Iranian cleric Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami delivers a sermon during Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran, May 26, 2017..
(photo credit: TIMA VIA REUTERS)
I usually try to inject a bit of levity into serious topics, but this week let’s dispense with the pleasantries and get straight into it. If anyone not connected to Israel was of the view that the Israeli government was like the proverbial lady and “doth protest too much” regarding Iranian intentions toward the Jewish state, they should have been rapidly disabused of any such notion this week.
On Wednesday night, after US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of action (JCPOA, the “Iran deal”), the Iranian regime decided to show the world and its supporters in Hamas and Hezbollah that it’s business as usual. We will come to that in a moment, but first a short look at the bigger picture.
You can dress the JCPOA any way you like, but you still come back to the same truth: Iran wants Israel gone. The response to this reality from Europe is therefore disappointing.
Because when a terrorism- supporting regime – a regime that has almost singlehandedly caused the deaths of thousands and created a quagmire of epic proportions in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen – fires 20 Grad and Fajr rockets from Syria toward Israel, EU leaders turning their faces away and talking about “protecting their business interests” in defending the deal is crass in the extreme. I am trying very hard not to sound sanctimonious here, but after the tragic spate of terrorist attacks in Europe, did Israel and its intelligence apparatus turn away and say “not my problem”? No. It stood shoulder to shoulder with Europe, sharing intel, best practices and whatever other assistance it could.
I have written about the Israeli maxim of “don’t rely on anyone else” before. Some readers may have taken it as arrogance, or worse as some kind of siege mentality or persecution complex – “typical Israelis: they always think the world is out to get them.” To those of you nodding in agreement at this, we hope events this week served as a wake-up call (and just by the way, I’m not Israeli).
I allowed myself a wry smile when looking at the banner headlines and reporting on the “escalation between Iran and Israel” this week. Wry because the word “between” suggests a kind of equivalence in motivation. As if the person who fights back against a bully constantly harassing him or her bears the same sense of responsibility as the bully for the ensuing events.
The language of the playground may seem out of place amid the complexity of Middle- East, but in this case, back to basics is what is needed. Just because you believe that you have stopped the bully from bringing a weapon of mass destruction into the playground, that doesn’t mean you can let up on them, or worse, reward them with money.
President Trump, for all his manifold faults, gets it, and he gets Israel. Maybe it’s a New York thing that when someone tries to hit you, intimidate you and ultimately is sworn to your or your friends’ destruction, you don’t play Janus, looking simultaneously to the past and trying to predict the future. You deal with the present and how it affects you today, in the here and now. Foresight and speculation is a luxury only those unaffected can allow themselves; you must hit back.
Israel’s response should be viewed in this context. Israel – let us remember, a tiny sliver of land that could fit into Iran 80 times – effectively crushed Iranian forces in Syria. It appears to be a response more readily understood by Israel’s neighbors, notably Bahrain (also a relative minnow in size terms), that actually condemned Iran’s attack.
But will Iran take the beating? It seems unlikely. Keep a close eye on Lebanon and the Syrian border, where we can anticipate Iran will lick its wounds (counting the billions of euros from European business interests with the regime will undoubtedly help), sit back for a while and let its friends in Hezbollah dish out some of the bullying and soak up any of the ensuing response from the Israelis. Sadly this is all very much business as usual. But hey, European leaders – not your problem, right?
The author is director of EIPA: Europe Israel Public Affairs, a multi-disciplinary pro-Israel advocacy group based in Brussels, with offices in Paris and Berlin.