Why the Happy Face?

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In the spirit of the Three Weeks, during which we minimize our feelings of happiness, I’d like ask a few questions about the Iranian nuclear threat.

It is widely assumed in Israel that some time within the next year, and likely before the swearing-in of a new American administration (particularly if that administration is Democratic), Israel will strike Iranian nuclear facilities. Benny Morris, the one-time dean of Israel’s “New Historians,” began a recent piece in The New York Times: “Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months.”

Now admittedly the odds of that happening — for better or worse — decrease greatly if Tzippi Livni becomes prime minister of Israel and/or Senator Barack Obama president of the United States. But still one has to ask: Why is there no feeling in Israel of panic about the presumed attack, no sense that we are entering into very perilous times?

Instead the likelihood of an Israeli attack is discussed matter-of-factly, as if its success were guaranteed and any Iranian response nothing to fret about. Have we all become Zionists filled with confidence that the mighty IDF can do anything?

Professor emeritus of Islamic studies at the Hebrew University Moshe Sharon explains in a recent Jerusalem Post piece why Israel, even more than the rest of the West, cannot live with a nuclear Iran. Iran’s current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a devout believer in the imminent appearance of the so-called Hidden Imam, who will usher in an era of Shiite world dominance. As mayor of Teheran, Ahmadinejad built a wide boulevard specifically to greet the Hidden Imam.

In Shiite thought, the Hidden Imam’s appearance is preceded by cataclysmic bloodletting of which one unsavory feature is that all Jews must suffer a violent death. Given these theological trappings, the mutual assured destruction that protected the peace during the Cold War may not work with respect to Iran.

That uncertainty is something with which Israel cannot live. Former deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh has already said that if Iran obtains a nuclear capacity the Zionist dream is over because anyone who can flee will do so.

THE SUCCESS OF an Israeli attack on Iran cannot be taken for granted. Even assuming that Israeli bombers successfully penetrate Iranian air defenses and hit their targets, many of which are deeply underground in highly reinforced locations, the attack would do no more than set back the Iranian nuclear program by one or two years, according to many experts.

That one or two years might be enough time for the West to impose a set of sanctions that would force Iran to seriously reconsider its nuclear ambitions. But the question remains whether the West would be any more likely to do so than it has been over the last five years of on-again off-again negotiations with Iran.

Despite the skill of the Israeli air force, Israel is not capable of executing the kind of sustained assault that the United States could if it led the attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. American military analyst Ralph Peters concludes in the July 17 New York Post, “Nor is there any chance that the Israelis could handle Iran on their own . . . . [T]he Israelis lack the capacity to sustain a strategic offensive against Iran – or to deal with the inevitable mess they would leave behind in the Persian Gulf.”

Peters lists all the preliminary stages the United States would follow before any direct attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities: (1) Take out Iran’s air defenses; (2) destroy Iran’s communications grid; (3) Hit every anti-ship missile installation along the Iran’s coast on the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz; (4) destroy Iran’s naval capacity, including the small speedboats it would deploy in suicide missions against shipping in the Gulf; (5) Take out Iran’s medium and long-range missiles; (6) Hit military command centers, particularly those of the Revolutionary Guard.

Operating from long distances, Israeli lacks the ability to sustain such a three to six week operation against Iran. An Israeli attack would be a one-time affair.

AND WHAT WOULD be the likely Iranian response. Iran has a considerable number of intermediate range missiles capable of striking the entirety of Israel. In addition, its proxy on our northern border, Hizbullah, has an estimated 40,000 missiles, over twice the number in its possession at the outset of the Second Lebanon War. And Hamas, Iran’s proxy on our southern border, has been taking advantage of the current ceasefire to arm to the hilt.

Israel’s international standing would already be under fire in the aftermath of an attack on Iran (no matter how happy Western leaders were with any delay in Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons), and Iran and its well-armed proxies might see the time as an opportune one to test Israel. Hizbullah knows, as former national security advisor General Giora Eiland has written, Israel still has no answer to the type of missile barrage Hizbullah launched in the Second Lebanon War.

If Iran did unleash its proxies and employ its own missiles, Israel would suddenly find itself simultaneously fighting a war on numerous fronts – including perhaps the Syrian front. It could not afford to have the entire country paralyzed, as the North was for a month during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and might find itself forced to bomb much more brutally and indiscriminately than it has ever permitted itself to do in the past in order to bring a quick halt to hostilities. In addition, Iran would surely unleash sleeper terrorist cells against Jewish and Israeli – and perhaps American – targets worldwide.

We must pray that both the Israeli military and political echelons have thought through and prepared for the next several steps likely to follow any attack on Iran – something that it completely failed to do during the Second Lebanon War. Unfortunately, nothing about Israel’s current unstable political leadership leaves one confident of its abilities in this regard.

Nor do the doomsday scenarios end there. In his Times’ piece, historian Morris noted that an ineffective Israeli attack on Iran, or the failure of the rest of the world to follow-up with a strong sanctions regime in the time bought by an Israeli attack, could lead to something far worse. Confronted with an Iran on the brink of attaining nuclear weapons, Israeli leaders would face the unenviable choice between hoping that the leaders of a nuclear Iran would prove rational or launching its own pre-emptive nuclear attack. Morris believes they would opt for the second choice. For that reason, he concludes, even the Iranians should pray that an Israeli conventional air strike is successful.

