Like many of us in the Middle East, I am concerned about a nuclear Iran. While I find the term “existential threat” to be an overstatement and counterproductive to Israel’s reality and interests, the fact remains that a nuclear Iran poses many dangers to Israel, the Sunni Gulf states, and Western interests in the region. It is unnecessary to elaborate further on the nature of these dangers, as it seems that at least within the Jewish community we are doing little else but analyzing their multiple facets.
Like most people in Israel, I have no clue as to what Israel will do to neutralize the threat, or whether what it can do would be effective. Like most Israelis, I would love for the threat to disappear and for the world to act in a way that reflects a recognition that a nuclear Iran is a world problem, not primarily a problem for Israel.
All that being said, is there more that needs to be said? I believe there is.
First, we are talking too much and too extensively of things about which we know nothing at all. Almost none of us, including and often especially the most vocal, have the requisite knowledge even to render an opinion regarding what Israel will do or ought to do, or what Washington is doing or is not doing.
We only make matters worse when we lobby Washington to take the “correct” position, thereby causing this issue to be perceived as an Israeli or Jewish one, rather than one shared by both Washington and Jerusalem.
Let us recognize that we have said what needs to be said. Further obsession and conversation within the Jewish community and its institutions are both unnecessary and counterproductive. It is time for us to get out of the way.
On the other hand, there is more to be said to ourselves and, more important, more to be done for ourselves. Given the realities of our history, we Jews often feel, to echo the words of the alien prophet Bilaam, that we are a nation that dwells apart, that when push comes to shove we are alone. We can only count on ourselves. In fact, this idea serves as a founding ethos of the State of Israel and of Tzahal (the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF). One raison d’etre for the State of Israel is to be the safety net for Jewish survival, the place which has the power to provide a solution for any danger that the Jewish people and Israel may encounter.
If we have learned anything from the Iranian crisis it is that we are not alone. France, Great Britain, Germany, and especially the United States and Canada, all have stepped forward and begun to implement significant sanctions against the Iranian government. One can debate the effectiveness and timeliness of the current sanctions, but not the seriousness with which many in the Western world are taking the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran. We do have allies.
What is even more apparent from the conversations which the Israeli government is having with these allies, especially the United States, is that Israel feels that it needs them. We are trying to marshal the international community to action, whether through sanctions or a military response, and in so doing are giving evidence of our desire to work within the international community as well as our dependence on it.
This is a critical lesson which needs to be spoken about more and which must serve as a foundation for our policies, both in the present and in the future. One cannot shun international opinion or the desires of our allies and friends on Sunday, and expect cooperation and coordination on Monday.
An even deeper and more important truth is there for us to realize and internalize. Not only are we not alone, it is very possible that we cannot make it alone. The precariousness of our existence has caused us to create a myth of stability founded on the notion that there is always a military solution to the dangers we face, and that we possess the power to activate such a solution on our own.
We in Israel are indeed a powerful people, and our military capacity far exceeds our dreams. As the dangers, however, become more extensive – and with them the feelings of insecurity grow more pervasive – we must finally relinquish the myth. We must recognize that we – like all other nations in the world, including the United States – do not necessarily have a viable military option for every problem and danger. In this new reality, our strength and the stability of our existence will be constructed on a coalition forged by an amalgamation of our own capacity to help ourselves, coupled with the assistance of our friends and allies.
Let us start acting in a way that recognizes and supports this reality, and let the Jewish world outside Israel recognize it, as well. Our long-term security interests will be most adequately fulfilled when, together with our military might, we forge strong relationships with our friends in the international community. These relationships are built not merely on convergent interests, but on the vitality of our democracy, the strength of our moral commitments, and our dedication not to merely giving peace a chance but to playing a leading role in attempting to usher it into our neighborhood.
We are in a new world, with new dangers and challenges, but also with new opportunities.
If we must speak about the dangers and the challenges facing Israel, let us also speak about those opportunities. Let us do all we can to maximize those opportunities.
I do not know whether Israel should attack Iran, or whether it has the capacity necessary to neutralize its nuclear capabilities. I do know that we are not alone, and that we must begin to think and act in such a way that embraces this new truth.