As my readers know, I do not normally use this blog to quote other people at any length. If I do so this time, that is because I am shocked. Right from the beginning of human history—possibly even before human history, properly speaking, got under way—one of men’s most important tasks has always been to protect their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and women in general from being raped by other men. Even at the cost of their lives, if necessary.

No longer. So weak, so utterly despicable, have European men in particular become, that they have abrogated this responsibility, perhaps the most basic any human community owes the fifty percent of its members who are female and on whom its future depends. More basic than equality, more basic than any other number of nice things I could think about. I quote from a recent book on this and related topics.*

“Throughout the 2000s, the question of sex attacks on local women by gangs of immigrants had been an open secret [in Britain]. It was something nobody wanted to speak or hear about. There was something so base, and so rank somehow, in even mentioning it. Even to imply that dark-skinned men had a penchant for abusing white women seemed to so clearly originate from some odious, racist text that it appeared impossible, firstly even to even imagine that it might be happening, and secondly that it should be discussed. British officials were so terrified about even mentioning such crimes that every single arm of the state failed to respond over the course of years. When the same phenomena occurred on the continent precisely the same problems were encountered.

Even to mention the fact in 2015 that most of the recent arrivals into Europe seemed to be young [and single, MvC] men was to court opprobrium. To question whether all these individuals might have brought modern views about women with them was unmentionable (precisely, as in Britain, because it seemed to speak to some base, racist smear). The fear of falling into a racial cliché or suffering accusations of racism prevented authorities and the European public from admitting to a problem that had spread across the continent. And the more refugees a country took in, the greater that problem became.

Even in 2014 in Germany the number of sexual assaults against women and boys was growing. These included the rape of a 20-year old German woman in Munich by a 30-year old Somali asylum seeker, the rape of a 55-year old woman in Dresden by a 30-year old Moroccan, the attempted rape of a 21-year old German woman in Munich by a 25-year old Senegalese asylum seeker, the rape of a 17-year old girl in Straubing by a 21-year old Iraqi asylum seekers, the rape of a 21-year old German woman near Stuttgart by two Afghan asylum seekers, and the rape of a 25-year old German woman in Stralsund by a 28-year old Eritrean asylum seeker. While these and many other cases made it to court, many others did not.

Alongside the growth in cases of rapes of Germans came the increase in the number of rapes and sexual assaults in refugee shelters. During 2015 the German government was so short of to house the migrants that it was initially unable to provide segregated shelters for women. A [The outcome was rapes] across Bavaria. And as in Britain a decade before, the authorities were so worried about the implications of the fact that in a number of cases they were found to have deliberately covered them up. In Demold, where an asylum seeker raped a 13-year old Muslim girl, the local police remained silent about the assault. An investigation by Westfalen-Blatt claimed that local police were routinely covering up sex assaults involving migrants in case it gave ammunition to criticisms of the government’s open door policies. Nevertheless, rapes of children were reported in numerous cases, including at a facility in Bremen.

As the number of cases increased throughout 2015, the German authorities eventually could not hold back the growing number of reports of rapes against German women by recent refugees. These included the rape of a 16-year old girl in Mering, an 18-year old girl in Hamm, a 14-year old boy in Heilbronn and a 20-year old woman in Karlsruhe. In a number of cases.—including the case in Karlsruhe—the police remained silent about the story until a local paper broke it. Countless other assaults and rapes were reported in Dresden, Reinbach, Bad Kreuznach, Ansbach, Hanau, Dortmund, Kassel, Hanover, Siegen, Rinteln, Moenchengladbach, Chemnitz, Stuttgart, and other cities across the country

Eventually, this unmentionable subject became so bad that in September 2015 officials in Bavaria began to warn local parents to ensure their daughters did not wear any revealing clothing in public. ‘Revealing tops or blouses, short shorts or miniskirts could lead to misunderstandings,’ one letter to locals warned. In some Bavarian towns, including Mering, police warned parents not to allow their children to go outside alone. Local women were advised not to walk to the railway station unaccompanied. On a daily basis from 2015 onwards there were reports of rapes on German streets, in communal buildings, public swimming baths, and many other locations. Similar events were reported in Austria, Sweden and elsewhere. But everywhere the subject of rape remained underground, covered up by the authorities and deemed by most of the European media not to be a respectable news story…

