The following story, all about waiting for a miracle from heaven, has been going around American churches and television talk shows for quite some time. It comes from folklore, and has many variations, but here is the gist: A religious, God fearing man once lived on a river bank in a two-story house. He prayed to God every day, but unfortunately, one day a terrible flood struck the area and the river began to overflow.
The man was standing in the yard and suddenly, his neighbor’s truck came barreling up his driveway. “The flood is dangerous,” the neighbor said. “Come with me and let’s get out of here.”
“No, thanks,” said the man. “I’m not worried. I have been praying to God, and I have faith that he will help me. I’m staying home.”
The water began to rise and flooded the yard, so the man climbed to the higher floor of his house. A rescue team arrived by boat. “Jump in,” said a rescue worker. “It is dangerous out here. Let’s get out of here.”
"No, thanks,” the man said. “I’m not worried. I have been praying to God, and I have faith that he will help me.” So the man stayed.
The water rose higher and the man climbed to the roof of his house. Suddenly he heard a loud noise. He looked up and saw a helicopter flying overhead, with a rope ladder dangling in front of him. “Climb on up,” said the pilot. “It is dangerous, let’s get out of here.”
“No, thanks,” said the man. “I have been praying to God, and I have faith that he will help me.”
When he finally drowned in the flood, the man arrived at heaven’s gate, and met the Lord. “What have you done to me?” he said bitterly. “I had faith. I prayed. And this is how you repay me?”
God wrung his hands in frustration. “I sent you a truck, I sent you a boat, I sent you a helicopter — what else could I have possibly done for you?”
There are many versions of this story making the rounds, but they all teach the same lesson: don’t wait for a miracle. Open your eyes, recognize danger and identify opportunities. Sometimes you even get a choice, and you had better make the right choice. Take for example the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. The global intelligence community has been on to Iran’s maneuvers for years, as it trained scientists, acquired equipment, built facilities and developed centrifuges; as they obtained Pakistani know-how and developed long-range missiles with the help of the North Koreans; as they built a reactor and added more and more layers of underground protection. And the Iranians are talkers, they don’t hide their intentions: to develop, to use, to destroy. Us. The “Zionist cancer.”
At first, the International Atomic Energy Agency, under the leadership of a powerful Egyptian with a vested interest, tried to cover up Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But in recent years, even the IAEA has begun to call Iran’s program what it is: a military program aimed at developing nuclear warheads and long-range missiles capable of carrying those warheads. Two weeks ago, the report issued by the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear program already looked like it was written by concerned Israelis. Indeed, the report concluded, Iran is gunning for a bomb, doubling its efforts, and not giving a damn about anyone.
What will the world do? What will our friend and ally, the U.S., do? After countless declarations and promises and vows and oaths, that same week, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the renowned general Martin Dempsey, made it very clear: Nothing. It is not that the man — a four-star general — can’t do something. He simply does not want to. That is what he said. “I don’t want to be complicit if they [Israel] choose to do it [attack Iran],” he said, borrowing a term usually used in reference to criminals.
Let’s go back to the man standing on the roof of his house as the flood water engulfs him. Well, what is he waiting for? What exactly isn’t clear? Maybe he’ll finally understand that he already got his miracle, in that he was forewarned, and that it turned out he wasn’t going to get any more help. Now it is obvious what will happen if he continues to kneel on the roof of his house.
Before the Democratic National Convention last week, there were still Israelis hoping for a miracle that would prompt U.S. President Barack Obama to finally set “clear red lines” for Iran in an attempt to secure much needed votes. There was hope that he would finally make a commitment to take military action against Iran. That certainly didn’t happen.
And even worse: One after another, the senior officials of his administration not only refrained from putting the military option on the table, they expressed their objection to red lines. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explicitly said that the U.S. would not set any deadlines for Iran. Following the angry response from Jerusalem, the secretary of state clarified: red lines are not helpful. There won’t be any.
