The Corner

Israel and Iran

Our new DCI, Leon Panetta, warns that, if Israel attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities, it would be “big trouble.” It would. But so would the acquisition of atomic bombs by Iran.

It’s not easy being Israel. You have to think about your very survival all the time. Other nations have the luxury of thinking about their economies, their immigration policies, midnight basketball, what have you. They do not have to think about whether they’ll exist the day after tomorrow, or next year.

(Of course, European countries had better think hard about the nature of their societies, in light of those who refuse, and are not made, to assimilate. But that is a different matter.)

I remember two great conservative heroes, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, going before the Israeli parliament. And they each said the same thing: “It is not in Israel’s interest to be an occupying power.”

And I could just imagine the Israelis’ saying, “Hmmm — why didn’t we ever think of that?” Israel did not choose to be an occupying power. War had been made against it — wars of annihilation — repeatedly. And Israel thought it would be better to occupy than to remain as exposed to those wars.

Israel does not want to attack Iran, any more than it desired, or desires, to occupy the territories. (They are now out of Gaza. Fat lot of good that did them.) Few nations — certainly few democracies — would choose such things. But existential threats concentrate the mind, and make you do the distasteful.

Panetta is right, that attacking Iran would mean “big trouble.” But there is big trouble all around — big trouble on every path. Which trouble is bigger than other trouble? What should be risked? Those are the questions facing Israel. And, no, it is not easy being Israel.

After World War II, someone asked a survivor of Auschwitz what had been the most important lesson he had learned. He answered, “When someone says he’s going to kill you, believe him.” That applies to Israel today, where Tehran is concerned.

And we get to the most fundamental question: What is Israel for? The answer, or one answer, is: To shelter the Jews against exterminationist attack. So how long does Israel stand around, while the threat gathers? How patient is Israel in waiting for an American green light, or an American blessing? Isn’t the whole idea of Israel that the Jews no longer have to depend on the kindness of strangers?

I do not say there are easy answers. I don’t envy the government of Israel, whoever is in power. In Jordan the other day, Ephraim Sneh told me, “No government in Jerusalem — no government: left, right, or center — would allow Iran to go atomic.” The world fears an Israeli attack on Iran. Israel — almost alone — fears an Iranian attack on Israel.

How long would you wait, if you were Israel? What would you do? Something to think about, in your idle moments.

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