One of the most important developments in the effort to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capability was the statement by President Obama last spring that a nuclear Iran would be an unacceptable danger to the entire world. In doing so, the president was removing the focus on Israel and saying that it is in all our strategic interests to do the right thing.
I’ve been thinking about that as the war of Hamas against Israel has exploded once again. What precipitated the war and what it means for the entire world are not duly appreciated.
Another analogy comes to mind. Suicide bombing as a form of modern warfare started with fits and starts in the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s. A lot of it was directed at Israel by Palestinian terrorist groups. There were, of course, condemnations of the bombings and those behind them, as well as rationalizations. Mostly, however, the international community did little and even struggled with finding a definition of terrorism.
Since then, what started as a trickle grew into a flood. The terrorist attacks on 9/11, though not a bombing, flowed out of the successes of this technique and finally, too late, woke the world to the fact that what may start out locally, as a method of killing innocent Israelis, can easily become a threat to us all.
The relevance of this to the current struggle should be self-evident. For years, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups launched rockets at Israeli civilians. In early years, all kinds of rationalizations took place, if not justifying the Hamas rocket assault, at least tolerating and not taking concerted international action against it.
One rationalization was that of the Palestinians as being oppressed, as if the deliberate targeting of civilians could be justified. Another was that these were not sophisticated missiles. They rarely landed in populated areas, so what is big, strong Israel worried about concerning these “relatively harmless” assaults.
The fact that thousands and thousands of Israelis had their lives disrupted on a daily basis was ignored. So, too, was the level of anxiety of parents worried about the safety of their children. And the trauma of those who lived near where the rockets landed was merely an afterthought.
Those factors should have been enough to motivate the international community to take action and surely should have brought more understanding of why Israel had to act, as it has now, to protect its people.
But what was not discussed and recognized was how tolerating such assaults against civilians, and, in particular, doing nothing to intercept the flow of missiles and missile-making material into Gaza, was giving legitimacy to a development that is bound inevitably to come back to haunt the rest of the civilized world.
We see it first within Gaza. What originally were unsophisticated missiles are now being replaced by Fajr 5 and Grad missiles, either imported from Iran or developed at home with financial and training support from Iran. Both have far greater potential for lethal destruction and have triple or quadruple the range of the old missiles. Now it is not only southern Israel that is the terrorist target areas but Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as well.
And so, as technology develops in a way that terrorists will increasingly be able to develop more sophisticated and mobile missiles and as they see a tolerance for it, there is reason to think that deliberate targeting of civilian areas will spread far beyond the borders of Israel, much as did the abhorrent technique of suicide bombings.
The current fighting between Israel and Hamas should be a wake-up call. We should be standing with Israel not only because it has the fundamental right of all nations to self-defense, as the president said so eloquently in Thailand. We should also be standing with Israel because if we don’t, the scourge of missiles targeting civilian populations will become a world-wide epidemic.
Let’s get this right now, so we don’t later have to regret not having done more.