And what are we doing, in the meantime? In one of the more embarrassing, strange and irresponsible — and quite frankly, unprecedented — incidents in recent memory, senior officials in Israel are chatting away and revealing secrets. (Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adjourned a high-level briefing on Iran when information from the briefing was leaked). This is not public discourse, it is simply irresponsible. It is a reckless campaign, whose masterminds are rolling their eyes “for the good of the country” but in fact doing the exact opposite: They are exposing our secrets, pointing out our weaknesses and playing with the public’s minds.
No one wants to go to war, especially not one we've started. If an enemy attacks, the way an enemy attacked us in 1948 or in 1973, there is no choice. You protect yourself. But if an enemy poses a threat, prepares weapons, arms its forces, deploys its soldiers, readies its missiles, but refrains from firing the first shot — then you are in an entirely different realm. Military jargon makes a distinction between a preventive strike — launching war out of fear that the balance of military capabilities will shift in the enemy’s favor — and a pre-emptive strike — launching a war based on the belief that the adversary is about to attack, or is already preparing to attack.
The decision whether to launch a preventive or pre-emptive strike is a sensitive, problematic, and fateful one. Respected American military strategist Bernard Brodie, one of the pioneers in his field, writes in his book "Strategy in the Missile Age" (published in 1959 and considered one of the mainstays of the field) that in any democratic society, public opinion will always be against launching a war. Therefore, the decision is solely the leader’s to make. He writes that the faith, inner conviction, desire and decisiveness of a president are the only things that decide between war and peace. He explains that the decision to go to war requires an extraordinary amount of faith and decisiveness, and, that since the military generals will most likely go along with whatever the president decides, the decision is made entirely alone, in utter loneliness.
This is called leadership. Just like David Ben-Gurion displayed in 1948 when he declared the establishment of a Jewish state, knowing full well that such a declaration would inevitably elicit an immediate attack by Arab armies. He again displayed leadership when he established the Dimona nuclear project, contrary to all the expert opinions, and again when he led Israel into a war with Egypt — a preventive war — in 1956, a year after then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser signed a massive arms deal with Czechoslovakia.
The 1956 Sinai Campaign didn’t eliminate the Nasser threat, it only postponed it by 11 years, to 1967. But during those 11 years, Israel turned from a small, weak nation into a country with a real chance of being able to protect itself.
Menachem Begin’s decision to bomb the nuclear reactor in Iraq has been talked about to death lately, but this was another example of a decision made by a leader, contrary to expert advice, based on conviction and decisiveness. Leadership.
When talking about an attack against the Iranian threat, there are several difficult questions that need to be answered:
• The Iranian bomb: Is Iran building a nuclear bomb? Is an Iranian nuclear bomb an existential threat to Israel? Are we to assume that an Islamist Iran — extreme and crazy — will use such a bomb against us?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes on all counts. After more than 20 years of covert work, straw companies, equipment acquisitions, construction of underground facilities, purchase of Pakistani know-how and missile development with North Korean assistance — Iran has become a nuclear threshold state. All the puzzle pieces are there. From the moment the command is handed down, the military-grade uranium and assembly of the warhead are a matter of just a short time.
From the latest IAEA report to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran, from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s rhetoric to the ever-growing heaps of enriched uranium, all this leads to the conclusion that Israel will not be able to live in the New Middle East under the threat of an Iranian bomb. As well-known commentator Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post recently, comparisons to Cold War-era mutual deterrence are irrelevant. Communism, with all of its failures, never preached jihadist suicide as a means of expediting the coming of the messiah. The ruling cult in Iran proclaims that this is precisely the course of action that will bring back the Mahdi (the prophesied redeemer of Islam).
• The American ally: After years of diplomacy and half-hearted sanctions and endless talks about talks and futile negotiations, it turns out that the Americans, or at least the current administration, is not willing to attack. No one knows who will sit in the White House after the upcoming election, but in the meantime, American inaction is affording the Iranians more and more time to achieve their goals.
