One of the world’s leading Torah thinkers began a shiur last week by reminding his audience that while there is no mitzvah from the Torah of fixed daily davening, there is a Torah mitzvah to beseech Hashem in times of trouble. How foolish, he said, are those who do not recognize that we are today living in an eis tzara.
I was not in Eretz Yisrael at the time of the shiur, and only heard about it second hand, so I’m not sure to which of the many afflictions confronting our nation he was referring – external threats to the security of nearly five million Jews in Israel, internal threats to the kedushah of Klal Yisrael, or even to the bitter machlokes in one of the Torah world’s most venerated yeshivos, which is regular fodder for the bemused secular press in Israel.
Let us start with the first of these possibilities – the security threat to the Jews of Eretz Yisrael. The first casualty of the Democratic takeover of Congress appears to be any chance that President Bush will act to remove the Iranian nuclear threat before it materializes. A president widely perceived as a lame duck and already bogged down in an unpopular war in Iraq lacks the political capital necessary for such an audacious step, given that the negative consequences of any such attack are far more certain than success.
Furthermore, the fact that the “realists” of the Bush ’41 administration are returning to seats of power – Robert Gates at Defense, James Baker as head of the Iraq Study Commission – strongly suggests that the President is backpedaling from his previous denunciation of Iran as a leading member of the Axis of Evil, or from any other form of confrontation. Baker, who once famously offered Prime Minister Shamir the number of the White House switchboard to call when he was serious about peace, is on record as believing in the possibility of constructive engagement with Iran.
More than three years of the Europeans being jerked around on a string by Iran without a single sanction being imposed makes it clear that there is no hope coming from that direction. The Russians, Chinese, and likely the French would almost certainly veto any sanctions regime involving more than the merest slap on the wrist.
The West might secretly hope that Israel will save its lunch by rendering a serious blow to the Iranian nuclear program, just as it did when it destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in 1981. But whether Israel has the capability to seriously damage the Iranian nuclear program is very much in doubt, despite the muscular threats emanating from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prior to his recent trip to Washington to meet with President Bush. Iran is well aware of the Osirak precedent, and has spread its nuclear facilities across the country and buried them deap underground.
Even if Israel possesses the capability to set back Iran’s nuclear program by several years, it is by no means certain that she would risk the inevitable backlash that would accompany such a strike. Any attack upon Iran will almost certainly result in Iran closing the Straits of Hormuz, through which a large percentage of the world’s daily oil supply flows, by sinking one or more warships at the narrow entrance to the Straits. The result would almost certainly be an immediate sharp spike in world oil prices, which would in turn deal a body blow to Western economies.
Such an Israeli strike would play directly into European hands. If the strike were successful, well and good, a serious threat to the West is averted for the time being. But whether or not the strike is successful, the West would feel free to condemn Israel’s reckless, preemptive action (which, as we have pointed out, would certainly trigger severe negative economic consequences that will be felt by every citizen of the West), as it condemned Israel’s attack on the Osirak reactor in 1981. Indeed an Israeli preemptive strike could provide many Western states the pretext they have long sought to confer upon Israel official pariah status as an offering to the Arab states whom they never tire of appeasing (even as those same Western and Sunni Moslem states secretly breathed a sigh of relief at the removal of the Iranian threat).
So it appears likely that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons in the next few years without encountering any substantial Western resistance. That is bad news for the conservative Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, it is bad news for the entire world because of the potential control over world oil supplies it will give to an expansionist Iranian regime eager to export its brand of Islam, and it is particularly bad news for Israel, which will live under an Iranian nuclear cloud.
The fear factor in Israel will only be heightened by the likelihood that the next Grand Ayatollah in Iran will be none other than Ahmadinejad’s clerical mentor Ayatollah Mohammed Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, someone far to the right even of the current Iranian ruler, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh expressed last week the possible consequences of that fear factor, with remarkable candor, if not necessarily great wisdom:
“The danger is not so much Ahmadinejad’s deciding to launch an attack, but Israel’s living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction. I’m afraid that under such a threat, most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with their families; and Israelis who can live abroad will. . . . I’m afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button.”
THINGS HARDLY LOOK BETTER ON THE GAZA FRONT. In the wake of last week’s U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip, with only three nations of any international stature – the U.S., Australia, and Canada – voting against or abstaining, everyone from the Prime Minister to the Chief of Staff has suddenly declared that Israel has no current answer to Kassam fire on Sderot and other Negev communities, or at least one that would not come at an intolerable diplomatic cost. One wishes that they had given a little more thought to this particular problem before lending their enthusiastic support to the Gaza withdrawal.
By voting to condemn Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip, taken in response to ongoing missile fire on Israeli civilians from Gaza, the world has effectively denied Israel the right to defend itself from lethal attacks. The question addressed by Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Gillerman to the French, during the General Assembly debate, “If France were shelled from across the border, what would France do?” is not only just but unavoidable.
Unfortunately, the Europeans are perfectly capable of ignoring that question in their eagerness to scapegoat Israel for every single problem in the world. That latter tendency was on ample display last week, when embattled British Prime Minister Tony Blair, usually the staunchest of European leaders, declared that the resolution of all the West’s conflicts with politicized Islam depends on upon solving the Palestinian-Israel conflict, and Israel’s willingness to make further territorial concessions. About the futility of such negotiations with a partner that has yet to take its first step to thwart terrorism or to stop educating its children to kill Jews, fifteen years after the start of the Oslo process, Blair had nothing to say.
Last Independence Day, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz declared that he had no need of a Higher Power to assist him in his endeavors, and that he was perfectly happy relying on his own intelligence and determination. Since then, Halutz’s fate has been no happier than another Jewish warrior who made similar declarations of his lack of need for Divine assistance: Bar Kochba. Halutz presided over last summer’s disastrous war in Lebanon, and seems a fair bet to be one of the few Chiefs of Staff ever dismissed in the middle of his term.
Halutz was chosen for his current position primarily on the basis of his eagerness to execute the withdrawal from Gaza. Now he admits that neither the government nor the IDF have “come to terms” with Kassam fire from Gaza.
Perhaps it is about time to recognize that we have no choice but to rely on Hashem to protect us, and to call out to Him in this eis tzara.
Appeared in Yated Ne’eman USA edition, November 22.