Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tisha B’Av and the Right of Self-Defense

Tisha B’Av and the Right of Self-Defense

Jonathan S. Tobin

Today is Tisha B’Av, the date in the Hebrew calendar on which a number of catastrophes have befallen the Jews. This is the date on which both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Since then, other anti-Semitic powers have taken delight in launching fresh atrocities on the day, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 to massacres during the Holocaust. It is a solemn day of fasting and one on which Jewish tradition commands us to think about the mindless and sinful hatred within the community that has often brought down calamity on the Jewish people. Such reflection is important at a time when issues and rancor divide Jews and cause them to forget that the values that should unite them are far more important than the issues on which they differ. But it would be more than foolish not to give a thought today to the still potent external threats. Though Israel is beset by many problems, there is no greater menace to the continuance of Jewish life than that posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

Thus, it was heartening today to hear thatwhile visiting the Jewish state, Mitt Romney plans to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran. Romney, who will speak tonight after the conclusion of the holiday, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, who rightly sounded a note of alarm about the failure of the sanctions belatedly enacted by the Obama administration on Iran. Though Washington has been boasting about their tough sanctions policy, today was an apt day for Netanyahu to point out their bravado was disconnected from reality.

The Obama administration has sounded tough on Iran but has made it clear it does not wish Israel to strike on its own. Indeed, the president has seemed to be more concerned about preventing an Israeli strike than on stopping Iran. The only accomplishment of the dead-end negotiating process on which he has placed the country’s hopes for a resolution of the problem has been to make it difficult if not impossible for Israel to act.

The reason why Obama’s sanctions and diplomacy have failed is that the Iranians don’t take him seriously. The exemptions granted to the sanctions have maintained Iran’s oil trade and will keep the regime afloat. More to the point, the ayatollahs believe the president is not only unwilling to hold them accountable, but he will shield them from Israel. The only chance to persuade the Iranians to back down on their nuclear ambitions is to convince them they will pay a terrible price if they do not. Thus, Romney’s willingness to say that Israel has a right to try to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities and that the United States will stand by them if they do sends a significant message to Tehran.

It would be far better for Israel not to be forced to act on its own against Iran. But in the absence of a credible American policy on the nuclear issue, it is Netanyahu’s responsibility to think seriously about doing so if there is no other way out of the dilemma. He understands that the point of the State of Israel is that the Jews will no longer sit and wait while their enemies plot their destruction. If necessary, his government must act to avert or at least postpone the Iranian threat. And America’s leaders should be not only acting on their own to stop Iran but backing up Israel’s right of self-defense.

While this statement will be dismissed as Romney playing politics with foreign policy, it will do more than merely make Iran’s rulers anxious. It also has the potential to aid Obama’s diplomatic efforts. The ayatollahs must now realize that if Romney is elected all bets are off when it comes to their heretofore successful strategy of dealing with the West. For years, they have been able to talk and lie their way through the crisis because they understood the Obama administration was only interested in kicking the can down the road to avoid having to take action. But unless the Iranians are sure Obama will be re-elected, they have to consider the possibility that they must try and cut a deal now with Obama (and therefore boost his chances of winning) or be left to face a far less accommodating new president next year.

Given the ideological premise of their nuclear ambition, it is to be doubted that anything, even the threat of having to face Romney and Netanyahu in January, can convince Iran to back down. But as Jews remember their past today, let us hope that the rulers of Tehran, who have boasted of their desire to eliminate the State of Israel and seek the means to do so, will listen to what Romney said and draw the appropriate conclusion. On this day, it is important that those who are intent on creating new tragedies understand that this time, the Jews will strike first.