Here is a well-known Israeli scene: A vehicle gets stuck on the uphill road to Jerusalem, the driver stands on the shoulder of the road, the hood of the car is open and a cloud of smoke rises from the engine into the man’s sweating face. Another vehicle pulls up behind the disabled car and an obese man approaches the forlorn driver and bends down to view the overheated engine. “Let me do this, leave it to me,” the supposed savior says, full of good will. “I know what to do, I was a mechanic in the armored corps.” This usually doesn’t end well.
“Leave it to me,” U.S. President Barack Obama tells Israel, regarding the overheating Iranian issue. “I know what to do,” Obama says, but he was not even a mechanic in the armored corps. And it is not at all certain that he is filled with goodwill. This too may not end well ...
“I am not bluffing,” the president said to the audience at the AIPAC conference two weeks ago, and for one moment it seemed as if Uncle Sam would take care of the Iranian problem for us, while we sit in the bleachers and cheer him on. But the very next day, he did an about-face: back to more talks with the Iranians.
“This is the last chance,” says the government which only a moment ago was praised for its announcement of an end to “containment.” And so the days of “prevention” have arrived.
Distinguished commentator Charles Krauthammer was disgusted. “So what is Obama’s real objective?” he wrote in his Washington Post column last week. Krauthammer quoted an administration official who told his newspaper “We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel.”
“Revealing and shocking,” wrote Krauthammer. On one hand, there is an extreme terrorist country that will shortly acquire nuclear weapons and has declared as its aim the destruction of Israel. On the other hand, there is the president, whose only aim is to reach the November elections favorably, without wars, crises or high gasoline prices. The main goal for him is not to ruin his chances of being reelected, says Krauthammer. And he sums up the situation as follows: “A fair-minded observer might judge that Israel’s desire to not go gently into the darkness carries higher moral urgency than the political future of one man, even if he is president of the United States.”
The question of what to do about Iran’s nuclear program has risen to the top of the international community’s agenda, and unfortunately, the most turbulent and emotional debate in the Israeli media as well. All the dams have been breached, and even our national canon - that of destruction, exile, Holocaust and revival - has been ridiculed. How does history benefit and harm life, a prominent philosopher once asked, and he may have enjoyed seeing the pirouette-on-a-pinhead performed by former security officials, experts, writers and “intellectuals” who are trying to prove that black is white, two plus two does not equal four, the rational Iranians are not building a bomb, and if they are building one - they won’t use it, and if they use it - it won’t be against us, and in more general terms - it doesn’t concern us, and he who believes we are in danger of being destroyed, is certainly mistaken.
History does play a role in the present as well, and it is good that is does. Every nation has its history, its narrative, its canon. In our case, the Holocaust plays a central role. “In every generation [there are those who seek our destruction]” is not just a verse from the Passover Haggadah - it is a historical truth. Not very pleasant, but true. And it is also true today. Ask the folks in Gaza and the West Bank, Tehran and Beirut. You don’t want to believe them? That’s your problem. When will you start believing? When it is too late? And in the meantime, should we do nothing, as author David Grossman suggests?
“Passive appeasement is what shaped the worldview of Britain’s elitist leaders in the 1930s. Public opinion was that of ‘no more war’ and a refusal to rearm and a naive belief in collective security left their impression on the Left ... They may have condemned Nazi actions, but their revulsion at arms dealers and militarism was so great that they refused even a minimal rearmament (of Britain), and by so doing, proved they did not understand the uniqueness of Nazi evil.” This is what highly acclaimed British historian Michael Burleigh wrote in his book “Moral Combat," describing the atmosphere of British appeasement in the face of the ever-growing danger from Nazi Germany.
