Last April, I joined my brother in Philadelphia on a march in commemoration of the victims of the Toulouse massacre. The march began with an assembly at an after-school Hebrew school.
None of the pupils appeared to know much about the tragedy, despite the posters they held with pictures of the victims. Asked “What happened?”, the rabbi responded only, “Very bad things,” lest the pupils be traumatized by the knowledge that there are still people eager to kill Jewish children. The assembly ended with the children chanting after the rabbi, “Never Again, Never Again,” while thrusting their posters in the air, still clueless at whom their chants were directed.
“Never Again,” has been a favored slogan of American Jewry since I was a child. Yet today, when six million Jews in Israel are threatened with extinction by a nuclear Iran, American Jewry is missing in action. In the most recent American Jewish Committee poll, 65 percent of American Jews said they would vote for President Barack Obama versus only 24% for Mitt Romney. (Since the first presidential debate, there have been indications of a shift toward Romney.) For those American Jews who claim even a smidgen of concern for their fellow Jews in Israel, I can think of four possible arguments why Iran should not sway them from their lifelong fealty to the Democratic Party. But one of those reasons is not the importance of free contraceptives for Sandra Fluke. Nor is it abortion or single-sex marriage. The Romney/Ryan ticket has followed Indiana governor Mitch Daniels’s call for a “truce on social issues” and focused on the greatest threat to the United States: the national deficit and stagnant economy.
Single-sex marriage is a state issue. There is no more chance of the US Supreme Court finding a “fundamental right” to gay marriage than there is of the court overturning Roe vs Wade. And the chance of either is far less than that of Iran deploying a nuclear weapon against Israel.
The four arguments are: (1) Sanctions may still convince the Iranians to abandon their nuclear ambitions; (2) Obama will ultimately take military action to stymie Iran’s nuclear ambitions; (3) Even if the Iranians obtain nuclear weapons, they would never use them; or (4) As president, Mitt Romney would not do anything different than Obama. Let’s consider each.
SANCTIONS CANNOT deter a nation determined to obtain nuclear weapons and whose leaders are willing to allow the civilian population to endure untold suffering.
North Korean leaders allowed millions to starve while pursuing nuclear weapons. Stronger sanctions than those imposed on Iran did not force Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait or to open up military sites to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, even as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children died as a result of the sanctions.
American air strikes that destroyed Iran’s nuclear sites and cut off the head of the Revolutionary Guard would be more humane than sanctions and offer a far better chance of overthrowing the mullahs.
Iran’s theocratic leaders will never abandon their nuclear ambitions unless they fear the destruction of their regime. From the start of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini viewed nuclear weapons as a prime tool for bringing about the submission of the non-Muslim world and of asserting Shi’ite supremacy. Nuclear weapons, writes former Defense Department Iran analyst Harold Rhode, would be a salve for Muslim feelings of humiliation by the West and “enable Muslims to hold their head high and force the West into retreat.”
Iran also has a geo-political need for nuclear weapons.
It is currently experiencing the most precipitous drop in national fertility in human history. By mid-century one third of its population will be seniors, just as its petroleum reserves begin to run dry. “Its only chance of survival,” writes David Goldman, an analyst of long-range demographic and economic trends, “lies in annexing oil-rich regions on its borders: Bahrain, Iraq’s Basra province, parts of Azerbaijan, and ultimately Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite-majority Eastern Province. That is why Iran needs nuclear weapons.”
EVEN ASSUMING that Obama is sincere about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, he might not act in time. Intelligence is not that precise.
The US was surprised by the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949, China in the ’60s, India in the ’70s, and Pakistan in the ’80s. We still do not know whether North Korea has the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon. In the vice-presidential debates, Vice President Joe Biden laughed about Iran still not knowing how to “weaponize” a nuclear warhead. But there are many ways to deliver dirty nuclear weapons, and an almost unlimited supply of willing carriers.
For its part, Iran remains unconvinced of American resolve. It has strung along Western negotiators for nearly a decade, repeatedly holding out the prospect of imminent agreements only to pull the football away at the last moment. Its negotiators boast publicly of their repeated deceptions of the West.
