Sleeping outside in fragile, temporary dwellings during Succot, we feel the need for divine protection, and are reminded of the clouds of glory that surrounded and protected the Jewish people in a howling wilderness. The special closeness that we feel to God after the scorching self-scrutiny of the Days of Awe, culminating in the cleansing of Yom Kippur, gives Succot its unique status among the holidays as zman simhatenu - the time of our rejoicing.
The pattern for a renewed closeness to God was established in the desert. After the sin of the Golden Calf, the clouds of glory departed. Only after Moses received the second tablets on Yom Kippur did the clouds return five days later on 15 Tishrei (tonight). Thus the special closeness we feel to God on Succot is intimately bound to His role as protector of Israel.
AWARENESS OF divine protection is something we will all need to cultivate during the Hebrew year 5770, which promises to be the most fateful for the Jews of Israel since 1967, and perhaps since 1948. Sometime this year, probably before Pessah, Israel will have to decide whether to attack Iranian nuclear facilities or learn to live with a nuclear Iran.
Israel continues to pay diplomatic lip service to the possibility that vigorous Western sanctions might convince Iran to shut down its development of nuclear weapons, and the discovery last week that Iran has once again completely hoodwinked international nuclear inspection agencies makes the imposition of some American and European sanctions more plausible.
But, as former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton pointed out in the August 31 Wall Street Journal, there is no longer any chance that even the toughest sanctions - which in any event have no chance of being implemented - could still stop Iran. Meanwhile Iran, with China's help, is working assiduously to remove its greatest vulnerability to sanctions - its lack of petroleum refining capacity.
America has its own vital interests in preventing Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. Senators Daniel Coats (R., Indiana) and Charles Robb (D., Virginia), cochairmen of the Bipartisan Policy Center's national security task force, write that "an Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons capability would be strategically untenable. It would threaten US national security, regional peace and stability, energy security and the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime."
American planes could fly far more sorties against Iran from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and bases in Iraq than Israel can, and American ships could blockade Iran's petroleum imports through the Straits of Hormuz. But US Secretary of Defense William Gates, speaking for the Obama administration, has made clear that the administration views the consequences of attacking Iran as even worse than a nuclear Iran.
America will not only refrain from military action against Iran; it is unlikely to provide Israel with any technical help in jamming Iranian air defenses or providing satellite images and targeting information. Most ominously, I was told by the head of a major conservative think tank in Washington in May that American fighter jets would confront the Israeli planes if they attempted to overfly Iraq, long before Obama campaign adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski went public with that suggestion.
Ironically, Saudi Arabia, which is deathly afraid of having world oil prices dictated by a nuclear Iran, is more likely to permit Israeli overflights than the United States. But the Saudis must also fear Iran stirring up trouble in its oil-rich provinces, where most of its Shi'ite population is located.
AGAINST THESE formidable obstacles and the uncertain success of an Israeli attack must be weighed what a nuclear Iran would mean for Israel. There is no assurance that mutual assured destruction would deter Iran's theocrats from employing nuclear weapons. The world's greatest authority on Islam, Prof. Bernard Lewis, argues that prospects of a nuclear conflagration might prove an incentive to the Iranian theocrats. Just such an apocalypse precedes the coming of the so-called hidden imam in Shi'ite tradition.
Long before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian leaders openly discussed the logic of a nuclear war with Israel. The country's most powerful "moderate," former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, is on record as saying that it is "not irrational" to contemplate a nuclear exchange with Israel. Bringing about the deaths of millions of Iranians, Lewis points out, might be viewed as an act of beneficence by the Iranian theocrats - the provision of an E-Z pass to a glorious reward in the next world. On that premise, Iran's leaders sent hundreds of thousands of boy soldiers to certain death against Iraqi tanks, armed only with the martyr's "key to heaven" around their necks.
Former assistant defense minister Ephraim Sneh already said years back that every Israeli who can leave will do so if Iran acquires nuclear weapons. At the very least, a nuclear Iran would provide a protective umbrella for its Hizbullah and Hamas proxies and renewed Syrian aggression.
Yet even a successful Israeli attack would come at a high cost. Iran has powerful mid-range missiles capable of reaching Israel, and Hizbullah and Hamas have between them tens of thousands of smaller rockets capable of blanketing the North and South with rocket fire. These would likely be deployed in response to an attack on Iran. And Syria, an Iranian ally, might bring its biological and chemical weapons into play.
Facing aggression on multiple fronts, the IDF and IAF would be stretched extremely thin. Nor could Israel count on being resupplied by the US. Israel would have no choice but to act more forcefully than ever to bring Hizbullah and Hamas attacks to a quick halt, at the risk of further international isolation.
Though Western nations would breathe a sigh of relief at any setback to Iran's nuclear ambitions, which threaten them as well, and would have only themselves to blame for seven years of inaction that forced Israel to act alone, condemnations of Israel would rain down. When world oil prices surge, threatening the tentative economic recovery, and Iran unleashes sleeper terror cells against Jewish and Western targets, those condemnations would mount, and even sanctions are not inconceivable.
We are always in need of God's protection for our survival. But this year that dependence should be crystal-clear to anyone who gives the matter a moment's thought.
May we be found worthy.