January 9 - It must have looked like a scene from a Rambo movie. At 4 a.m. last Thursday, deep in the heart of the Red Sea, dozens of Israel Navy commandos slid down ropes from helicopters flying overhead as their comrades aboard speedboats simultaneously converged on the Palestinian terrorist vessel. With precision and skill, they subdued the ship's crew, placing its lethal cargo under Israeli control. After a brief but tense eight minutes, the danger to the people of Israel had passed.
On board Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Ship of Death, the Palestinians had enough firepower to wreak havoc on nearly all of Israel's cities and industry. There were 62 122mm Katyusha rockets, each with a range of 20 kilometers - enough to hit almost any target in Tel Aviv from the Palestinian-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria. That's not all - there were also 1,525 mortar rounds, 674 rocket-propelled grenades, 735 hand grenades, 311 anti-personnel mines and more than two tons of explosives, all of which was on its way to Gaza, all of it intended for one simple purpose: to kill as many Jews as possible.
Israel's operation was heroic and breathtaking and saved countless innocent lives. It was a classic example of counter-terrorism at its finest. But it was more than that - it was the kind of brash and daring action that serves as a potent reminder of just how special this country is.
Just over five decades ago, the parents and grandparents of Israel's naval commandos fled the ovens of Europe and the pogroms of Tripoli and Baghdad, arriving as refugees in the nascent State of Israel. Within a generation or two, they became Jewish warriors, growing up in freedom and willing to fight and die for it.
These guys are heroes, plain and simple.
These soldiers, most of them too young to rent a car, were willing to put their lives at risk to protect the safety and well-being of Israel and its people. There is a lot one can say about the younger generation of Israelis - that they are materialistic, that they live on the edge, that perhaps they are somewhat out of touch with their religious and spiritual heritage. All that may be true, but let's give credit where it is due. These guys are heroes, plain and simple.
That they were able to identify a threat from afar is nothing new. Over the centuries, word often came in advance of impending assaults on Jewish communities and institutions.
Just read The Abyss of Despair, Nathan Hanover's moving 1653 chronicle of the massacre of Jews by the Ukrainian Cossacks, or Albert of Aix's eyewitness account of the slaughter of the Jews of the Rhineland by the Crusaders in May-June 1096. With little or no ability to defend themselves, Jews too often were at the mercy of their erstwhile protectors.
But as this latest operation clearly demonstrates, those days are over. The enemies of the Jewish people can no longer act with impunity. The long arm of Jewish justice will flex its muscles when necessary to save Jewish lives. And if it weren't for that Jewish arm, ready to act at a moment's notice, it is doubtful whether anyone else would bother to come to our aid.
The entire episode proved once again that Arafat's true aim is the destruction of Israel.
The capture of Arafat's cargo ship was greeted with pride and cheers throughout Israel, and rightly so. The entire episode proved once again that Arafat's true aim is the destruction of Israel, but it also reminded us of an important distinction between Israelis and Palestinians: we glorify our young men for saving lives, while they exalt theirs for destroying them.
And yet, despite such heroics, the army routinely serves as a favorite target of the far left in this country. Certain journalists and politicians seem to thrive on hurling criticism and invectives at Israel's security forces, complaining about alleged infringements of human-rights and bemoaning them as a "tool of the occupation."
But what the critics have forgotten is that the very same army they so brazenly condemn is the one which protects their freedom on a daily basis. The same officers and soldiers they harangue in newspaper columns and editorials are the people who risk life and limb to guarantee their right to free speech, however offensive or distasteful that speech may be.
I, for one, am grateful - grateful that we have an army to safeguard our borders, and grateful that we are blessed to have so many heroes among us. At synagogues across the land, the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel took on new meaning this past Shabbat - "Our Father in Heaven, the Rock of Israel and its Redeemer... strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy Land."
Amen to that.
This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.