Throughout 2016 the spate of rape and sexual assaults spread to every single one of Germany’s sixteen federal states. There were attacks literally every day, with most of the perpetrators never found. According to the [Social Democratic, MvC] Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, just a tenth of rapes in Germany are reported and of those that reach trial only 8 percent result in a conviction. Moreover, several additional problems emerged from these cases, not least that there appeared to be a concerted official effort to suppress data about crimes where the suspects might be migrants… Just as in Britain a decade earlier, it transpired that German ‘anti-racism’ groups had been involved. In this case they had pressured the German police to remove racial identifiers from al suspect appeals for risk of ‘stigmatizing’ whole groups of people.”

The outcome? In Bavaria alone the number of rapes, many of them committed by refugees, during the first half of 2017 increased 48 percent over the corresponding period in the previous year. The equivalent figure for Britain is 19 percent. In London’s borough Tower Hamlets, said to have “one of the smallest White British populations of any local authority in Britain,” one poor girl was said to have been sexually assaulted three times in a single hour.

Cowards, cowards, cowards.


*D. Murray, The Strange Death of Europe, Kindle ed., 2016, locs. 3464-525

The Fourth Reich is Rising

The Fourth Reich is rising. Not in Germany where, in spite of the recent elections, most people seem to have has learnt their lesson. But in Israel. The country which claims to be the only one in the Middle East which is democratic and in which free speech is allowed (nice of the authorities to allow free speech, isn’t it?). The country where my parents, having narrowly escaped the Holocaust, (see on this my post, “How My Family Survived the Holocaust,” 17.12.2015) immigrated. The country in whose military four of my five children have served. The country for which several of my relatives, acquaintances and students have died. The one in which I have spent practically all my life and which I have always loved.

No longer. For almost two years now a 33-year old Arab-Israeli (and self-proclaimed Palestinian) poet, Ms. Dareen Tatour, has been under house arrest. Far from home and relatives, with electronic cuffs on her leg, and without access to either a computer or a cellphone. Her trial got under way in April 2016, and has still not come to an end.

Did she kill an Israeli? No. Did she try to kill an Israeli? No. Did she assist terrorists or fail to betray them to the Israeli authorities, as those authorities, in their infinite wisdom and compassion, demand? No. Did she engage in any other out of God knows how many activities Israel has prohibited? No. So what why did the police knock on her door at 0400 in the morning, and what are the charges which could cost her eight years in jail?

Saying what she thinks. As by putting the following poem, originally written in Arabic, on Facebook.

Resist, My People, Resist Them

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”

Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

I cast them aside for a coming time.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the settler’s robbery

And follow the caravan of martyrs.

Shred the disgraceful constitution

Which imposed degradation and humiliation

And deterred us from restoring justice.

They burned blameless children;

As for Hadil,* they sniped her in public,

Killed her in broad daylight.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

Pay no mind to his agents among us

Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues;

The truth in your heart is stronger,

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.

So Ali** called from his grave:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.


* Hadil al Haslamon, a 18-year old Palestinian girl who attacked—so the Israelis claim—a group of bullet-proof wearing, heavily armed, heroic Israeli soldiers with a kitchen knife and, like so many others, somehow managed to die after being shot “in the legs.”

** Ali Kosba, a Palestinian teenager who threw rocks at an Israeli military jeep, shattering its windshield. Trying to run away, he was shot in the back and killed by a heroic Israeli colonel who, according to the military spokesman, “felt in mortal danger” of his life.

On Counterfactual History

I’ll let you into a secret: Last week’s post, the one in which I tried to explain what might have happened if the 1973 Israeli crossing of the Suez Canal had failed, was inspired by a French magazine, Guerre et Histoire, that asked me to write it for them. For that I am grateful, for it forced me to think about the nature of counterfactual history. What it is good for (assuming, that is, it is good for anything) and what its problems are. Today I’d like to put some of my thoughts on paper.

