Thin Again: Still in need of His protection

Each year, I survey the threats facing the Jews of Israel, if only to remind myself of how palpably we need the Divine protection of which we gain a heightened awareness on Succot.

Iran's Sajil 2 missile 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran's Sajil 2 missile 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
All the festivals are occasions of rejoicing, but only Succot is specifically called zman simhateinu – the time of our rejoicing”. The essence of the festival is to take the feeling of closeness to God that we achieved on Yom Kippur – described so movingly by Maimonides, “Last night he was hated by God, disgusting, distant, abominable [in His eyes]... Today he is beloved, a delight, close, a dear friend” – and to make it a part of our everyday lives.
On Yom Kippur, we elevate ourselves above the physical, fasting and refraining from all bodily pleasures; on Succot, we live in the succa – eating, drinking and sleeping – in God’s embrace. We leave our fixed dwelling for the makeshift succa, under the stars. The succa inspires our feelings of intimacy with God by reminding us of the Clouds of Glory that surrounded and sheltered us for 40 years as we wandered in the desert.
So goes the introduction to the piece on Succot that it sometimes feels like I’ve been writing every year since 2000/5761, when the second intifada, which had broken out two days before Rosh Hashana, was in full throttle. Each year, I survey the threats facing the Jews of Israel, if only to remind myself of how palpably we need the Divine protection of which we gain a heightened awareness on Succot.
Rarely has that feeling been so strong as this year, especially now that US President Barack Obama has put Israel on notice that it is on its own in terms of confronting Iran.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER notes that from the American point of view there are two possible internally coherent views to take on a nuclear Iran. The first is that a nuclear Iran is no big deal, and that it would be subject to deterrence in much the same fashion as the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Krauthammer finds this premise too questionable to be relied upon. The atheist Soviets did not believe in an afterlife, and thus were not eager to fry. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which controls Iran’s nuclear program, most certainly does believe in an afterlife.
Iran’s theocrats have shown in the past that they view it as an act of beneficence to provide their subjects an EZ-pass to paradise, as when they sent tens of thousands of children, armed only with the keys to heaven around their necks, to their deaths as human minesweepers in the war against Iraq.
Western models of rationality cannot be extrapolated to Islamic fanatics, whose views on nuclear war have their own internal rationality. Iranian leaders have long spoken of the logic of nuclear war with Israel: We wipe out six million and lose 20 million; we win. And as for those 20 million Iranian dead? They gain martyrdom.
Happily, Obama has explicitly said that containment of Iran is not the policy of his government and that a nuclear Iran is intolerable from an American point of view – the other possible view. But if that is the case, Krauthammer points out, the only chance of convincing Iran to abandon its dreams of nuclear weapons, without a massive aerial bombardment, is to convince them that such a bombardment is a real possibility.
As Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies puts it, “There are times when the best way to prevent war is to clearly communicate that it is possible.” That was true in the 1930s and it is true today.
The way to communicate this, writes Cordesman, is to set a specific date by which negotiations with Iran must be completed and stating that if negotiations have not been completed, Iran faces the physical destruction of its nuclear facilities by the United States Air Force. In other words, set forth precisely the type of “red lines” that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged Obama to set. Netanyahu does not seek to drag the US into war against Israel to protect Israel, but to force the US to take the one possible course that could avoid the necessity of such a war.
THE ONE policy that is completely nonsensical is to say, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did recently, that diplomacy, not red lines, is the best way forward.
Diplomacy, without a credible military threat, is nothing more than a guarantee that Iran’s nuclear program will proceed to completion.
Iran and the West have been negotiating for over eight years. In that time, Iran has repeatedly reneged on earlier agreements and been caught lying to the International Atomic Energy Agency time and again.
Freyedoun Abbasi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, boasted to the London-based Arabic Al-Hayat daily last week, “At times, we submitted false information [to inspectors] in order to defend the nuclear facilities and our achievements. We had no choice but to mislead the IAEA and other spies.”
The only beneficiary of endless pre-negotiations and negotiations is Iran, which uses them to advance its program. Yet even after the complete failure of the last P5+1 negotiations with Iran, the EU’s Catherine Ashton was back in Istanbul recently exploring the possibility of renewed negotiations.
