My Word: Threats and Promises

The impotence of Obama in stopping Bashar Assad massacring his own people has not escaped the Iranian regime.

Netnayahu and Obama stroll in Whtie House 390 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
Netnayahu and Obama stroll in Whtie House 390
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
Recently, I have been asked by American parents what they should do about their children who are spending the year in Israel. Should they pull their kids out of the country and back to the States in light of all the talk about a possible Israeli strike on Iran? I could almost hear a sigh being released as I opened the emails. I have no doubt that it took a certain level of courage to send someone who lives here such a question. Or was that a certain level of fear? In one case, a mutual friend asked what I would say to a terrified mother, afraid that her child’s life is in danger.
I made my son sandwiches and sent him to school before firing back the terse reply: “Why does she think she’ll be any safer in America if there is a conflict between Israel and Iran?” I then relented somewhat and pointed out that I was more concerned with the predictions of snowfall and the need to get to the supermarket. The possibility of even two centimeters of the fluffy white stuff brings Jerusalem’s siege mentality to the fore, and locals rapidly wipe the shelves clean of milk, bread and canned foodstuffs.
It’s not that I’m complacent about the Iranian threat. I am just a little too preoccupied with life to dwell on it much.
Incredible as it might seem to the American parents who contacted me, the fact that my old washing machine has started making expensive-sounding thumping noises during the spin cycle is higher on my list of concerns than what Iranians are doing with their centrifuges.
To put their minds at rest, I should point out that I tried to find a time for the technician to come and take a look at it, between snowstorms, mini-heatwaves and the Purim-related activities. The end of the world, or Israel, is not imminent enough for me to ignore the piles of laundry.
Not that the subject is completely off the radar of the ordinary folk here. I did have a conversation with colleagues the other day about who has gas mask kits and who still lacks them – a conversation which would probably seem surreal in the corridors of the average American workplace.
It turns out, however, that none of us without the protective kits against nuclear, biological and chemical warfare is doing anything productive about acquiring them. We’re all busy with other things.
One colleague was in the midst of renovating her kitchen when the conversation took place – also not the sort of endeavour you take on if you think your home is about to be nuked, although the dust and devastation that inevitably accompany home improvements are reminiscent of missile damage.
This does not mean I recommend ignoring the Iranian threat any more than I can afford to ignore the warning signals emanating from my washing machine. It needs to be fixed, or replaced. Ditto the regime in Tehran.
IT WAS with this in mind that I noted the speeches of President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the AIPAC conference meeting in Washington last week.
It seemed like they were at last on the same page and even the same book – just different editions. Or maybe they’re reading in different languages.
No one wants war, no one wants annihilation.
America has been burned before with its attempts to solve conflicts. Israel, and the Jewish People, have been burned by attempts to wipe them out “in every generation.” For example, the Purim festival, which we have just celebrated, marks Jewish survival despite the best efforts of one of the most famous anti-Semites of antiquity, Haman, the royal adviser to Persian King Ahasuerus.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who has been active in spreading the word about the Iranian threat for some 15 years, told an Israel Radio interviewer last week that Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would not stop his country’s nuclear policy until he is made to realize that not having nuclear arms is worth more than having them. At the moment, he has more to gain from continuing to pursue the path of nuclear weapons than the path of peace.
Obama’s reassurances that he is behind us were well received in Israel. And possibly in Tehran, too.
The man who is leader of the world’s only superpower should be at least alongside us, if not ahead of us. I didn’t want to hear threats of war from Obama – both our countries have learned that you might know how a war starts, but you never know how it’s going to end. But I didn’t want to hear empty promises, either.
Ahmadinejad, as I have noted before, is watching events in Syria and liking what he sees.
The impotence of Obama, the leader of the free world, when it comes to stopping the massacre by Bashar Assad of his own people has not escaped the regime in Tehran.
UNESCO, the UN organization charged with promoting education, science and culture, hasn’t even managed to kick Assad’s Syria off its Human Rights Committee as I write these lines, despite the best efforts of the US and UK. Neither Assad nor Ahmadinejad are quaking following Obama’s promises to Israel.
The Iranian regime knows that Obama is not likely to risk his chances of a second term in office – amid sky-high oil prices – when all he needs to do is to sound convincing as he admonishes Ahmadinejad and restrains and reassures Netanyahu.
As Yediot Aharonot columnist Hanoch Daum put it: “Is there any sane Israeli who is convinced that the American president will forgo a second term, or at least critically endanger it, to preserve the security of the Jewish state? And even if someone is convinced of it, can we rely on it?” The same, by the way, can be said regarding the peace process in general. How often has Israel been promised that the US and the international community will guard its safety if only it gives up X, Y, Z. Imagine an Israeli prime minister had handed the Golan Heights over to Hafez Assad or his son in exchange for a promise of peace from the Syrians and assurances of security from the peacemakers. Looking at what is taking place in Homs and elsewhere in Syria today, who can honestly say that the West would step in and prevent a massacre of the Jews were Syria to send its tanks rolling down on Galilee? Even now it is a possibility that Assad, if he does feel pressured, will shoot missiles at Israel, a la Hamas and Hezbollah, to divert attention.
I’m pleased that the talks and speeches in Washington focused on Iran rather than the Palestinian issue. The latter is clearly not the threat to world peace that others would have us believe. But none of it was music to my ears.
If, however, I weigh Netanyahu’s “We deeply appreciate the great alliance between our two countries. But when it comes to Israel’s survival, we must always remain the masters of our fate” to Obama’s “When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back,” I know which sounded like the better bet to me.
“There is no doubt – anywhere in the world – that the United States will insist upon Israel’s security and legitimacy,” said Obama.
Insistence, however, is one thing. Being able to ensure Israel’s security and legitimacy is another.
And that is something that should concern all of us, wherever we live.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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