Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu said launching a preemptive strike is a difficult choice for a government 'because it will never be able to prove what would have happened had it not acted.' (DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP)
TEL AVIV — In addition to the vital lesson of never underestimating your enemy, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he learned from the searing surprise of the Yom Kippur war, is never to rule out the option of pre-emptive attack.
“A preventive war is one of the hardest decisions that a government may be called on to make because it will never be able to prove what would have happened had it not acted,” Netanyahu said Oct. 15 at a special parliamentary session marking 40 years since the 1973 war.
Netanyahu acknowledged that pre-emptive strikes “are not necessarily called for in every case.”
But in an obvious reference to the Iranian nuclear threat and the opprobrium to follow a prospective Israeli attack, Netanyahu said: “There are situations in which thinking about the international response to such a step is not equal to the bloody price we would pay in absorbing the strategic blow we would be compelled to respond to later, perhaps too late.”
According to Netanyahu, “the great difference” between the nation’s six-day victory in 1967 and the heavy blow it endured before eventually rallying in 1973 was pre-emptive strike.
“In the Six Day War, we broke with a pre-emptive strike the strangulating ring that our enemies had placed around us. In the Yom Kippur War, despite the early signs, the government chose to absorb the enemy’s attack in all its strength,” he said.
At the same parliamentary session, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon drew the same cardinal lesson of never disdaining the enemy. However, in his Oct. 15 Knesset address and more than a dozen similar speeches at Yom Kippur memorial events nationwide, Ya’alon never cited pre-emptive strike as a lesson to be learned.
“As one who fought in those battles and lost the best of our friends, I can say that only those who learn the bitterness and heavy price of war understand the force of military might as well as its limitations,” Ya’alon told Knesset colleagues.
In talks with veterans and active-duty war fighters over the past month, Ya’alon repeatedly referred to the “sins of pride” and arrogance that afflicted Israeli leaders at the time. As minister of defense, Ya’alon vowed to encourage thinking that challenges consensus and never to take the enemy or Israel’s military edge for granted.
In his Oct. 15 address, Ya’alon repeated his assessment that Iran has no intention of forsaking its nuclear weapons drive and that Israel must remain strong and “self-reliant” in addressing the threat.
“Despite our strength, it is forbidden that we remove our eyes from our obligation — as decision-makers — to remain on guard so that the Yom Kippur surprise will never recur, and to continue to manage our policies in a reasoned, responsible and wise manner,” he said.
Earlier in the day, as Iran and the world’s six leading powers began negotiations in Geneva toward a prospective nuclear disarmament deal, Israel’s security Cabinet urged the international community to reject “a partial agreement that would fail to bring about the full dismantling of the Iranian military nuclear program.”
In a unanimously supported statement, Israeli security officials similarly urged international leaders to continue pressure on Iran and to reject calls for premature easing of sanctions.
“It would be a historic mistake not to take full advantage of the sanctions, by making concessions before ensuring the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”