a book, who does?

Thinking about leaders who left an indelible mark in military leadership makes one wonder how did they get there in history? Andrew Robert answers this question when he writes that: “Except through heredity, one does not become a war leader in the first place unless one has a strong personality.”

While it is easy to think and write about the qualities and strengths of great figures of history, it is no less important and vital to understand that, like us, they are humans. The first challenge they must meet is failure. For the road to success if filled with obstacles, but, as Winston Churchill would say, “sometimes, when she scowls most spitefully, [goddess Fortune] is preparing her most dazzling gifts.” Furthermore, you can’t please everyone. I found it almost unbelievable to read that “Although eight admirals, all of them in tears, carried his [Admiral Nelson’s] coffin, such was his controversial status in the Admiralty because of his ceaseless self-promotion and occasional refusal to obey orders that eighteen other admirals refused to attend.” How can anyone dare refuse attending the victor of Trafalgar’s funeral? Statesmen also need to cope with ungratefulness – like those dealing with Stalin and Charles de Gaulle learnt. Finally, you can’t afford modesty. After all, most of these leaders understood “[…] that if their reputations could help conquer, and thus save the lives of their men, who were they to be modest?” Hence, the myth created by de Gaulle to safeguard France’s self-respect during World War II.

But, more than anything, the leaders perform better when they’re profoundly humane. Those who know me are aware of my deep admiration for Churchill, but my favorite chapter is the one Andrew Roberts wrote about Napoleon. I loved to read about the Emperor’s obsession with his men’s boots (after all, his army covered lots of territory by foot), the fact that “he always made sure that wine from his own table was given to the sentries outside his door”, the fact that Napoleon didn’t hesitate to take his own medal of the Légion d’honneur to present it to a deserving soldier or having the feeling that you are observing the Emperor’s “superb filing system” while riding in his busy carriage moving across Europe on bumpy roads. I never was a big fan of the man derisively called the “God of War” by Clausewitz, but Andrew Roberts deserves the credit for turning the ship of my fascination in his direction.

Tomorrow, January 27th, will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, let me say a few words about Margaret Thatcher again. Before picking up Leadership in War, I was totally unaware of her profound philo-Semitism – a disposition I share with her. It was also fascinating to read that “Churchill […] was theologically a lot closer to Judaism than to the Anglican Church into which he was born.” But I digress. Thatcher learnt from her father “[…] the superiority of decisive practical action over mere hand-wringing and vapid moralizing, of the kind that all too many appeasers – in the 1930s and since – have been guilty.” As the metastases of the antisemitic cancer are spreading throughout the world, men and women of goodwill who seek to fight this disease will have to take inspiration from Margaret Thatcher to wage this vital battle. But that’s another story for another post.

I’m writing it for the first time on this blog, but I have been saying it for years. Few authors compare to Andrew Roberts. He dips his pen in the most eloquent ink to bring to life figures who have heaps of lessons to teach us (sometimes about values not to espouse like in the case of Hitler or Stalin).

If there was one leader about whom I would love to know what Andrew Roberts has to say, it would be Moshe Dayan. He mentions him on a few occasions in the book. Just enough to tease, but who knows? We might see something published about the famous Israeli warlord by the author in the future.

Leadership in War is an essential addition on the bookshelves of any leadership enthusiast, whether in the business world, in politics or in the ranks of the military.

239 pages of exquisite intellectual pleasure.

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Andrew Roberts, Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from those who made history, New York, Viking, 2019, 256 pages.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the fantastic Sharon Gill at Penguin Random House Canada for helping me with a review copy of this excellent book.

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.

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.

Generals and Prime Ministers in Israel

TroisTenors
Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.

In his seminal book about the history of Israel’s armed forces, Tsahal, military historian Pierre Razoux writes:

“Even though its influence tends to diminish, the army still occupies a central role in Israeli society. To better understand its importance, we must reiterate that more than 10% of the Jewish population either serves in the army or regularly serves in the army reserves, which makes Israel the most militarized country in the Middle East. (my translation)” (p. 8).

For that reason, many important military figures also played a dominant role in public life. The names of Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon are the better known in that category and easily come to mind in any discussion on that topic. All in all, few other countries can count on so many military figures in key civil leadership positions.

