Like many of us in the Middle East, I too am concerned about a nuclear Iran.
While the term “existential threat” is an overstatement and counterproductive, a nuclear Iran does pose dangers to Israel,
the Sunni Gulf states, and Western interests.
Like most, I too have no clue as to whether Israel intends to attack, or whether it has the capacity to neutralize Iran’s nuclear capacity. I would love the threat to disappear and for the world to act in such a way which acknowledges that a nuclear Iran is not primarily an Israeli problem but a danger to the world.
But beyond stating the above, is there anything more that needs to be said? The answer, I believe, is yes.
First, we must cease the almost obsessive concentration on this issue. No one outside the decision-making circles has the knowledge even to render an opinion about what Israel ought to do. In addition, if the US does not yet recognize the dangers of a nuclear Iran and needs to be “lobbied” to take the “correct” position, that itself signifies a 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 of American and Israeli interests which on this issue is patently false.
We have said what needs to be said. The Israeli government, military, and intelligence agencies are speaking with their American counterparts; continued obsession within the Jewish community is both unnecessary and counterproductive. It is time for us to get out of the way.
However, given the realities of our history, we Jews often feel, to echo the prophet Bilaam, we are a nation that dwells apart. We feel that when push comes to shove we are alone. We can count only on ourselves. This idea is a founding ethos of the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces.
One raison d’etre for Israel is to be the safety net for Jewish survival, the place with the power to provide a solution for any danger the Jewish people may encounter.
The second thing that needs to be said is that if we have learned anything from the Iranian crisis, it is that we are not alone. France, Great Britain, Germany – and especially the US and Canada – have implemented significant sanctions against Iran. One can debate their effectiveness and timeliness but not the seriousness with they and others in the West view the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran. We do have allies.
What is even more apparent is that Israel feels we need such allies. We are trying to marshal the international community to action through sanctions or a coordinated military response, and in so doing are showing evidence of our desire to work within the international community and our dependence on it.
This is a critical lesson which needs to be spoken about more and serve as a foundation for our policies now 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.
We must realize and internalize an even deeper and more important truth: Not only are we not alone, but it is possible 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 act on them alone. We are powerful, and our military capacity exceeds anything we ever hoped for. As the dangers become more extensive and the feelings of insecurity more pervasive, however, it is time to relinquish that myth.
We must recognize that we, like all other nations, including the most powerful, do not have a viable military option for every danger. In this new reality, our strength and stability will be constructed on a coalition forged from an amalgamation of our own capacity and the assistance of our friends and allies.
We must 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 must 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 only to “giving peace a chance,” but to playing a leading role in attempting to bring it about.
This new world has new dangers and challenges - but also new opportunities. We must create policies that maximize those opportunities. I don’t know whether we should attack Iran. I do know that we are not alone and must think and act in such a way that embraces this new truth.
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute