Op-Ed: Iran is the problem, not Israel

NEW YORK (JTA) — The third round of negotiations with Iran on its nuclear activities have failed, the latest and most severe round of sanctions against the economy of that country have gone into effect, and all eyes are turned to — Israel.

Israel — such a small piece of land should logically be ignored and forgotten. Israel is content to be the Jewish homeland that welcomes and absorbs people of all faiths. She does not seek the world’s attention; she seeks the world’s persecuted and broken, and offers assistance and refuge. She does not ask for special treatment, but democratically asks for and grants rights, privileges and freedom to all of her citizens. Her one claim to fame is the disproportionate share she contributes to the world’s intellectual, scientific and cultural advancements. But she doesn’t want fanfare. All she wants is to live in peace with her neighbors.

Yet, time and again, little Israel is viewed front and center stage as an aggressor, an oppressor, an antagonist and the source of all the evil in the Middle East and beyond. Terror attacks, boycotts, divestments, sanctions, hate conferences and countless U.N. resolutions have been aimed at Israel, punishment for her “crime” of survival. The international community seems to thrive on making her government, her occupation, her military maneuvers, her self-defense and her pre-emptive strikes the problem.

But if Iran should achieve nuclear capability, Israel will be right in Tehran’s sites. Israel cannot be expected to be a sitting duck, and so Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have threatened a preemptive strike, much to the world’s chagrin.

The world should not be focused on whether Israel will attack Iran in a lifesaving effort to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear capabilities. Israel is not the problem. The world should be focused on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities. Not for Israel’s sake, but for the sake of the world. 

A nuclear Iran would create an untenable situation and have devastating and incalculable effects on the world’s safety and economy. A nuclear Iran would cause the cost of oil to permanently skyrocket due to its ability to intimidate and control fellow members of OPEC. Iran will share nuclear technology with its proxies all over the world. Groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which already have 50,000 rockets that we know of, could conduct nuclear terror activities anywhere, including in the United States. 

Earlier this year, Jerome Hauer, commissioner of New York State’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, met with representatives of more than 60 Jewish institutions at the Orthodox Union. He expressed his greatest security concern: a “dirty bomb” hidden in a parked car that could instantly destroy thousands of lives. 

Countries allied with Iran — Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia — also could gain from Iran’s nuclear capabilities and bring a nuclear threat closer to American shores. If Iran develops nuclear capabilities, it will set off a round of nuclear proliferation in the entire Middle East. To keep a balance of power, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and others will race to develop their own nuclear capabilities. A nuclear Middle East will inevitably lead to nuclear terrorism, and nuclear terrorism is a game changer for the entire world.

In the 1930s, Winston Churchill was perceived as a warmonger for warning that military action needed to be taken against Hitler. But after World War I, the world was tired of fighting and instead engaged in capitulation and appeasement. This emboldened Hitler and enabled him to follow through on what all along he told the world were his intentions. 

The Iranians have not been shy about their intentions, either. They have used “talks” and “negotiations” for more than 20 years to cheat and deceive the West. They continue to push the envelope; every day they are closer to acquiring nuclear capabilities. Even as the so-called “technical experts” meet to keep negotiations alive, the centrifuges keep spinning.

Yes, we are tired after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, there will be dire consequences if we take military action against Iraq: oil prices will rise, sleeper cells will be roused. Pentagon war games have predicted that some American ships in the Persian Gulf will go down. But the world needs to have no doubts: not stopping Iran will pose the most devastating consequences of all.

Israel is at the most immediate risk due to its proximity to Iran. A nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to the Jewish state, which has limited capabilities to defend herself against such a nuclear attack. When Iran’s leaders and people say “death to Israel,” they are not engaged in mere bluster — they mean it. As an Iranian general told Reuters recently, if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear installations, “They will hand us an excuse to wipe them off the face of the earth.”

Israel has too often been forced to defend herself alone against existential threats and she will do so now if necessary. This is Israel’s issue and Israel’s prerogative.

No one desires war, and that is why the most crippling sanctions to shut down the Iranian economy are now operative. However, if sanctions and international pressure fail, the world does not have the option of tolerating a nuclear Iran. We need to convey the message that Iran is the problem and not Israel. We need to articulate that no one dare confuse the victim with the perpetrator. 

Unfortunately, many in the media and in other circles lack an understanding of the facts and a sense of moral clarity. We cannot allow a repeat of what happened in the 1930s. Our responsibility is to be as proactive as we can in helping to clarify where the problem lies, and to pray to the Almighty that the world does not have to endure a nuclear Iran. 

(Rabbi Steven Weil is executive vice president of the the Orthodox Union.)

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