As a rule, historians dislike counterfactual history. E. H. Carr (1892-1982), an Oxford historian perhaps best remembered for his little book, What Is History? (1961), went so far as to call it a mere “parlor game.” Not, mind you, that there is anything wrong with parlor games, incidentally. I find them very useful in keeping my grandchildren amused. And some of them, notably chess, go and others, are excellent intellectual exercise indeed—at least as good as writing history.

That, aside, though, Carr was wrong. Counterfactual history has its uses: it can counteract determinism and remind us that what happened was not necessarily what had to happen. It is, in other words, a method for keeping historians, and indeed anyone else interested in the way human affairs work, away from the ever-present danger of hubris.

But that is not the end of the matter. History, certainly history as practiced by modern academics over the last two centuries or so, is to a large extent an attempt to answer the question: why did X, or Y, or Z, happen? Rerum cognoscere causas, “to know the causes of things,” is the motto of the London School of Economics where I myself did my PhD almost half a century ago. This is good and well. However, without counterfactual history the search for causes, showing that everything that happened did so because it had to and could not have happened otherwise, will end up by degenerating into sheer idiocy. If, as Hegel (“the real is the rational and the rational is the real”) claimed, everything that happened was bound to happen, then what is the point of looking for what caused it?

That is all the more the case because the “laws” on which historians rely when they speak of causation are not nearly as strict as those we know from the natural sciences. There is no equivalent in social science (if it is a science) to Galileo’s laws of mechanics, Newton’s law of gravitation, Bernoulli’s law of pressure, and countless others. With very few exceptions, indeed, they are not laws at all; just generalizations that seem to make intuitive sense to those of us who have been educated within a given civilization, at a given place, at a given time.

In one sense all of us are constantly engaging in counterfactual history even if we do not mean to. When I say that A caused B, the implication is that, but for A, B would never have happened. When I say that World War I was caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (see the above image) the implication is that, but for the assassination, the war would not have broken out. When I say that President Reagan, by increasing America’s defense budget to an extent that the Soviet Union could not match, caused the latter to break up, or at any rate helped it break up, the implication is that, without him and his arms buildup, it would not have happened. And so on. Paradoxically, then, counterfactual history is built even into the work of the very historians who claim to despise it so much.

All this means that counterfactual history is both useful and inevitable. However, that is not to say that all counterfactual narratives are born equal any more than all historical narratives are. Some are clearly much better than others. This leads me to the question, what is good counterfactual history? Follow some preliminary thoughts:

  1. Counterfactual history must be plausible, i.e it must not introduce all kinds of things that are a priori impossible. For example, the question what would have happened if Hitler and not the US had built the first nuclear weapons is a plausible one, given that, as late as the summer of 1939, German nuclear research led the world. An attempt to answer it can result in some interesting answers that will shed light both on the Fuehrer and on the role the weapons in question have played and are playing in international relations. However, asking what would have happened if Napoleon, or Genghis Khan, had had them does not make sense and should be discouraged.
  2. Counterfactual history should only go so far and no further. That is because, in human affairs, few if any events have one cause only. Trying to trace the immediate chain of events that might have resulted from one counterfactual event is hard enough. Pushing this more than a very few steps forward will, in the words of Winston Churchill (at a time when, as Lord of the Admiralty, he was responsible for guessing what future naval warfare would be like), cause thought “to diverge too fast.” The outcome is likely to be pure fiction with no link to reality at all. Let me provide another example of this. Many years ago I had a student, an American, who wanted to do a paper on the consequences following from the invention of print. This being Israel, he said that, without print, there would never have been a kibbutz. He was right, of course; yet writing a paper on the topic did not make sense. The reason why it made no sense was because, between Guttenberg and the kibbutzim, there were too many intermediate steps far more relevant to the topic than print was. I told him to limit his inquiry to the years before 1550. What came of it, if anything, I cannot recall.
  3. This warning also has an obverse side. The more plausible a counterfactual narrative, the less it will deviate from what actually happened. As it does so, it may very well turn into an exercise in futility. What is the point of writing counterfactual history that is only marginally different from that which actually took place? On second thought, perhaps this is what I did in the piece I posted last week, perhaps not. Let the reader be the judge of that.

