Your Spirit changes our hearts, enemies begin to speak together, those who are estranged join hands in friendship, and nations seek the way of peace together. (Preface, 2nd Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation)
The storm of protest against the agreement between the Permanent Members of the UN Security Conference plus Germany with Iran over uranium enrichment is to be expected, but it is also very sad. For it demonstrates the strength of ill-will in international affairs and the difficulty of making peace.
Americans tired of endless war in the Middle East, polls say, are reluctant to take up the fight against the formidable military power of Iran. They have come to understand the limits of military power, as has the Obama Administration. In their better nature, they also understand that taking hold of opportunities for peace is a duty incumbent on all men and women of good will.
There are reasons for Israel and its more ardent U.S. supporters to be suspicious of the Islamic Republic. Its leaders have voiced vile threats against Israel and the Jewish people. If Israel’s estimated two hundred nuclear weapons were not a deterrent against a nuclear-armed Iran, then perhaps an Iranian bomb would be “an existential threat”—that’s high-toned rhetoric for a life-or-death threat—to Israel, as they fear. But the unacknowledged Israeli Bomb and the so-called Sampson Option—to wreak nuclear havoc over the region if Israel is threatened with conventional military collapse—are themselves incentives toward the break-out to nuclear weapons in the Islamic Middle East.
The pages and pages of commentary on the Iranian nuclear enrichment program and now on the agreement are silent about Israel’s furtive development of its own bomb, its refusal to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its resistance to calls for a Nuclear Free Zone in the Middle East. This silence permits audiences to wrongly assume a context where untested Israeli anxieties push for even more intense killer-sanctions or even for a highly destabilizing and unnecessarily destructive war.
President Obama has been right to pursue this avenue to peace, not only to avert an Iranian threat, but also to begin to offer Iran incentives to re-join the international community. The president has begun to take some of the tarnish off his prematurely awarded Nobel Peace Prize. He may also earn a place in history for having stood up to Mr. Netanyahu’s bullying and turning back the old-guard Israeli lobby. As Saint Augustine wrote, while the sword may sometimes be needed, it is better to achieve peace with a word than by the sword.
If the president holds the Iranians to their commitments, keeps our promises, and, with Secretary Kerry wins a comprehensive peace, then a younger American generation, including young Jews, both American and Israeli, will thank them for having rendered impotent the hardline demon of Israeli war-hysteria and opened new paths to peace.