Which inevitably brings us to politics. Commenting on the results of the recent legislative elections for the Israeli left, Arik Henig perceptively wrote: “Since the 1977 political upheaval, Labor won the elections only twice, when it was headed by two former IDF chiefs of staff: Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 and Ehud Barak in 1999. […] When will [the people of the Labor party] they learn that the Israeli public prefers to be led by chiefs of staff?”

In other words, the Israel left needs a former IDF chief of staff if it wants to expect to return to success on the electoral battlefield.

Many will be tempted to perceive this observation as military fetishism. But it’s not the case. In a post-election analysis, Daniel Kurtzer, an academic who served as US Ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, summarized the three challenges that must be met by the Labor party, if it wants to leave the opposition benches in the near future:

“First, it must persuade Israeli voters, especially those of Russian origin, that it can handle Israel’s security challenges at least as well as, if not better than, the right. (Former military intelligence director Amos Yadlin was recruited by Herzog’s party to be its security face, but his voice was almost inaudible during the campaign.) Second, the left must induce the Sephardim to put past grievances behind and to vote with their pocketbooks. And, third, it must overcome the perception that support for peace with the Palestinians is akin to appeasement and therefore endangers Israel.”

The Prime ministership of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will not last forever and the opposition will inevitably become tired enough with loosing elections that they will decide to introduce a new figure whose presence, values and positions will fill the gap between the expectations of Israelis and the Labor party.

Much like Catholics like to observe various Cardinals to try to find out who might become the next Pope, anybody who’s minimally interested in Israeli politics and its future would be well-advised to keep an eye in the ranks of former IDF chiefs of staff to spot who might trade the image of the olive green military outfit general for the statesman persona.

Tsahal has always been an integral part of Israel’s history. And it will continue to play a determinant role in its future.

Montgomery and Israel

Marshal Montgomery in North Africa during WW2. Source: http://thetim.es/1Pdl3es
Marshal Montgomery in North Africa during WW2. Source: http://thetim.es/1Pdl3es

Martin Sieff just wrote a brilliant book review in the Jerusalem Post about Monty’s Men, a reappraisal of the contribution of Marshal Montgomery’s forces during WW2 by British military historian John Buckley.

In my opinion, the most significant and insightful passage of that piece is the following:

“In addition to these stunning achievements, Israelis have never woken up to the crucial fact that Montgomery twice played a central, critical role in protecting the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine in the pre-state years. Firstly, he saved them from massacre by suppressing the 1936-39 Arab uprising, the first true intifada. Then he rescued them from total genocidal extermination by annihilating the Nazi drive to conquer the entire Middle East at the Battle of Alamein, in November 1942.”

You can understand why the book review is titled “The Yishuv’s unlikely guardian angel”.

Even though I’m a huge fan on Monty, I have to admit that my knowledge about this part of his career is lacking. And I gather I’m not the only one.

In his recent book about Orde Wingate – who is held in very high esteem in Israel for his role forming the Special Night Squads (SNS), a unit in which Wingate recruited future legends like like Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan – Simon Anglim briefly refers to Montgomery and his involvement in the military affairs of the Mandate:

“The other major factor [in fighting the Arab uprising] was the arrival in Northern Palestine’s of the British Army’s most capable and ruthless senior commander, Major General Bernard Montgomery, assuming command of the 8th Division, including the 16th Brigade, in December 1938. Montgomery’s favoured pattern of operations could have been lifted straight from Calwell or Simson: the British were ‘definitely at war’ and any return to civilian control could only follow the complete destruction of the rebels in battle. There was a resumption of cordon and sweep operations by mobile columns, with the specific aim of killing insurgents, and greater use than before of night-time raids on villages suspected of harbouring guerrillas , now involving all units, not just the Night Squads.” (p. 85).

Of course, this is not sufficient to quench my curiosity about Monty’s military role during the British Mandate in Palestine. But it’s a pretty good starting point.

And knowing that many – not to say most – of the British officials in Jerusalem were then harboring if not anti-Semitism at least a relatively high level of resentment towards the Jewish people, it’s good to know that Orde Wingate has company in Monty as friends of the Yishuv.