Interesting Times: Three races

If Jews are silent before an existential threat, why should others be concerned over lesser ones?

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
For a moment, Iran's announcement that it had achieved "industrial production" of enriched uranium topped the charts on Google News. Then it was replaced by President George Bush's speech on immigration. So it goes, pretty much according to plan, for Iran's mullahs. There is a requisite drumbeat of reports that Iran is achieving its nuclear objectives despite lackadaisical international efforts to resist. As in poker, Iran responds to each raise with one of its own, hoping it will scare its opponents out of the game and take the pot as well. A cascade of 1,500 centrifuges could produce enough highly enriched uranium to build one "small" nuclear weapon each year. Iranian negotiator Ali Larjani claims they already have 3,000. Some experts claim Iran is bluffing. But The New York Times reported Monday: "The large industrial plant under construction at Natanz is roughly half the size of the Pentagon. Inspectors say Iran is constructing 3,000 centrifuges as a first step toward 54,000." Naturally, we tend to cope with such news with rationalizations; maybe Iran won't be able to master the serious challenges of building a flawless centrifuge cascade and then of building a weapon. Maybe we have years, not months. But such technical questions are not the only measure of urgency. As the Iranian rush to create facts indicates, there is another clock ticking, between the world's willingness to stop Iran, and an adjustment to the reality of a jihadi bomb. We are still within a watershed moment in which it could go either way. On the one hand, Western governments have been ratcheting up the pressure, and Western leaders cannot suggest that an Iranian nuke might be acceptable - as French President Jacques Chirac did but quickly retracted. On the other, there is the widespread sense that all this is lip service, since even the recently tightened sanctions seem far too weak to force Iran to capitulate. It can only be inferred that the real Western policy is opposite to the declared one, and that an Iranian nuke is acceptable. THE MULLAHS know that the situation could tip either way - either toward Western seriousness or toward capitulation. So as much as Iran is racing on the technical front, it is racing on the inevitability front by projecting determination and belligerence. The more unstoppable Iran looks, the mullahs figure, the more likely the West will give up trying. Iran's nuclear race is deeply affected by another race: between actual success on the ground in Iraq and political pressure to declare failure and leave. If the Iraqi situation continues to slowly improve, this will remove the major distraction from confronting Iran. If the US chooses to capitulate in Iraq regardless, the Iranian threat would likely become more urgent and less tractable, as American allies run for cover in the face of growing Iranian power and influence. Iran is calculating that it will continue to enjoy Russian and Chinese diplomatic protection, and that Europe will never lead the charge, but the US is a wildcard. The most important thing the Iranian regime has going for it is the isolationist wind that is blowing in the US - a wind generated by real and perceived failures in the war in Iraq. This brings us to a third race, between Jewish fears of the Iranian threat and of confronting that threat. American Jews are beset by a paradox: they are, and have been all along, more opposed to the war in Iraq than Americans generally, yet they are deeply afraid of being stained with having favored that war. This is seen by American Jewish Committee surveys, which found that 38% of American Jews supported American military action against Iran in 2006, down from 49% the previous year. This drop was hardly the result of a drop in the threat of Iran - the 2006 poll found that 57% back an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program. Part of the drop may be explained by plummeting confidence in the Bush Administration, but part likely derives from growing isolationism on the American Left, combined with Jewish fears of being tarred as warmongers. We have thus come to an uncomfortable crossroad. Jews and Israel are worried that being out front may transform Iran into a "Jewish issue," which would detract from the international impetus to act. Yet while the entire free world is deeply threatened by mullahs with nukes, Israel is most threatened. JEWISH ACTION is therefore a critical litmus test. If Jews are not visibly concerned by a clear and present threat to Israel's existence, why should others be more concerned over lesser threats to themselves? The world, consciously or not, is looking for the Jews to lead. Natan Sharansky, who organized the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, recently called for another such march, this time to stop Iran. If Jews do come to the mall by the hundreds of thousands, they will be joined by many other Americans who fear both for American security and for the Jewish state. In October 1943, after The New York Times reported that the Nazis had already murdered a million Jews, 33-year-old Peter Bergson organized 400 rabbis and advertisements in 200 newspapers calling on the US to act. Rafael Medoff, director of the Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, described the reaction: "Bergson's hard-hitting approach rattled some mainstream American Jewish leaders, who feared that loud protests might provoke anti-Semitism." We now look back with shame at the Jewish failure to sufficiently combat the Holocaust. If we do stand up for ourselves, we will also compel the free world to save itself in the process.

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11