Thus writing good counterfactual history is a question of navigating between the Scylla of unforeseeability and the Charybdis of banality. In other words, it requires judgement. But isn’t that also true of most other things in life as well?

What if the Crossing had Failed?

My name is Ben Levy. Lieutenant Colonel Shimon Ben Levy, of the historical branch of the Israeli General Staff. My boss, acting in the name of chief of staff General Rafael Eitan (”Raful,” as he is popularly known), has ordered me to do an interesting study: namely to inquire, as best I can, what might have happened if the 1973 Israeli crossing of the Suez Canal—arguably the most important move in the entire war—had failed. Why he wants the study I have no idea. To use it as a weapon in his squabbles with his former commander, Ariel Sharon, whom Prime Minister Menahem Begin has recently made minister of defense, perhaps? Anyhow. He gave me six months to do the study. Today, 31 December 1981, I am supposed to hand in my work. What follows is a brief outline, prepared for my own use, of a considerably larger volume.


First, a word about the background. In May 1967, following a long series of incidents in northern Israel where the Syrians were actively assisting terrorists and also trying to divert the water of the Jordan away from the Sea of Galilee, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser decided to come to his beleaguered fellow Arabs’ aid. Thereupon he sent five divisions into the Sinai Peninsula—an area that had been demilitarized since 1957—chucked out the hapless United Nations peace keeping force there, and closed the Straits of Tiran (Sharm al Sheik, in Arabic) to Israeli shipping. He also concluded mutual defense treaties with Syria and Jordan. All over the Arab world crowds danced in the streets, brandishing knives and shouting, “itbach al Yahud” (slaughter the Jews).

Whether Nasser really planned to go to war will never be known. Israel, though, was terrified. It felt it could not live with a situation in which it was encircled on all sides and its armed forces, consisting mainly of reservists, kept on a full alert. On 5 June 1967, after coordinating with the Johnson administration, it struck, launching a brilliant blitzkrieg offensive. When a ceasefire was concluded six days later the IDF, or Israel Defense Forces, had occupied not just the Sinai but the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Golan Heights as well.

The years 1969-70 witnessed the so-called War of Attrition along the Suez Canal. By using his superior artillery as well as commando raids on the fortifications Israel had built, Nasser hoped to force the Israelis to withdraw. Outnumbered on the ground, The Israelis brought in their formidable air force. Hostilities peaked in April-May 1970, when the Israelis shot down four Soviet-piloted Egyptian aircraft. Thereupon the superpowers intervened, imposing a ceasefire which could best be described as a draw.

In 1973, at 1400 hours on 6 October, the guns sounded once again. Israel came under a massive combined attack by greatly superior Egyptian and Syrian forces. Fighting back desperately, the Israelis took just five days to clear the Golan Heights, advance part of the distance towards Damascus, and defeat an Iraqi division which had come to Syria’s aid. In the south, however, things did not go well. Two Egyptian Armies, the 2nd and the 3rd, crossed the Suez Canal, captured the nearest Israeli fortifications, and established a bridgehead 5-10 kilometers wide on the eastern bank. Early Israeli counterattacks on 8 and 9 October, launched without adequate preparation, were defeated with loss. Thereupon the front was stabilized.

On 14 October President Anwar Sadat, overriding his chief of staff General Sa’ad Shazli, ordered his forces to resume their eastward move with a force of some 900-1000 tanks. This time, though, they were decisively defeated by well-positioned Israeli armor fighting on the defensive. As one Israeli former chief of staff, General Haim Bar Lev, said at the time, both sides reverted to their customary roles. The Israelis to winning, the Egyptians to losing.

Thereupon Israeli preparations for a crossing got into high gear. The moving spirit behind the crossing was General Ariel Sharon, one of the heroes of the 1967 War and a former commander in chief, southern front. Now he commanded an armored division. Engaging on “deep” reconnaissance to the west, on the night of 9-10 October some of his troops had actually located the critical gap between the Egyptian 2nd Army to the north and the 3rd Army to the south. Now the General Staff planned to use the gap in order to reach the Canal and cross it.

