We went to present Prime Minster Netanyahu a commemorative volume of documents dedicated to Menachem Begin. With us was professor Arye Naor, who had been Begin’s Cabinet Secretary, and the prime minister was interested in hearing from him how Begin and managed the war in Lebanon, and to compare notes with his own methods in Protective Edge. From there it was but a short and natural step to a discussion about Begin’s agony at the deaths of IDF soldiers, and Netanyhau’s own difficulties in sending men to die.
It proved harder than he had expected. “I thought a lot about Begin this summer, and I understood him better”
“I spoke to each of the parents [of fallen soldiers]. If there were divorced, I spoke to each of them separately. It was very hard”.
There is a profound difference between hearing about bereaved families, and actually being in one: he knows about that difference, and understands it from personal experience. But to his surprise – this was my impression – sending soldiers to their death turned out also to be hard to a degree that one cannot appreciate in advance.
We had expected to spend ten minutes in his office. The ten minutes became fifteen, then twenty; the twenty minutes became thirty, and the prime minster spoke of the horrible price of war, and of the difficulty in deciding to pay it.
“The soldiers fear death. They try to strengthen each other, and try together to be strong as a group, but they are afraid.” He knows they are afraid, and that some of them will be killed, and he sends them. A ground operation, he knows what awaits them, what preparations the enemy has made: “Some of them will die. It is inevitable.”
“They must be sent only when there is no other choice left. They must be brought back at the very first possible moment, as soon as the immediate goal has been achieved. Later, once they’re out, we’ll see what happens, but first, get them out, out, out.”
“And every night I’d get home in the wee hours, and my wife would be awake, waiting for me. She spent the days visiting the bereaved families. I only spoke to them on the phone, with each and every one of them, but she sat at their side, and at night she would tell me about them. We must send them, and we must bring them back, and I didn’t appreciate how hard it would be. A leader who loses the understanding of how difficult it is, ought to lose his job.”
“I thought a lot about Begin this Summer.”