I’ve always believed that the Jews got a raw deal from their god. Things would have been a lot easier for the Jews had they found the promised land in present day Florida or maybe in an isolated spot in the Japanese archipelago. Instead He found them and they Him in the world’s crossroads. Every king, general or determined clan leader with a pointed stick had to pass through the Sinai, Canaan, Judea and Sumeria on their way to subjugate someone else. It strikes me as the equivalent of trying to survive in the middle of a busy intersection.
Nevertheless the Jews managed to do it. For close to 5,000 years they have struggled, triumphed, been slaughtered, overcome and suffered through it all, yet managed to remain faithful to their faith. While I don’t share it, it would be impossible for me not to appreciate their accomplishment and support it in any way I can.
It is difficult for Americans to appreciate the situation in Israel. The nation is tiny as this graphic below shows.
Americans have benefited from our isolation. Bounded on two sides by wide oceans and relatively weak nation states on the other sides, we have been able to prosper and grow without the threat of invasion for most of our history. Israel has never been so lucky. It’s borders are much less defensible. There are no natural barriers to protect it. It has never known peace with the neighbors, and has spent the bulk of its history as a story told from one generation to the next, its land owned by others and its people scattered to the corners of the earth.
In their diaspora, the Jewish people were subjected to the most heinous acts imaginable, and that was before the Holocaust when our ability to imagine horror and depravity reached its limit and was surpassed by the brutality of the Nazis and their sympathizers in the Middle East and Europe. Israel wasn’t founded on a whim in 1948. The Jews founded Israel because they needed a place which they controlled where they wouldn’t be kicked out, forced to convert, sold into slavery, or stripped naked and machine gunned. Throughout the diaspora Jews had been welcomed by one regime or another. But regimes rise and fall and leaders change. A safe haven one day could mount a pogrom or expel the Jews the next. The dream of Israel, and later its reality, gave the Jewish people what had been taken away by the Babylonians and later the Romans: a home.
Today this home is in a very bad neighborhood. The revolutions that are happening throughout the Middle East do not portend well for Israel, and Israelis aren’t as sanguine about events there as Americans or Europeans. While the mainstream media in the West applauds the downfall of Arab dictatorships in the region, the Israelis understand that the forces that are overthrowing these regimes aren’t democratic or tolerant as many commentators in the West assume. The use of the term “Israeli” is intentional: I believe that there is a divide between diaspora Jews and Israelis when it comes to recent events in the Middle East, and that the former are unaware of the danger that awaits the state of Israel.
Although it is tiny, the state of Israel maintains military superiority over its neighbors. But there are limits to technology, and it’s unclear whether the Israeli military wouldn’t be overwhelmed. A nuclear strike by Iran on Israel won’t destroy it, but it would mean the deaths of Jews on a scale that hasn’t been seen since the ovens at Auschwitz cooled. Such a strike would signal to its neighbors that the time had come to rid the region of Israel once and for all. Israel would immediately be subject to armies from Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Hezballah in Lebanon and possibly even Turkey. These forces may not be inclined to attack Israel, but they would be driven to do so by their own peoples, whom they have fed a daily diet of anti-Semitic propaganda for decades. I would expect waves of lightly armed Arabs to immediately set out to take Israel with their bare hands if necessary. When God is on your side, you don’t need body armor or an assault rifle. Pointed sticks and mindless fanaticism will do.
The Israeli government would have tens of thousands of casualties from the nuclear strikes. The dead wouldn’t be the immediate problem; as with any disaster it’s the living and particularly the injured that require the most resources. Israel would also face the question of retaliation. Would it use its nuclear weapons against Iran? Would it intentionally kill hundreds of thousands of Tehranis? Would it use the nukes against the masses of Arabs attacking it from all sides?
These are questions only an Israeli or a diaspora Jew can decide. I honestly don’t know if the Jewish people are willing to kill on such a grand scale even after being attacked. Contrary to Arab propaganda, the Jewish people are not monsters. They are a deeply moral people who abhor killing even in their own defense. Golda Meir most famously exposed this morality when she said to Anwar Sadat, “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we can never forgive you for making us kill yours.”
Imagine this scenario: Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are on fire. Reports are sporadic and contradictory that both have been hit with devastating nuclear blasts. Casualty reports begin in the thousands and are expected to climb. We will have incomplete information about these attacks, but the immediate assumption will be that Iran has launched nuclear strikes, either using missiles or warheads in shipping containers. The Western press will be more skeptical, expecting the Iranian regime to claim responsibility for the attack. But just as al Qaeda remained silent for almost a year after the 9-11 attacks, so Iran will be silent. al Qaeda’s silence was intentional. Zawahiri and Bin Laden knew that the media expected responsibility calls to follow, and failure to receive them would cause some to question who perpetrated the attacks. In the months after 9-11 even no less an august figure as Nelson Mandela said, “The labeling of Osama bin Laden as the terrorist responsible for those acts before he had been tried and convicted could also be seen as undermining some of the basic tenets of the rule of law.” Iran will lay low, and the “Arab Street” will develop the propaganda line that Israel nuked itself in order to justify the attack on Iran. News outlets antagonistic to the Jewish State such as La Monde, the Guardian, al Jazeera and the New York Times will question the motives of the Israeli response and immediately demand that Israel wait for an international investigation before retaliating.
How will the Israeli government respond? Will it retaliate against civilian populations just because it can? It could target military facilities in Iran or Syria, but its enemies aren’t stupid; they will have surrounded their key military assets and personnel with layers of civilian human shields. Just to kill a single soldier the Israelis will have to kill dozens if not scores of innocent men, women and children. Israel will have to swallow its morality and tear through the flesh of innocents in order to strike at the heart of the regime that has attacked it. Does it have the will to do this?
For all of its power, its vaunted military, Israel is a fragile nation. The coming months and years will determine once and for all how fragile it is.