The first crossing was to be carried out by an elite paratrooper brigade. They would be followed, first by the rest of Sharon’s division and then by two additional divisions. The necessary motorized rafts and bridging equipment had been built and were ready. Now they were brought to the front, though not without some delays occasioned by monumental traffic jams on the way. Once across the forces were to take up defensive positions to the north while at the same time pushing south in the direction of the city of Ismailia, thus surrounding the Egyptian 3rd Army.


The first stage in the crossing, code-named “Gazelle,” was mounted on the night of 15-6 October and went very well. Using their rubber boats, the paratroopers did not meet any resistance and were able to build up a small bridgehead. Some of Sharon’s armor also made it to the other side. It was during the afternoon of the 16th, however, that things started going badly wrong for us. One reason why the initial crossing had been entrusted to General Sharon was because his division was equipped with Soviet-built T-54 and T-55 tanks. Captured in 1967 and modified to carry the heavier Israeli guns, their use was meant to mislead the Egyptian High Command and confuse it, thus giving the Israelis more time to move the rest of their forces. In the event, this did not happen. Thanks in no small part to their Soviet allies, who had satellites covering the front, the Egyptians were not misled. By the 17th they had managed to concentrate all the forces they had available west of the Canal to contain Sharon.

Meanwhile, east of the Canal, the 3rd Egyptian Army, now fully alert to what was happening, launched a counterattack against the Israeli corridor to its south. Barely able to hold their own, the two rearmost Israeli divisions, commanded by Generals Adan and Magen respectively, defended themselves as best they could. So ferocious was the fighting around the so-called “Chinese Farm” that, at times, the two sides’ tanks were only fifty meters apart. Fifty meters! Suffering heavy casualties, the Israelis only barely held on and failed to gain the operational freedom needed to reinforce the crossing. The fact that General Magen was killed by Egyptian artillery fire did not help either, sowing some confusion which took time to clear up.

Forced to slow down so as not to get too far away from his bridges, Sharon was unable to attack the Egyptian anti-aircraft missiles. Right from the beginning of the war, the latter had prevented the Israeli Air Force from intervening as effectively as it had in 1967. Less air support meant heavier fighting and more casualties on the ground, and so on in a vicious cycle. Nevertheless Sharon, an old warhorse if ever one there was, wanted to carry on. As he always used to say, nothing terrifies soldiers more than seeing the enemy come at them from behind.

It was touch and go. Back in In Tel Aviv General David Elazar, Israel’s handsome, 47-year old, chief of staff, hesitated. Early in the war the members of the cabinet put the blame on legendary Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, more or less neutralizing him. This left Elazar to bear the responsibility almost on his own. Elazar well knew how impetuous, how headstrong, Sharon could be. On the 21st, acting under immense pressure, he reluctantly asked Prime Minister Golda Meir for permission to withdraw Sharon’s division. Meir, a chain-smoking elderly lady who by her own admission did not even know what a division was, had little choice but to agree.


Luckily for the Israelis the Egyptian counterattacks, which still continued, never succeeded in quite closing the corridor their enemies had created on the way to the Canal. Their discipline held, with the result that most of them, albeit harassed by the pursuing Egyptians and slowed down by the confusion in the corridor itself, got out. Still the Israelis suffered heavy casualties in dead, injured, missing, and prisoners. Some of the prisoners were marched through the streets of Cairo where an enraged population could barely be prevented from killing them all. All in all about one half of Sharon’s division was lost, complete with most of its equipment.

At this stage there took place, at UN headquarters in New York, some attempts to achieve a cease fire; but the Egyptians, buoyed by victory, refused. After some hasty consultation it was decided to withdraw the Israeli forces, about three rather battered (or, as we Israelis say, “attrited” divisions, some thirty kilometers to the east unto the Giddi and Mitlah Passes. For foreign readers who may one day be allowed to see this report, let me add that the passes command the only practical west-to-east roads crossing the Sinai. They provided ideal defensive positions which a relative handful of troops should be able to hold forever.

Here it is worth noting that Dayan, who felt so heavily isolated among his cabinet colleagues that he spent almost all his time visiting the fronts, had advocated this course right from the beginning. Indeed he had proposed it as far back as the autumn of 1970, only to have Ms. Meir, in her usual blunt way, call him “nuts.” Now, however, she had little choice. By the end of the month the Israeli retreat had been completed.

