If Israel is attacked...

Will a promise made by politicians to a not-so-hypothetical situation be too little, too late?

Israelis in Bomb Shelter (photo credit: Amir Cohen / Reuters)
Israelis in Bomb Shelter
(photo credit: Amir Cohen / Reuters)
"If Israel is attacked …" is a phrase heard often by mostly well-meaning politicians from both American parties when they are out on the campaign trail, or even while holding office to express their intent to come to the aid of the Jewish State.
But as anyone who follows current events knows, the phrase is not only trite, it reveals a certain unfamiliarity with today's Middle East and in the context of Iran, could even be considered dangerous.
First, "If Israel is attacked …" implies a future scenario. But those who keep abreast of the goings-on in Israel know that Israel is and has been under attack all year (and earlier) by Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip. Thus far this year, the Palestinian have fired more than 800 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilian areas.
On October 24, 80 projectiles were fired at Israelis. In those attacks, two guest workers were injured while five houses took direct hits. Last year a rocket attack from Gaza killed an Israeli and there have been numerous fatalities and injuries due to Palestinian rocket attacks over the past 10 years. There has also been great property damage, and the trauma -- especially to young children who have to flee to bomb shelters within 15 seconds of the alerts -- is immeasurable. More than one million Israelis live within range of rockets from Gaza.
If this is not a current state of being under attack, what is?
While the newly reelected US administration can do nothing to stop the rocket fire, at the very least it can strongly condemn the Palestinians, yet again and again it has failed to do so. If America -- the largest funder of the Palestinians and trainer of their security forces -- cannot compel the Palestinians to stop firing rockets at Israel, who can? The lack of effective action by the administration illustrates poor treatment of its ally. Yes, the US also funded Israel's novel Iron Dome anti-missile (short-range, low-trajectory) system which has proved effective, though hardly 100 percent. In fact, according to reports, it only eliminated seven of the incoming rockets during the Oct. 24 barrage. Each Iron Dome anti-missile missile costs $40,000 (plus the millions it cost to develop and deploy the system itself). Meanwhile, a Palestinian rocket costs less than $1,000 and a mortar is far cheaper.
In reality, Iron Dome may only provide the security of an umbrella in a hailstorm.
Imagine a scenario where your neighborhood is plagued with gun-toting gangs who frequently fire their weapons at civilians. But rather than go after the criminals, the police hand out bullet proof vests to the victims. Helpful perhaps if they aim at your chest, but it would be far better to eliminate the criminals and stop the gunfire in the first place.
But America lets the Palestinians fire at will, and when Israel goes after the terrorists, there is a chorus of accusations of a "disproportionate response" from the world and the media -- including in America. A New York Times headline online on Oct. 24 blared that "Israel -- Airstrikes Kill Two Hamas Gunmen" with no mention in the headline as to why Israel struck.
As for Iran, the phrase "If Israel is attacked …" is even more problematic. It implies that America will step forward to help Israel only after Israel is attacked by Iran. This is not good enough. If an Iranian attack involves a nuclear missile or bomb, the casualties would be devastating to a country as tiny as Israel.
According to a 2007 analysis by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies, if Tel Aviv is the target of an Iranian nuclear attack, he estimates that between 200,000 to 800,000 Israelis would die from the primary impact. Others still have noted that nuclear radiation would account for many more Israeli casualties.
Who would want to live, visit, or invest in Israel in the aftermath of a nuclear attack? It would likely mean the destruction of the Jewish State. Even without an attack, the very fact that Iran possesses nuclear weapons is enough to inspire many Jews to desert their homeland.
Allies protect one another before tragedies and attacks occur. Little good would come for Israel if the US were to react after an attack.
It is quite possible that Iranian officials translate the phrase "If Israel is attacked..." to mean that America will allow them to get in the opening salvo; a free shot to kill as many Israelis as they can before facing American retribution.
Iranian leaders have said they would be willing to sacrifice millions of their own people to an Israeli counter-strike in order to attain the goal of destroying Israel. This is a regime that sacrificed thousands of boys by sending they sent into minefields to detonate the devices rather than risk casualties to soldiers during their war against Iraq.
Defending Israel after the fact is simply no defense at all. The policy must be to preempt Israel's enemies and beyond that, to remove the threat to Israel in its entirety.
If politicians and other officials are careless in their choice of words and mean to say they will prevent Israel from a nuclear attack in the first place, they need to be clearer in their formulation. But if their statements are meant to be taken literally, and that America will only respond to an attack but not preempt one, it is a further sign that the Israelis can only truly rely on their own courage and judgment.
The writer is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America's Greater Philadelphia District.