Reflection on Israel at War

General (R) Martin E. Dempsey, 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shares his reflection on Israel at war.

In 2012, while I was serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz, hosted a dinner for me at the top of the tallest building in Tel Aviv. As the sun set over the Mediterranean, he asked me to turn in a circle and and tell him what I saw. I did so, and found that we were standing at the center of a dense ring of sparkling lights as far as the eye could see north, east, and south.

“It’s beautiful, Benny” I said. “Yes it is,” he replied “and Martin,” he paused, “you have just seen 65% of the population of Israel.” Israel, I realized, was a lot smaller, much more densely populated in and around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and therefore more vulnerable than I had imagined.

As we left our vantage point atop the building, two Israeli soldiers with violins played “Fiddler on the Roof” in the background. A subtle message from this close ally’s most senior military officer of how precarious life can sometimes be in Israel surrounded by groups hostile to them. 

That precarious life was violated in the most savage way by the vicious anti-Semitic terrorist attacks on October 7th. Recall how long it took Americans to feel safe again after 9/11, and imagine how long it will take for Israelis to feel safe again in their homes.

Israel can no longer tolerate Hamas on their border. That much is clear.

Getting to that “new normal” will be a lengthy, costly, painful, and unpredictable process. Some in the region, and possibly beyond, may try to take advantage of the situation. Some will criticize Israel and suggest that it bears the blame for this outbreak of violence. Some will criticize Israel’s methods. Some outside of Israel will allow the outrage they feel at the attacks today to melt away as events elsewhere draw their attention.

The “fear” that those things might happen will matter to Israel’s leaders, but not as much as the sacred obligation they now feel to expunge the fear burned into the souls of the Israeli people on October 7th. Israel will remain fixed on their objective to rid the Gaza Strip of Hamas influence and to strip them of their military capability. Those of us who call ourselves the friends and Allies of Israel, those of us who consider such attacks like those on October 7th an attack on humanity should understand that and support them.

The views of the author are his own.