On their part the Egyptians, having learnt their lesson on the 14th, were reluctant to follow. The two sides took up positions and continued to fire at each other. The Egyptians tried to move some anti-aircraft batteries to the east bank of the Canal; however, the Israeli Air Force, now starting to receive new stand-off weapons from the US, was able to prevent them from being properly deployed and used. The outcome was a war of attrition not too different from the one of 1969-70. Except that the Israeli position was, topographically speaking, much superior to the one they had previously held.

And so the struggle went on. On the ground, the Egyptians made no gains. On the other hand, the Israelis no longer had what it took to attack. As had been the case in 1970, the more time passed the worse Israel’s situation. With just three and a half million people, it could not keep its forces mobilized indefinitely. Adding to the strain was the fact that it also had to be on guard against a possible resumption of hostilities on the Syrian front.

With their backs to the wall, the authorities in Jerusalem started dropping hints concerning their nuclear weapons, the ultimate ratio of the modern world. On one occasion they invited foreign military attachés to watch a couple of F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers engaged on simulated toss-bombing, the technique used to drop nuclear weapons. On another they took their missiles out of the silos in which they were housed, thus allowing Soviet satellites to photograph them and pass the resulting images to their Arab friends. As someone wrote at the time, it was like Samson threatening to destroy the temple; but it did not seem to impress Sadat very much.

It did, however, worry the Superpowers. On 24 October 1973, just before the Israeli withdrawal was completed, they had come close to a direct clash. As a result, both got scared lest their respective clients would drag them to war against their will. The outcome was a ceasefire followed by several years of intermittent negotiations. The Americans in particular were very active. Unlike the Soviets, who had no diplomatic ties with Israel, they were in a position to talk to both sides. This meant that, whereas all the Soviets could offer the Egyptians was war without territory, the Americans could promise them territory without war.

In the end, after several interim agreements, this was what happened. In 1980 Israel, now under the right-wing government of Menahem Begin, and Egypt signed a peace treaty at Camp David. Notwithstanding that, even as I was working on this study, Sadat was assassinated by one of his own soldiers, so far it holds.


Looking back, the most important lesson of the war is that it could have been prevented. Had Meir not rejected Dayan’s proposals out of hand, then there is a good chance that it would never have taken place. For this the Old Lady, as Sadat later called her, should take the full blame.

As is well known, the outbreak of war caught Israel totally by surprise. Nevertheless its armed forces, though heavily outnumbered, only took a few days to clear the Syrians out of the Golan Heights. True, the offensives it launched on the Sinai Front on 6-9 October were abortive. However, as subsequent events were to show, these failures were too small to seriously alter the course of the war. The real turning point came on 14 October, which witnessed the destruction of much of Egypt’s armored forces; without such forces, fighting in the desert was impossible.

The Israeli crossing of the Canal, which started on the night of 14-15 October, was meant to destroy as many Egyptian forces as possible, thereby hopefully bringing the war to an end. However, its success was limited. On both sides of the Canal the Egyptians fought back ferociously, almost succeeding in cutting the corridor through which the Israelis passed.

Arguably Israel was lucky in that its attack was discovered early on and that Sharon’s division did not drive deeper into Egypt than they did. Had they done so, then there is good reason to believe that, finally forced to withdraw, their losses would have been even heavier. In that case they might well have been compelled to bring their nuclear weapons—Doomsday weapons, as they called them—into play even more provocatively than they actually did. For example, by allowing journalists into the Dimona reactor complex or holding a test. Thus triggering off a nuclear arms race whose ultimate consequences both for the Middle East and for the world as a whole can hardly even be imagined.

As Machiavelli once wrote, there are situations in which the best one can do is to do that what the enemy wants one to do out of one’s own free will. By retreating to the passes, a wise move that could and probably should have been undertaken some years earlier, the Israelis largely drew their enemies’ sting. Both they and the Egyptians knew it. The ultimate outcome was peace. Looking back, one can only mourn the losses this highly preventable war inflicted on both sides. In the words of the Old Testament (2 Samuel 1.27): “How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war lost!”