The Iranians reacted contemptuously to Obama’s “hand extended in friendship,” apparently in the belief that the only reason that five years of previous negotiations had gone nowhere was the failure to speak nicely to the Iranians. Since 2009, the president and other administration officials have repeatedly announced that “the time for negotiations is not unlimited,” like a parent threatening, “I’m counting to three – one, two, 21⁄2, 23⁄4, 27⁄8...” The spectacle of the president, secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff repeatedly explaining why an Israeli attack on Iran would be disastrous has further convinced Iranian leaders that they have nothing to fear. Finally, all the president’s foreign policy instincts, described by the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl to explain his passive gazing from the sidelines in Syria, argue for no military strike against Iran – i.e., “his excessive faith in ‘engaging’ troublesome foreign leaders to his insistence on multilateralism as an end in itself to his self-defeating caution in asserting American power.”
THE JEWS should have learned from Hitler to take seriously those who threaten us with extinction, as Iran’s leaders have repeatedly done. Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, invariably described as a “moderate” mullah, referred to Israel as a “one-bomb country.” Iran’s theocrats are not irrational; they just start with a different set of premises – for instance, the high value of martyrdom in the service of the Islamic Revolution, as tens of thousands of children employed as human minesweepers during the Iraq-Iran War attest.
Millions martyred, as the price of eliminating Israel, might, as the great scholar of Islam Bernard Lewis puts it, prove an “incentive, not a deterrent” for the mullahs.
Even if the mullahs were not inclined to immediately employ nuclear weapons against Israel, they might do so if they feared that their regime was on the verge of collapse.
Why not at that point at least fulfill a core value of the Islamic Republic by destroying the Jewish state, especially if those killed in retaliation are struggling to topple the regime? wonders Bret Stephens in the current issue of Commentary.
Without even assembling a nuclear weapon, Iran would make life miserable for Israel and the West. The ability to put together a nuclear weapon quickly would allow Iran to provide an umbrella for terrorist proxies around the world, most notably Hezbollah and Hamas, and control world oil prices by intimidating oil producing neighbors or threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz.
Iran via Hezbollah attacked a Marine barracks in Lebanon, ordered terrorist operations around the world, plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States – all without nuclear weapons. How much more unrestrained would it be with a nuclear capability? STILL, HOW would Romney differ from Obama? He has wisely not enunciated his own “red lines” for Iran, though, in contrast to the president, he has stressed that Iran must not even attain nuclear capability.
Aaron David Miller, a long-time State Department peace-processor, writes in Foreign Policy that Obama lacks the “warmth” for Israel of his immediate predecessors and more closely resembles Jimmy Carter. Romney, by contrast, comes from a Mormon religious tradition that has always emphasized the importance of Jews returning to Israel. And he heads a party whose rank and file will not tolerate a threat to Israel’s existence. Republicans are on average twice as supportive of Israel as Democrats.
One crucial difference between the two men might be in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran. Obama told the most recent AIPAC convention, “I have Israel’s back.”
But he explained the next day that was not a specific military or diplomatic policy, just a general expression of concern. Romney could be expected to strongly back Israel militarily. And lacking Obama’s infatuation with the UN and multilateralism, he could be counted on not to allow Israel to be isolated diplomatically.
“FINE,” MY American Jewish friends and relatives say, “but if you really believed the lives of every Israeli were under threat you would be leaving, along with your whole family.” Not so.
I’ve read the biography of Rabbi Michoel Ber Weismandl, who jumped off a train bound for Auschwitz in order to transmit to the West detailed plans for bombing the tracks. When he arrived in America after the war, his eyes burned everywhere he looked: Virtually every American Jew was in his eyes a murderer for not having done more to save the Jews of Europe. His pain was understandable, but the critique was too harsh. American Jews wielded far less power than they do now, and anti-Semitism still ran strong. Today, however, all that is asked of American Jews to lessen the mortal danger to the six million Jews in Israel is to pull a different lever on election day.
I would not want to live with Rabbi Weismandl’s bitterness, or in a world that allowed six million Jews to be annihilated twice in a single century. And I could not bear to listen to Jews with no future as Jews if catastrophe were to strike Israel, bleating, “Never again, never again.”
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.