Thursday, August 24, 2006
As Israelis read their newspapers, the message comes through loud and clear: Get ready for the next war, the really big war. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave his people an ominous warning yesterday when he "toured northern Israel Thursday and visited, among other venues, the hospital in Nahariya directly hit by rocket fire during the Lebanon war. 'We must be prepared for (various) scenarios and ready for anything,’ he said. 'We must push forward deadlines and be ready for the possibility of receiving casualties under all conditions.’ … 'At this time we shall prepare for any possible scenario of a threat, in full force.’"
But who will be the enemy? "The head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that after the war with Hizbullah, Syria will try to reclaim the Golan Heights through either diplomatic or military means," Yediot Aharonot reports.
In Ha’aretz, Akiva Eldar confirms it: "Israeli assessment sources too are recommending to the government that it immediately separate from the 'neither-peace-nor-war’ doctrine in the Syrian arena. They are presenting two options to the leaders. One is accelerated peace talks with Syria." Indeed, "Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said last Monday that 'In exchange for peace with Syria, Israel can leave the Golan Heights. … Any political process is preferable to a military-fighting process."
But the other option is being touted more loudly, by more influential voices. Maj.-Gen. Yadlin warned: "If there won't be a [diplomatic] solution, the stance is that we must prepare to liberate the Golan through different means – there aren't many other ways. … Iran is using Syria as a giant weapons cache for Hizbullah." (To drive the point home, a sidebar to this article in Yediot Aharonot is headlined: "Assad: We’ll liberate Golan Heights.")
The Syria-Iran link is crucial to the picture painted by Israeli leaders: "Minister Rafi Eitan warned Tuesday that Israel should prepare for the possibility of a missile attack from Iran. 'We are liable to face an Iranian missile attack. The Iranians have said very clearly that if they come under attack, their primary target would be Israel,’ Eitan, a member of the decision-making security cabinet, told Israel Radio. 'We must prepare for what could come, and prepare the entire country for a missile strike attack.’ The radio said Eitan, a former spymaster, meant that Israel should prepare its bomb shelters to protect against a possible Iranian attack."
Why all this talk of war? Olmert explained it bluntly: "This is the real answer to those who have tried to cast a shadow on the State's existence."
Here is the key to Israel’s militaristic mindset. Just days after a disastrous failed war, the Jewish state is preparing for the next war because of the belief that now, as always, dominates its political life: Israel’s enemies, every one, are anti-semites. They have no legitimate grievance against the Jewish state. They simply want to kill Jews.
"Israel is carefully watching the world's reaction to Iran's continued refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, with some high-level officials arguing it is now clear that when it comes to stopping Iran, Israel 'may have to go it alone,’ The Jerusalem Post has learned. One senior source said on Tuesday that Iran 'flipped the world the bird’ by not responding positively to the Western incentive plan to stop uranium enrichment. … The Iranians know the world will do nothing,’ he said. 'This is similar to the world's attempts to appease Hitler in the 1930s -- they are trying to feed the beast.’ He said there was a need to understand that "when push comes to shove," Israel would have to be prepared to "slow down" the Iranian nuclear threat by itself."
The resurrected star of Israeli politics, right-wing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is playing this card in his bid to replace Olmert. "Every living thing must do two things in order to survive: it must identify dangers and it must arm itself sufficiently to protect itself from these dangers," Netanyahu recently said. He cast himself as a follower of the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, who "saw the burning coals of anti-Semitism and understood that there was a threat of a fire that would threaten the Jews of Europe and eventually the Jews of the rest of the world. Today I say: we are standing before a grave danger. A new potential fire threatens our people. … Since Hitler, there has not risen such a bitter enemy as Iran's president, Ahmadinejad, who openly declares his desire to annihilate us and his development of nuclear weapons in order to carry out this desire."
This view gets aired even on the op-ed page of Israel’s most liberal newspaper, Ha’aretz. Dr. Tzvia Greenfield, head of the Mifne Institute for Democracy and Judaism, warns: "It is enough to imagine the terrifying possibility of Iran beginning a missile war against Israel. … The only way to defend ourselves would be to convince the aggressor state that it, too, would be better off achieving a cease-fire as soon as possible. This is something that can best be done with the air force. If we are attacked, it would not be right to refrain from the necessary use of the air force because of the destruction that this would cause. … When it comes to saving lives, it is not necessary to treat all men as being equal. We have the moral right to save our nearest and dearest first. And that is the true calculation that we need to make."
In other words, for Jews, Jewish lives really are more valuable than Muslim lives. That’s easier to swallow if you believe that all Muslims are anti-semites bent on killing every Jew. Ha’aretz gives space to that view too, in a column by a retired judge, Hadassa Ben-Itto: "A senior American diplomat once told me: 'I can't believe this is happening to the Jewish people once again. You have not learned your lesson. Had you thoroughly read 'Mein Kampf,' you would have known what to expect.’… The Muslim world, which has picked up the Nazi torch, has joined the cause and set for itself the goal of destroying our nation and people."
It would not be surprising if this nameless American diplomat were a Bush administration appointee. And the Bush administration may yet come to the rescue. The "senior source" quoted by the Jeruslaem Post "did not rule out the possibility of US military action, but said that if this were to take place, it would probably not occur until the spring or summer of 2008, a few months before President George W. Bush leaves the international stage."
Akiva Eldar has apparently heard the news about 2008 too. He sees a real possibility of "an accelerated preemptive war against Syria, before Iran is equipped with a nuclear bomb and before Tehran completes the transformation of the Syrian army into a modern army rich in new types of weaponry. According to cautious assessments, this process will take no longer than two years. Unfortunately, in the foreseeable future, we will not have a government that is capable of conducting negotiations with Syria and in the United States there is not a president who will do this for us."
No negotiations, and a looming deadline in the summer of 2008. Eldar’s conclusion seems to sum up the prevailing thinking in the Israeli government: "Keep the shelters clean."
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea and the forthcoming book "Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin." He can be contacted at email@example.com