The Obama administration’s top officials have already told Congress that while international sanctions are taking their toll on Iran’s economy, there are no signs whatsoever that they have slowed its nuclear program. If sanctions and diplomacy have failed, what is left?
The Obama administration cannot answer that question because it subscribes to at least two of what Foreign Affairs’s Adam Garfinkle terms the “big whoppers” of the mush-headed Left: 1. The use of force should always be conceived of as a last resort; and 2. Bad actors can never take advantage of meliorative diplomacy – i.e., talk-talk is always better than war-war.
That naivete is of a piece with the naivete of the Obama administration’s outreach to the Muslim world – the centerpiece of the president’s foreign policy, at least until it blew up in Benghazi and Cairo. Obama’s belief that he could charm the Iranians in ways the Europeans had not been able to over the preceding four years was but a subset of the larger approach.
The administration did not cause the events in Benghazi and Cairo, which had more to do with local power struggles between various shades of Islamic fanatics, though it was certainly insufficiently prepared for them. But those events demonstrated the limits of a policy based on treating jihadis as a fringe phenomenon and the larger Muslim world, at worst, as petulant adolescents and at best, as sharing fundamental American values of tolerance and democracy, as Obama proclaimed in his ballyhooed Cairo speech, which would quickly abandon its anti-Americanism if approached with sufficient nicey-nice.
FOR ALL his protestations that a nuclear Iran would be intolerable, Obama has adopted a far more menacing tone toward Israel over a possible Israeli attack than it has toward Iran. Understandably, his worst nightmare is an Israeli attack prior to elections, which would certainly spook world financial and oil markets and likely trigger a full-scale war into which the US would inevitably be drawn.
Yet by refusing to set any red lines for Iran, refusing even to meet last month with Netanyahu, Obama all but ensures an Israeli attack, sooner or later.
Netanyahu went on two major Sunday talk shows just prior to Rosh Hashana to again call for the establishment of red lines vis-à-vis Iran. He was practically begging Obama for some proof of American seriousness about preventing Iran from going nuclear.
Netanyahu knows that Obama loathes him. Obama is on record on open mike to former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to that effect, and has gone out of his way to make his disdain clear, including his recent snub of Netanyahu’s request for a personal meeting last month. And Netanyahu surely knew that Obama would take a very dim view of his attempts to sway American public opinion, particularly in the midst of a tight presidential campaign. Finally, Netanyahu knows that Obama has a better-than-even chance of being reelected and that he will be unconstrained in his treatment of Israel if he is.
In short, Netanyahu’s move was an act of desperation. For he also knows that in the absence of any credible American intent to stop the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons of either the clean or dirty (transported in a suitcase) versions, Israel will have no choice but to act. It cannot live under the cloud of a nuclear Iran, whose leaders have repeatedly described Israel as a cancerous growth that must be extirpated. Nor can it tolerate Hezbollah and Hamas acting under an Iranian nuclear umbrella.
But the consequences of Israeli action, which can probably do no more than set back the Iranian program by a couple of years, will be very grave. Among those consequences will likely be a full-scale war with Hezbollah and Hamas, and possible chemical or biological attacks on a half-prepared home front. (These consequences would also follow an American attack.)
Moreover, Iran would almost certainly strike at American targets and attempt to mine the Straits of Hormuz, and thereby draw American military intervention. Israel would be blamed for having dragged America into war and for the sharp spike in energy prices sure to follow in the short-run.
Maureen Dowd at the The New York Times is already sounding the alarms about “slithering” neo-cons (read “Jews”) seeking to get their hands on American foreign policy again and drag America into another Mideast quagmire.
A Machievellian might almost suspect that Obama is deliberately egging Israel on to attack – albeit after the elections – as a means of bringing Israel to total isolation internationally and as a prelude to finally being able to impose his own vision of Middle East peace.
So what is the consolation? No matter how perilous the situation in which we find ourselves today, it is certainly no more frightening than when the entire Jewish people – two million men, women, and children – followed God into an unplanted, barren desert, protected only by the Clouds of Glory.
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.