NEW YORK (JTA) — Let’s not be fooled.
The opening weeks of the United Nations General Assembly feature numerous side meetings between Jewish organizations and dozens of visiting dignitaries. Many of the Europeans, and possibly some Arab delegates as well, will be expressing sympathy if not encouragement for Israel’s potential need to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
One prominent Western leader has looked me in the face and said that if the rest of the world does not succeed in halting Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, we must all accept that Israel will act on its own. The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the United States recently said publicly that an Israeli strike would be preferable to a nuclear Iran. Wow.
As governments increasingly support international sanctions to punish Iran or prevent it from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon, they also believe that a direct military strike may ultimately be the only way to stop a resolute, and resourceful, rogue regime. And they are all praying that Israel will avoid involving them in any strike it may carry out — entirely on its own initiative, of course.
Last April, President Obama said that "The message we’re sending here … is that for you to assist a terrorist organization to obtain nuclear material or nuclear weapons, or for you as a state to actively pursue a proliferation agenda is one that will leave you outside of our negative assurances" that the United States will not launch a nuclear attack.
In July, acknowledging Israel’s absence from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — and with Prime Minister Netanyahu at his side — Obama stressed "that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that’s why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security. And the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests."
But even if the United States stands by Israel following an attack on Iran, will any other countries follow suit, or will they revert to the usual anti-Israel pile-on?
As Israel’s attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor three decades ago should remind us, the private relief in many world capitals was masked by public condemnation of Israeli aggression. And Iraq at the time posed little retaliatory threat to anyone outside its mortal struggle with the Islamic Republic of Iran, nor was there any significant terrorist network to bother anyone.
Iran today has the means to harass shipping along the Gulf, to mount terror campaigns across the Middle East, and to sow unrest across Europe and Latin America. Restive Muslim populations will see an Israeli attack as a Western plot under any circumstances, and nations will rush to condemn Israel and call for sanctions or worse.
On which side of the bed will the moderate Arabs and robust Europeans wake up the morning after an Israeli attack? Will they line up to thank Israel for ridding the entire world of a serious and substantive threat? Will they claim credit for providing Israel with overflight rights or in-air refueling technology? Or will they demand a blanket ban on all flights to and from Israel? That’s just for starters.
Let’s hope to be pleasantly surprised if the worst-case scenario compels Israel to attack and the European Union and NATO cheer it on. More likely, Israel will become the new pariah and many Europeans will happily shed the vestiges of Holocaust guilt.
As Jewish leaders meet with the assorted foreign ministers and occasional heads of state during these hectic weeks and beyond, they should encourage the VIPs to go on record with their assurances and sympathies for the military contingency. Few if any will do so, but it is important for the Jewish community to be on record with these governments, to put them on the spot now. Anything that might mitigate the negative reactions following an Israeli strike — should such a costly attack become unavoidable — could make these ritualistic courtesy calls that much more useful today.
At the very least, then, these leaders will know that we put little stock in the promises of princes. We are not fooled, and we will hold the international community responsible for letting the clock run out because they know Israel will do the dirty work and become the global fall guy — no Israeli leader could do otherwise. We should make no mistake, and neither should they.
(Shai Franklin is a senior fellow for United Nations Affairs with the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.)