Saturday, January 07, 2006

Palestinians are yesterday. Tomorrow is Iran.

We can look in vain through the media of today for reminders of the view of Ariel Sharon prior to taking office five years ago. "Vilification" is too meek a word to capture the antipathy voiced by Palestinian leaders, European elites or American newsmakers. Sharon was dismissed as a terrorist, a genocidal maniac working towards the eradication of one of his neighbors and a pretty significant segment of Israel's own population. His elevation to Prime Minister was to freeze any further progress on the road to peace.

Today's stories and statements, though heavy in unacknowledged contrast, don't quite rise to the level of grief at his passing from the public stage; it's more an angst they display, an uncertainty, a wedge of regret, though without remorse.

One writer whose head and heart march in virtuous unison is Michael B. Oren writing in The Wall Street Journal.

The blond and handsome commando and severely overweight politico, the 'bulldozer' who pushed thousands of Israelis in and out of settlements, the lover of Hebrew culture whose first language was Russian, the secularist who revered Jewish faith, the fighter of many wars and the champion, ultimately, of peace-Ariel Sharon has had multiple identities. And yet he has always been thoroughly Israeli, the embodiment of the state's protean and paradoxical nature.
This apt description fits not only Sharon but generations of Israeli leaders, many of them heroes in their wars, several of them heroes in ours. Among them, I would suggest, is Menachem Begin, who ordered a long reach airstrike against Saddam's nuclear facility at Osirak and arguably saved us from years of nuclear threat.

The very best of Israel's leaders never lost sight of their primary duty, to defend and protect the State of Israel. Their focus and discipline, coupled with their willingness to sacrifice to achieve their goals, allowed their greatness.

Much of the current analysis focuses attention on Israel's relationships with the Palestinians. Will Israel expand the wall? Continue the path toward isolation? I think the attention is misplaced. Israel's next significant act on the world stage will be as a fighter once again in our war. The most serious question to face Sharon's successor will most definitely not be what to do with the Palestinians. That's settled, old news. Tomorrow's question will be whether or not to attack Iran in an attempt to destroy that country's capacity to build a deliverable, or marketable, nuclear device.

Where Americans have enormous difficulty taking people at their word, Israelis do not suffer the same disabling delusion. The Jews of Israel have lived and died through too many millennia where the words of fanatics bespoke later actions of death and desecration and the destruction of entire civilizations. So, when the psychotic fanatic Mahmous Ahmadinejad, former terrorist and torturer of American civilian hostages, now President of Iran, calls for death to Israel, and recently, death to Sharon as well, Israel listens. When Ahmadinejad calls for accelerating Iran's development of precursors to nuclear weapons, Israel hears. When he celebrates the development of a missile of a size and sophistication to target Tel Aviv, the world should expect Israel to act.

Of the Israelis most likely to succeed Sharon, it is Binyamin Netanyahu who is most likely to succeed in both office and in action. Bibi, as he is known, has already called for Israel to destroy Iran's nuclear capability.
The Iranian threat is an existential one. In this regard, I will continue the legacy of Menachem Begin, who thwarted Iran's neighbour, Iraq, from acquiring nuclear weapons by adopting bold and daring measures.

This is the Israeli government's primary obligation. If it is not done by the current (Sharon) government, I plan to lead the next government to do it.
Questions that we need to address, now rather than after reading headlines of Israeli action in May or June:
  • Are there any realistic alternatives to the physical destruction of Iran's capabilities? "Realistic" in this case is not a code word for "politically acceptable." It means "workable" and "highly likely to succeed." In this case acceptable alternatives need to meet a very high threshold, for it is the very existence of Israel that is at issue this year, and our own next. If a terrorist nation gains nuclear weapons, it is a certainty that they will be used. Their targets: The Jews first, the Great Satan second. Nuclear devastation may not rain on us from the skies in the form of a state-on-state attack, at least in America. In fact, that remains fairly unlikely. Much more likely will be a relatively untraceable, legally unaccountable suicide bombing on a logarithmic scale. Goodbye Wall Street. So long Miracle Mile. Sayonara Hollywood. While we could probably lose one population center and continue to function and to live with our futures, see Katrina, what would we look like as a country, as a society, if we lost a city every month or two for an unknowable stretch of real terror?
  • Given that scale of risk, is there a handshake that you'd trust? A treaty that you'd rely upon?
  • Can it be done? Does Israel have the capability to do what Netanyahu proposes? This is unanswerable before the act. However, one way to influence the answer, to tip the scale in favor of success, is for the U. S. to help.
  • Should the U. S. assist? This one is perhaps the easiest to answer. Yes. There is no reason not to and there is good reason to. The downside will be the same whether we're directly involved or not. The world, Muslim street and "blame America first" crowd here will blame us first. However, if one of our two best friends in the world, the other being Great Britain, is rationally convinced of a clear and present danger to its very existence and to the lives of its citizens, how can we do other than help? This is morally and logically different from the U. S. initiating an attack on its own behalf in one significant detail: a direct threat against America is at present at least one step removed from Iran's present capabilities. They don't have a missile that will target Los Angeles or New York. They have not yet transferred a weapon to a group to hand carry across one of our borders. Just like with Osirak 34 years ago, we have a little more time. Our friends in Israel who've just lost their heroic leader, do not. Their luxury of time in which to reduce the threat to one with which they can live is measured in a very few pages of this year's calendar.
To be effective, to save Israel and its 6.2 million residents, Ariel Sharon's successor will need to act almost immediately after the March elections.

This once, we should be prepared.

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