The New York Times reported about a plan to hold a Western naval drill in the Persian Gulf that would bring together minesweepers from 25 countries. In the past, there was gunboat diplomacy, meant to scare the indigenous population with overhead cannon fire. Then there were displays by aircraft carriers. But minesweepers? That will hardly make an impression on the Iranians.
Obama has his own problems on the path to the prize: another four years in the White House. If you saw the crowd of Democrats booing while embarrassed party leaders tried to restore the clause referring to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel to the party platform, after it was intentionally omitted, you can’t possibly delude yourself. These are not people who would cheer if the U.S. attacked Iran. This is Obama’s crowd, and their votes mean more to him than we do.
In the meantime, he has more pressing problems: The Arab Spring illusion was shattered in Benghazi on Tuesday when Islamists murdered the American ambassador to Libya. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership is looking more problematic than ever. Will he send the American army into Iran?
• The Israeli homefront: We all remember that unlucky brigadier-general who, before the first Gulf War, declared with great confidence that there was no way Saddam Hussein would fire missiles at Israel. He was proved wrong within a week. Iran will try to retaliate, but it would be wise to investigate Tehran’s capabilities. Iran possesses several hundred missiles capable of reaching Israel, all fitted with conventional warheads. In simple terms: missiles like the ones Saddam Hussein had. Some of them will be destroyed before they are launched, in weapons depots or silos. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Iran launches 100 missiles at Israel (Saddam fired about 40). Israel’s missile interceptor, the Arrow, has a success rate of more than 90 percent, but let’s say it intercepts 80%. Still, only a relatively small number of missiles will actually hit Israeli targets. The bigger questions are whether Hezbollah will begin firing missiles, like it did during the Second Lebanon War, and what Hamas will do.
The cautious statements issued by both Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh indicate that the answer is inconclusive. If an Israeli attack on Iran is successful, and serves to prove Israel’s capabilities, the leaders in Beirut and Gaza will have to think long and hard before they enter into a war with us. There will always be global jihad organizations, al-Qaida and the Salafists, but they can’t fire thousands of rockets. Simply put: The apocalyptic forecasts of what’s in store for the Israeli homefront seem exaggerated. They will be true only when Iran has a nuclear weapon and uses it.
• Will a strike succeed?: In 1982, Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands and conquered them with ease. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided not to give up without a fight, and ordered a military operation 13,000 kilometers (7,900 miles) away. The British fleet had dwindled by then, the air force had done away with several bomber squadrons and the ground forces were battling cutbacks. American navy experts, who wanted to help their British ally and fellow NATO member, surveyed the satellite images, made lists, pored over maps, and concluded: militarily impossible.
The rest is history: A small British force did the impossible. They won back the Falkland Islands, and the Argentine military junta collapsed. Today, 30 years on, the Argentines still claim ownership of the Malvinas. The British offensive may not have eliminated those claims, but it certainly bought at least 30 years worth of time.
Two historical situations are never identical. Even if the calculations and the statistics suggest that the damage to the Israeli homefront in the wake of an Iran strike will be limited, no one wants to be the one whose home, or person, was hit by an Iranian missile or a Hamas rocket. There are casualties in every war. We have a long, painful list of casualties in Israel’s numerous wars and terror attacks. Other countries have annual remembrance days for the soldiers who fell in battle and the civilians who died when cities were bombed. But when a country’s very existence is on the line, when the flood threatens all its citizens, and when the warning bells are so loud, real and immediate, the decision-making moment rapidly approaches.
French thinker Raymond Aron, another nuclear age pioneer posed the question: When the conspiracies of a neighboring country are revealed, is the intended victim expected to sit idly by? That is the question every Israeli must ask him or herself. Unfortunately, the Jewish people have a long, difficult history with precisely this question. Praying for miracles is always good, but national security policy, and national existence, can’t rely on miracles. Ask that man from the flood.