Friday, August 17, 2012

déjà vu

We’re hearing sounds coming from Israel that echo those heard here during the run up to our Iraq fiasco.  That is deeply disturbing and frightening.  As reported in the New York Times, “[Defense Minister Ehud Barak] acknowledged in Parliament that there were differences over how to deal with Iran, but insisted that the issue was being debated here more thoroughly than any other he could remember.”  Could Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice have said it any better?

from Daily Beast
Israeli leadership sees Iran as an existential threat. That may be the case, and I’ll get back to it.  What I fear at this moment is that the Netanyahu-Barack government may be misreading the American Jewish community and its unquestioned support for current policy, or very sadly for that matter, for Israel itself.  Just as Republican candidates speak mostly to Fox News, it seems Israeli leaders  interact largely with the AIPAC types wishfully thinking they represent American Jews at large. 

In fact the now infamous casino billionaire and his fellow right wing conservatives are the exception not the rule.  Relying on them will lead to disappointment, and worse, a gross miscalculation.  Like so many Americans across the spectrum, Jews in this country (who mostly skew liberal and Democratic) have little taste for wars these days and most especially preemptive attacks.  If added to his miscalculation of assumed support, Americans sense that Bibi is trying to manipulate the results or our presidential election, or is blackmailing Barack Obama into some action, the backlash is likely to be even worse. 

There would be nothing good about Iran going nuclear.  By the same token there was nothing good about India, Pakistan, Korea and, yes, Israel going nuclear.  In each of these cases, you could say that the countries involved pose an existential threat to their adversaries, but let’s not forget the rhetoric of the Cold War.  Remember those backyard bomb shelters and kids hiding under desks preparing for the worst?  The Soviets also said they would wipe us off the map. They had both an arsenal and capability that dwarfs anything that will be found in the newer members of the nuclear “club”.

Clearly Israel could use its current nuclear arsenal to wipe out Iran and some other adversaries as well.  Obviously it hasn’t done so and with very good reason.  Only the United States has ever used nuclear weapons.  That was in the closing days of WWII when it dropped two bombs on Japan, nukes that were primitive relative to later technology.  They were, however, enough to make the point.  Nuclear weapons, from a practical standpoint, are so destructive as to be totally useless.

The real problem with Iran is not so much that it might nuke Israel which would in the end be suicidal, the problem is proliferation and the risk that some rogue group might get it’s hands on a nuke and in some nihilistic rage deploy it.  That is precisely what we worry so much about with Pakistan and probably why, despite all the bluster, we worry less about with North Korea.

Does Israel feel threatened?  Of course it does.  Do its current leaders also use this threat, calling it existential, for their own political purposes?  Yes they do just as George W. Bush played 9/11 for all it was worth, leaving other people’s sons and daughters to die on the battle field or be scarred for life.  Supposed existential threats kept warmongers in power here in the early Cold War. The so-called Communist menace didn’t destroy America, but those who used it for their own purposes did do a job on many of its best and brightest citizens including actors and intellectuals.

I do fear that Israel faces an existential threat, but it is one closer to home.  The clock is ticking and the only leaping demographic growth in this very advanced society is to be found among ultra-orthodox Jews who don’t want to give up an inch of land and also among poor Palestinians who might well outnumber Jews in a single state.  Arab and Iranian leaders use the Palestine/Israel limbo to distract their people from their own, often dire, internal problems.  But so too has the Iran “threat” become a smokescreen to distract Israelis and the world community from addressing Israel’s real existential threat.  That’s what makes this so sad and so destructive.

Stay tuned an expanded exploration of people living beyond religion in book form coming soon.

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