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The Iranian Crisis and the Lessons to be Learned

We cannot shun our allies and friends’ desires on Sunday and expect cooperation on Monday
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By DONNIEL HARTMAN
 
Like many of us in the Middle East, I, too, 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 too have no clue as to whether Israel intends to attack, or whether it has the capacity to effectively neutralize the Iranian nuclear capacity. Like most Israelis, I too would love the threat to disappear and for the world to act in such a way which reflects a recognition that a nuclear Iran is not primarily an Israeli problem but a danger to the world, a danger which necessitates consistent and significant actions.
 
Beyond stating the above, which is in many ways obvious, is there anything more that needs to be said? Is there anything more that all of us who aren’t privy to the necessary knowledge or participants in the decision-making process need to do?
 
The first thing which I believe needs to be said is that we are talking too much and too extensively about that which none of us knows. The first thing that needs to be done is to stop the almost obsessive concentration on this issue. Almost none of us, including and often especially the most vocal, have the requisite knowledge even to render an opinion, not merely about what Israel will do, but also about what Israel ought to do. In addition, if the United States government does not  yet recognize the dangers that a nuclear Iran poses to its interests and security, and needs to be “lobbied” to take the “correct” position, that itself signifies a far graver existential threat. Furthermore, when our lobbying inadvertently causes this issue to be perceived as an Israeli or Jewish one we are laying the seeds for a divergence between American and Israeli interests which at least on this issue is patently false.
 
It is time for us to recognize that we have said what needs to be said. The Israeli government, military, and intelligence agencies are speaking with their American counterparts and further obsession and conversation within the Jewish community and its institutions is both unnecessary and I believe, at this time, counterproductive. It is time for us to get out of the way.
 
There is, however, more that needs to be said and more importantly, more that needs to be done. Given the realities of our history, we Jews often feel, to echo the words of the 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 the Israel Defense Forces. 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, have all 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. The fact is that we do have allies.
 
What is even more apparent from the conversations which the Israeli government is having with these allies is that Israel feels that we need 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.
 
I believe that 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.
 
It is time for us to realize and internalize an even deeper and more important truth. Not only are we not alone, but 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 when push comes to shove 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 are indeed a powerful people, and our military capacity far exceeds anything we ever hoped for. As the dangers, however, become more extensive and with them the feelings of insecurity more pervasive, I believe it is time for us to relinquish the myth. It is time for us to recognize that we, like all other nations in the world, including the most powerful like 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, a coalition forged by an amalgamation of our own capacity to help ourselves, coupled with the assistance of our friends and allies.
 
What do we need to do? We need to start acting in a way that recognizes and supports this reality. 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. We need to recognize that 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. It is time for us to speak not only of the dangers and the challenges, but of those opportunities. It is time for us to create consistent policies that enable us to maximize those opportunities. I don’t know whether we should attack Iran or whether we have the capacity 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.

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