Intelligence units do not read minds
Yet again a comparison between the Nazi regime and the regime in Tehran? Certainly. For the simple reason that it is the truth. True, two historical situations are never identical, but people play a role in every historical situation. And the cases are quite similar. Fact: the Bible, Greek tragedies, Shakespeare’s plays and the great artistic works, are all relevant to people today as they were when they first appeared. Perhaps history is not repeating itself, but people, under similar circumstances, do react similarly. Popular uprisings in city squares existed prior to the age of Twitter and Facebook. Wars were fought before tanks and pilotless aircraft were invented. And genocide happened before gas chambers were invented. With the advent of nuclear weapons, it just became easier to perpetrate.
Nuclear weapons in the hands of Islamists is a danger to Israel. They live history. In their view, the Crusader invasion is a recent event, and as they see it, we, not to our credit, are also considered cursed Crusaders. They live this myth and are working to hasten the messiah - theirs. Give them nuclear weapons and they will use them. This is what they say. Whoever thinks this is simply "for internal propaganda purposes," may he revel in his belief. But just as a reminder, a short while before the attack on the World Trade Center, an explicit threat was posted on al-Qaida’s Web page saying the organization was about to carry out an attack that would shock the world. U.S. intelligence agencies - the most sophisticated in the world - ignored the threat. The results are known to all.
The topic of intelligence is altogether problematic. In 2007, a U.S. national intelligence estimate [NIE] claimed that Iran had frozen its nuclear program in 2003. In Tehran, they burst out laughing. They probably read the best-seller “Legacy of Ashes” which describes all the failures of U.S. intelligence agencies. Even today - as senior officials in Washington admitted in a local news report - it is doubtful that American intelligence agencies will know exactly when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei decides to assemble a bomb. They have satellites, eavesdropping systems, computers and radar - the most advanced technologies. But they still cannot read the Ayatollahs’ minds.
It is also not certain that the Americans are capable of acting in the most effective way. If we put aside Bin Laden’s assassination - a perfect targeted assassination after a decade of work - the U.S. military, unfortunately, has not been victorious all that much recently. Saddam Hussein’s army was relatively easy to defeat in two campaigns. But terror brought about America's abandonment of Iraq, and terror is also about to bring about the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan as well. After the “Yes, we can” of the last U.S. presidential elections, a new phrase is taking root in the U.S. these days - “It is not doable,” which is mainly being associated with the situation in Afghanistan. Is this what Obama - commander in chief of the U.S. army - needs, another unsuccessful war in the Middle East?
Tough decisions under uncertain conditions
Leadership is manifested in one’s ability to make difficult decisions in the midst of uncertain circumstances and ambiguity. Such decisions have been made in Israel in the past. In 1948, then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion decided to declare the establishment of the state despite many warnings of imminent Arab military invasions. In 1967, Israel’s leadership decided to go to war - which later became known as the Six-Day War - despite the stranglehold placed on the country courtesy of the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies. In 1981, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin decided to strike Iraq’s nuclear plant in Osirak, despite the fact that almost every expert and military commander advised him against doing so. Gambles? “Leadership is sometimes left with no choice but to take critical decisions which are essentially ‘fuzzy gambles’ for the whole pot, in that there may be no way of calculating the likelihood of success,” Professor Yehezkel Dror wrote this week. “If the number of those killed in a future war will be far greater than the number of those killed in a war today, it is imperative to act today.”
Had Allied forces invaded the Rheine district in 1936 to block one of Hitler’s earliest moves, many would have probably perished in the ensuing battles. But the price would have been relatively miniscule compared with the price they were forced to pay three years later. It is not pleasant to “think about the unthinkable” as strategist and author Herman Kahn titled his classic book, but the numbers issue is indeed a significant calculation. An Iranian nuclear bomb may cause tremendous damage to Israel. “Israel is a single-bomb country,” former Iranian President Ali Rafsanjani once said, referring to the possibility of destroying Israel with just one nuclear bomb. But if Iran’s nuclear program is dealt a strong blow or completely destroyed, Iran’s second-strike capability is limited. According to reports, they have only a few hundred surface-to-surface ballistic missiles that can reach Israel. Some of their missiles will be destroyed in an aerial assault. Others will encounter the Arrow anti-missile defense system, which is no less efficient than the Iron Dome. Only a few Iranian missiles will reach their destination, similar to Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles launched against Israel during the First Gulf War. Israel was struck by 40 missiles during that war, but the damage was bearable.