The apocalyptic visions offered by Morris can be viewed not just as an effort in prognostication but as an attempt to force the Western world, and even the Iranians themselves, to think carefully about the consequences of going to the brink.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that if nuclear weapons are deployed in the near future the proximate cause will be Iran’s nuclear program. That’s just one reason that Senator Obama’s insistence during his visit to Israel that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains at the heart of Middle East tensions seems at once both so naïve and so dangerous.

This article appeared in the London Jewish Tribune, Friday August 1, 2008

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11 Responses

  1. Ben Aharon says:

    The author alwaya displays unusual profundity, imagination combined with realism and perceptiveness in writing about the most urgent and serious issues facing both the charedi community and Medinat Yisrael.

    The “Zionist Experiment” and the existence of medinat Yisrael for the past 60 years is an unprecendented phase in our 2000 years of Galuth
    and present the Jewish people living there with challenges and nisyonoth
    particular to these circumstances on the way to the eventual geula.

    We have to view in this context the Iranian threat, the present political climate in Israel, with weak and corrupt leaders, the people largely apathetic and in denial, and many even unsure of their identity and allegiance to Israel.

    Although history does not repeat itself,we can find parallels in Yirmiyahu describing the last 40 years before Cburban Bayith Rishon and, as one of the commentators mentioned, the full dachas in Poland in August 39.

    Klall Yisrael is crying out for some fearless writers and commentators
    to use the power of their words to portray the situation both with regard to the Iranian threat and the various aspects of the Isreali society in its stark truth. I believe we should explore new strategies to make their voice more widely heard.

    And our ceaseless tefilloth should be that Hashem may bless us with new leaders who will be honest and dedicated and whom He will grant the great wisdom and understanding needed to make the right choices as we are facing these challenges to our very existance.

  2. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    I can’t begin to understand why in Mark’s mind caring about Jews who are far from Judaism doesn’t enter the realm of Chessed, Avodas Hashem, and Kiyum Hamitzvos. What category of the Torah DOES it come under?

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Mark asserted, “Yes, there are many little problems in our Avodas Hashem; but one huge, gaping hole: our brothers are completely lost and we don’t care!!!!”

    Says who?

  4. mark says:

    so far, the solutions we have are:
    – torah
    – chessed
    – tefillah
    – avodas hashem
    – kiyum hamitzvos

    Does anyone notice that 90% of the Jewish People are not connected to Hashem?

    To think that Hashem is looking down at us, just waiting for us to start davening with a little more kavanah is ludicrous!

    Yes, there are many little problems in our Avodas Hashem; but one huge, gaping hole: our brothers are completely lost and we don’t care!!!!

    To just focus on the little problems – that’s like someone tending to his garden after a nuclear attack! (not to mention, we’ve been working on those problems for the last few hundred years without success)

    We wouldn’t even have to mekarev anyone; just CARE. Hashem will do the rest.

  5. Ori says:

    Israelis who are not directly involved with security have three choices:

    1. Leave
    2. Be in denial
    3. Go insane from worrying about things they can’t solve

    Denial is a survival strategy.

  6. Binyomin Eckstein says:

    May Hashem spare us – the dachas in Poland circa August ’39 were packed with carefree summertime vacationers as well. It is time for increased Torah, Chessed and Tefillah.

  7. Gershon Seif says:

    The picture that is painted here is very bleak and worrisome. On the one hand Israel must act soon, and yet it dare not. Should Israel make a move that brings about a drastic downturn to the world’s economy, Israel will be blamed, as will governments who support Israel. This would likely have a ripple down effect on the safety of Jews worldwide. It seems like a bad dream or a doomsday scene out of a book, and yet it seems quite possible. Kal v’chomer if we bring things to the nuclear warfare level.

    Aside from the obvious need to improve our Avodas Hashem and be mechazek our Limud haTorah, Tefillos and Kiyum haMitzvos, is there something the average Jew should to be doing to attempt to improve this situation?

  8. B. A. says:

    There’s one word that can best explain the muted reaction in Israel: denial.

    There’s another word that can account for the muted American Jewish response: apathy.

    Hashem yerachem.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    We have no way to evaluate the statements, rumors, hints, and whatnot emanating from governments and journalists who have misled us before.

    The idea that we have, or can have, any real handle on the details and scenarios is fiction.

    We need to express our concerns to HaShem.

  10. Garnel Ironheart says:

    I can think of two very good reasons why the Israeli public is so quiet right now.

    1) Their elected leaders are habitual liars and their generals are politically appointed and barely capable of doing their jobs with honour. Who would pay attention to the shreying of such a group?

    2) After the Second Lebanon War in 2006 we were promised a re-match in 2007. Never happened. Then we were promised a re-match in 2008. So far, all clear. Yes, the occasional rockets are landing in Ashkelon and Ashdod but no Israeli planes have been shot down, no Israeli oil refineries are in flames and Tel Aviv and Yerushalayim have yet to be damaged by missile fire. Despite this, the newspapers have been running op-ed pieces that shout that this will start happening ANY DAY NOW for the last 2 years. Is it any wonder people have tuned out?

  11. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    This chilling scenario seems to be yet another compelling reason to be aware that everything depends on the Almighty. There is, however, another factor which the author has not mentioned, which must also be reckoned as agents of Hashem. That is the great number of Iranians who despise the regime but put up with it on a day-to-day basis as did the Soviet people during 70 years of Communism. The thought of the apocalyptic regime of Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs leading their country down the primrose path to nuclear cataclysm might push millions more Iranians over the edge to do something. A revolution could be the way out. Israel and the US should be doing all they can to help. Meanwhile we learn Torah and daven.