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2015-03-12

ISIS & Middle East - Israeli perspective

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

On Friday, Feb. 13, a soldier with the Israeli Defense Force spoke at the seminar, "Domestic Jihad & Isis," presented by the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law.
His observations and predictions echoed those offered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his presentation to AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) on Monday, March 2, and his historic address before Congress the next day.
Introducing the IDF officer, Dr. Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law, said, "You're about to hear about the real world (of Islamic terrorism) from the Israeli perspective because the Israelis do it right."
Currently, "Major Benjamin" - an obvious pseudonym - is assigned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Not only is he a trained combat soldier, but he is also a physician. "But I consider myself a combat soldier first," Benjamin noted. He was born in Israel, but his grandfather emigrated from Russia to Israel - or what was then Palestine - after World War II.
Israel with a population of 1.5 million is surrounded by 150 million Muslims - many of whom would like to see the country and its people destroyed, according to Benjamin. Although day-to-day life in the beleaguered county located at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea can be daunting, Benjamin feels otherwise.
"I don't feel threatened because I am a part of the strongest fighting force in the Middle East," he said. "We are not afraid. We will win in any conflict because we have no other option."
An unidentified seminar participant who toured Israel with former UN Ambassador John Bolton underscored Benjamin's contention. "After two weeks, I was ready to join IDF. When they say they're not scared, believe me, they're not scared," he said. "I was impressed with the professionalism of the Israeli army."
According to Benjamin, the emergence of ISIS as an Islamic terrorist organization has "changed the world and turned the Middle East around. The object of ISIS' brutality is to instill fear." Because the organization is only about 20,000 to 50,000 strong, he felt ISIS poses little threat to the United States or Israel. "ISIS can't take out Israel and it will never take out America," Benjamin said, adding, "Of course, terror attacks are easier to accomplish in the United States than in Israel."
Regarding the growing number of casualties caused by ISIS during its expansion in the Middle East, Benjamin noted that, in particular, Syrian casualties continue to cross the border. "We treat about 200 a month in Israeli hospitals," he said. "We do it because it's the right thing to do. I am a Jew, but I work with Muslims and have Christian friends. I don't care. Religion is between me and my God. It's what you do with religion that matters."
And, after the refugees have been patched up, they receive airplane tickets from Israel to their native countries - Syria, Turkey and Jordan, among others. According to Benjamin, and despite the staggering costs involved, Prime Minister Netanyahu had decreed, "Treat them the same way you would treat an Israeli citizen." One military operation in Gaza resulted in over 2,000 injuries that were treated in Israel.
Before soliciting questions, Benjamin noted, "I can't answer any political questions. I am in the military and, therefore, I have no opinions."
When asked about combat and resultant casualties, he said, "Unfortunately in a combat situation, innocent people are injured and killed. Benjamin continued, "The ratio of terrorists to civilians killed is usually 5-1, but in Gaza, Hamas gave numbers as 1-1. This doesn't make sense."
He said civilians in war zones are warned via flyers distributed 48 hours in advance of an Israeli incursion. After that, telephone calls are made to the houses warning people to leave. As a last effort, warnings are broadcast via loud speakers. "This is the way we conduct wars," Benjamin said.
"Israel has not been in Gaza for 10 years. When we left, billions of dollars were given to Hamas. The money wasn't used to build schools and hospitals. Instead it was used to build tunnels into Israel for terrorist attacks."
After Hamas rocket attacks into Israel escalated, Israel started a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip in July 2014 that resulted in the destruction of the cross-border tunnels.
Since being founded as a state, Israel has had to defend itself during the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the Six Day War from June 6-11, 1967 and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which Major Benjamin described as the "worst one of all."
That war began on Oct. 6, 1973 - the Jewish Day of Atonement. On the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Syrian and Egyptian armies launched a well-planned surprise attack against the unprepared IDF. Israel's 2,000 deaths made the populace more aware of their vulnerability.
When asked if Israel considers Iran as the biggest threat, Benjamin replied succinctly, "Yes." When asked about Iran's plans to acquire nuclear weapons, he said, "One way or another, this will not be a problem for us."
He continued, "Hebrews are the people of eternity and we are not afraid of a long walk. Life is fragile, but we rely on friends, such as the government of the United States. But, more importantly, we rely on ourselves. We will not lose because we have no other options. It's very simple."