Will Hezbollah and Hamas - Iran’s forward bases - join the war and launch 40 or 50 thousand rockets at their Zionist enemy? Not for certain. They know they have something to lose in doing so - their rule and their lives. And in any case we must take into consideration that if their intention is to retaliate if Israel decides to attack Iran, they may also do so if it is the U.S. who decides to attack Iran. In 1991, Israel did not join the coalition of forces that invaded Iraq, even though Saddam’s missiles landed in our country. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the Knesset on Wednesday, we can only imagine the brazenness of the terrorist groups if their patron (Iran) covers them with a nuclear umbrella. We can assume that once the Iranian issue is resolved, Hezbollah and Hamas will be weakened.
It would be very convenient for all of us if the Iranian crisis just disappears with a wave of a magic wand. But the problem is not going anywhere and is only getting worse each day. That is why we must solve it. And we can solve it. Some people say an attack on Iran will “set the Middle East ablaze.” Others say an attack on Iran would shock the Middle East, but after an initial spike in oil prices, will not trigger a dramatic change. It would simply solve the problem, they say, just as the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear plant destroyed Iraq’s nuclear program once and for all. If it took Iran 20 years to get to where they are today in their nuclear program, who is to say that they will recover from a military strike in a year or two?
We should never underestimate the capabilities of Israel’s defense establishment, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Israel Air Force. We should not be arrogant either. We paid a price for our arrogance in the Yom Kippur War, and in other military campaigns as well. But we must also not be cowards. Passivity can also exact a heavy price. A combination of means, methods and motivation is a winning formula. The Israel Air Force has already done the impossible, more than once. A New York Times report two weeks ago emphasized the complexity of an attack on Iran. The report mentioned the distance, the anti-aircraft batteries and the large number of targets we would have to face. “They would need to send 100 planes,” the writer warned. But someone forgot that in World War II some operations involved 1,000 planes (according to reports, Israel does not have that many planes ...). Since then, though, the technologies in the aircraft themselves, in navigation, electronic warfare, laser-guided weapons launched at targets from a distance, and pilotless aircraft have been able to compensate for a lack in quantity.
And above all, there is motivation. People my age will not forget the feeling we had on the eve of the Six-Day War, when everyone felt that we were on the brink of our greatest challenge, and we all worked together as one and faced the danger together. We will also not forget the Yom Kippur War, when after the sirens sounded we all ran home from the synagogues, filling the streets with human waves, and hurrying to put on our army boots and uniforms. Who can forget the feeling we had in 1976 when we heard of the successful mission in Entebbe? And even this past week, there was no fear or trauma in the shelters in the south. There were only reporters running around trying to get someone to say “Yes, for sure, it’s frightening. We can’t live like this any longer.”
Difficult, daring and doable
There is a huge difference between the recent “bout” we experienced with Islamic Jihad in Gaza and a possible strike on Iran. This wasn’t a “test-run” for a war with Iran. But it did prove that we are capable of initiating a justified campaign with the aim of thwarting terrorist activity and preventing massive attacks, and preparing ourselves properly for the inevitable retaliation. We can destroy most of the rockets and missiles that will be launched against us. We can also destroy most enemy targets with precision strikes. Our systems have proven that they work together as a system should, with one part backing up the other. Someone in the media called it “The most difficult confrontation we have had since Operation Cast Lead.” Excuse me? As of Wednesday, no Israeli was killed, and there was minimal damage to homes and properties. On the other side, 20 terrorists were killed, few citizens were injured, and very little damage was reported.
Iran is a different story, though, of more immense proportions. If there is to be a strike on Iran, no amateur ‘armchair strategist’ will be running the operation. Only our very best people will be involved in conducting the strike. Only the cream of the crop. Our finest sons and daughters. Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, these are state of Israel’s spearheads. With the Americans or without them, it will be difficult; it will be daring; but it is doable.