Like many, I have been watching the reports from Ukraine closely, with stomach churned and fists clenched. While there has been the usual amount of slanted and even fake news, one item appears to be irrefutable: the groundswell of active popular support for the resistance among the Ukrainian people.
Pictures of men of all ages lining up to take arms with or back the armed forces is clearly a reflection of love for and homage to the country—to the conviction that there are things worth fighting for and, indeed, dying for.
Observing and reading about the less than blitzkrieg-like pace of Russian advances, I find myself thinking about us here in Israel.
By most accounts, the Russian military is neither terribly equipped nor well-trained. Why should it be? Russia is not under threat or periodically engaged in hostilities, except when it chooses to assert itself against its former Soviet citizens.
By contrast, we here live with continued existential threats from Iran, and the echoing threats from its proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas. Only the naïve and, in face of the current Ukrainian crisis, only fools, would dismiss the reality and impact of these threats to us on a non-stop basis.
One need not be a Metternich, Talleyrand or a Machiavelli to discern that Israel’s self-defense lies squarely and solely within its own capabilities. It is Israel alone that will be, can be and must be the protector of itself.
With that self-evident wisdom comes the corollary that our army, the Israel Defense Forces, is the key to our survival and to our ability to blossom and thrive, despite the threats.
What we have done in Israel is to harness the love and patriotism that the Ukrainian people are showing under fire, and have institutionalized it in the raising of our children. We have taught them that the price of our sovereignty and our freedom is service, and if need be, heaven forbid, sacrifice.
The Russians might succeed in overrunning Ukraine, but they are highly unlikely to conquer the Ukrainians. They will be beset by guerilla warfare from regular citizens, intent on maintaining their sovereignty. Ukraine could very well be the morass that Afghanistan turned out to be for the Soviets.
We do not need to be invaded to know the critical role of service. Our soldiers are the best of us, our children, our friends’ and neighbors’ children. We have no desire to see them in harm’s way; indeed, we revel in innovations that can distance our soldiers from the line of fire.
But we and our soldiers know, as the Ukrainian people are now realizing, that ultimately we must be self-reliant, and we must understand and embrace the reasons for our service and sacrifice.
Living in the Upper Galilee, we daily witness jets and helicopters flying overhead; at night, we hear the sound of tank fire coming from training exercises on the Golan Heights. It’s holy noise. How proud it makes me that we have internalized the need for our own self-preservation, the importance and worthiness of our being here.
There are many lessons, great and small, to be drawn from the Ukrainian crisis, as well as from the plethora of other flashpoints around the world. None is more important, however, than the realization that we in Israel are charged with the necessity of defending ourselves by ourselves—and above all, that we are blessed with the ability to do so by those who intuitively recognize how important and essential their role and service is.
May our vigilance be rewarded, so that we never have to experience again the kind of aggression the Ukrainian people are now having to bravely resist.
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.