By KATHY CARLSON
Israeli Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin flew on the team that destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, served in Israel’s military for more than 40 years and currently heads Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. He was in Nashville recently for a brief visit that included a stop for an espresso and conversation at the Jewish Federation of Nashville.
“We are one people, living in two different political environments,” Yadlin said of American Jews and their Israeli counterparts. “We share the same values. We have to keep these values as a bond, beyond the bonds of blood and tradition. The challenge for (us) all (is) to keep Judaism around our main values. The Second Temple was destroyed because we fought each other instead of fighting the Romans.”
The 1981 military mission to take out the Osirak reactor, still under construction, perhaps illustrates the imperative of the Jewish people to survive, along with the cooperation and labor it takes to make survival possible.
“I was one of eight pilots basically each dropping two bombs on the reactor,” Yadlin recalled. It was his longest combat mission to that point, and the team trained for a full year.
He and the others flew brand new F-16 one-engine airplanes with just enough fuel capacity – after much fine-tuning – to get to Osirak and back. Iraq, at war with Iran, was on high alert, with anti-aircraft installations at the ready.
“It was estimated that at least two of us would not come back,” he said. Despite the dangers, pilots volunteered for the mission. Yadlin recalled wondering if he’d ever see his four-month-old daughter again.
“If someone tells you they’re not afraid (in a mission such as this), they’re lying,” he said. But when it comes time to act, he continued, “you should not let fear degrade your performance lower than 95 percent percent of your training level. Additional help to overcome fear is to concentrate on the mission so that you don’t have time to have a bad feeling.”
All eight planes returned to Israel, mission accomplished. “There was a real satisfaction when we came back and knew we destroyed” the reactor, he said. “We could not allow anyone who wanted to destroy us to have the capacity to carry out the threat.”
Over the years, Yadlin has developed what he calls his five rules in life. “They’re good in the cockpit as well as in assessing national security issues,” he said.
First of all, never panic. If you panic, you’re not reacting to the threat in the most advantageous way.
Second, never be in euphoria. Between 1967 and 1973, he said, Israel got euphoric. It was too happy with the victory in the Six-Day War and paid a high price for the euphoria in 1973’s Yom Kippur War.
Third, maintain a state of slight paranoia. As Yadlin says, “For a Jewish Israeli guy, it’s the right state of mind,” given that many people want to destroy Israel.
Fourth, there is no silver bullet.
Today, he says, the problems facing Israel are more complex and our enemies are more sophisticated, so coping with problems takes more than a silver bullet. It takes iron, gold and copper bullets. “You have to work hard and have all this mix to have a response to threats.”
Fifth and finally, there are no prophets anymore. You can’t predict the future, but you can try to shape it, with humility, he said.
That notion – shaping the future with humility – often is at odds with today’s culture. “The nature of today’s social media make many of us stay on the surface,” he said. “… We don’t go deeply into issues. To get attention, people go to extremes.”
The Jewish tradition offers a way forward. Issues are debated, he said, but in a Jewish way that recognizes not only different perspectives but also shared beliefs and values. This approach allows us to use the different perspectives to create a better culture.
Yadlin talked about the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founder and first prime minister. Ben-Gurion, he said, sometimes acted in accord with the political right, sometimes with the left.
“He was smart enough to know when to compromise and when to seize an historical opportunity,” Yadlin said. “We rarely have leaders like that nowadays – not in Israel or in your country. The challenge of the 21st century is to identify when it is time to follow the public wishes and when it is time to show them the way.” •
Photograph of Amos Yadlin by Chen Galili