Suddenly, for the first time in President Obama’s presidency, foreign affairs have leap-frogged over a host of domestic issues that had dominated news coverage and national attention since he took office in January. The economic meltdown and health care reform have been front and center, with not much more than photo ops from the President’s trips abroad. But as soon as it was revealed that the Iranian government had been lying about the extent of its nuclear program, all eyes looked not just abroad but ahead, and the clouds are closing in fast.
The prospect of Iran having nuclear weapons is certainly horrific. The government is dominated by thugs from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ahmadinejad is their public face, the person whom they choose to trot out to represent the country. Setting aside the farce of an election that he "won," there is the question of his inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. And, not just any fantasy. Holocaust denial is the Mazarati of geo-political fantasy and Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier. It is hard to imagine taking this man’s word for anything. But, the nature of his hallucinations tells us, as well, the nature of his threat. His government’s decision to test-fire missiles capable of hitting Israel this week served as an exclamation point for that threat: a nuclear-armed Iran poses an existential, not a geo-strategic, threat to the State of Israel.
Israel is not only America’s most steadfast ally, bound alike by necessity and values, it is the country with the greatest claim on the conscience of the West. Not just because of the Holocaust but because of the centuries of anti-Semitism, oftentimes sanctioned by the Church, that preceded the Holocaust. Hitler may have added the genocidal horror of a "final solution" but the West had longed viewed Jews as a problem in need of a solution. In other words, Hitler did not have to start from scratch.
Israel is also a geographically small country. If a couple of nuclear weapons hit a large country like America or Russia, other parts of the country would survive. A couple of nukes launched into Israel would destroy the country. To understand the fear Israelis must live with while the world tries to figure out how far along on the path Iran is to the development of a nuclear capability, think of how traumatized America was by the non-nuclear attack of September 11. Those who gainsay whatever steps the government of Israel may take in response to the Iranian threat should think, and think long, about the nature of the threat they face. It is not just a renewal of Auschwitz that the Iranians threaten, but the completion of Auschwitz, a successful destruction of Israel. That threat gives me shivers sitting thousands of miles away. I hope it gives Israel’s friends steel in their spines.
America is blest that we do not have to overcome one hurdle in the effort to turn Iran away from its chosen path: George W. Bush is no longer in the Oval Office. Recall that this question of Iranian nuclear weapons began on Bush’s watch but he was no longer in a position to speak out about weapons of mass destruction. No matter what steps the American government may have to take in the coming months, at least our President will have credibility his predecessor squandered when he addresses the reality of the threat Iran poses. As well, President Obama is not associated with the war in Iraq, a war that was misguided strategically precisely because it was destined to result in the strengthening of Iran in the region.
These are dangerous times. The last thing America wants or needs is another outburst of violence in the Persian Gulf. Indeed, an attack by Israel or NATO on Iran’s nuclear capabilities would strengthen the regime in Teheran. But, this time the choice may not be ours.