by Steve Feldman
"If Israel is attacked" is a phrase heard often by mostly well-meaning politicians from both American parties when they are out on the campaign trail, or even while holding office, to express their intent to come to the aid of the Jewish state.
But as anyone who both follows current events and has any semblance of logic knows, not only is the phrase trite, but it reveals a certain unfamiliarity with the Middle East today and is even dangerous as pertains to Iran.
First: "If Israel is attacked" implies a future scenario. But those who keep abreast of the goings-on in Israel know that Israel is and has been under attack all year (and earlier) by Palestinian-Arabs residing in the Gaza Strip. Thus far this year, the Palestinian-Arabs have fired more than 800 rockets and mortar rounds at Israeli civilian areas.
On October 24, 80 projectiles were fired at Israelis. In those attacks, two guest workers were injured, while five houses took direct hits. Last year, a rocket attack from Gaza killed an Israeli, and there have been numerous fatalities and injuries due to Palestinian-Arab rocket attacks over the past ten years. There has also been great property damage, and the trauma -- especially to young children who have to flee to bomb shelters within fifteen seconds of the alerts -- is immeasurable. More than one million Israelis live within range of rockets from Gaza.
If this is not a current state of being under attack, what is?
While those seeking office can do nothing to stop this rocket fire, they can strongly condemn the Palestinian-Arabs, yet we don't seem to have examples of any. Those in office seeking re-election can take action, though there seems to be silence.
The U.S. government has taken no discernible action to compel the Palestinian-Arabs to stop firing rockets at Israel. If America -- the largest funder of the Palestinian-Arabs and trainer of their "security" forces -- cannot get them to stop firing rockets at Israel, who can? There is a clear lack of response by the administration. It is no way to treat an ally.
Yes, the U.S. has funded Israel's novel "Iron Dome" anti-missile (short-range, low-trajectory) system, which has been quite effective -- though hardly 100 percent. In fact, according to reports, it eliminated only seven of the incoming rockets during the Oct. 24 barrage. Each Iron Dome anti-missile missile costs $40,000 (plus the millions it cost to develop and deploy the system itself). Meanwhile, a Palestinian-Arab rocket costs less than $1,000, and a mortar is far cheaper.
In reality, the "Iron Dome" may provide only the security of an umbrella in a hailstorm.
Imagine a scenario where your neighborhood is plagued with gun-toting gangs who frequently fire at civilians. But rather than go after the criminals, the police hand out bulletproof vests to the victims. Helpful perhaps if they aim at your chest, but it would be far better to eliminate the criminals and stop the gunfire in the first place.
But America lets the Palestinian-Arabs fire at will, and when Israel goes after the Palestinian-Arab terrorists, there is a chorus of accusations of a "disproportionate response" from the world and the media -- including in America. A New York Times headline online on Oct. 24 blared that "Israel -- Airstrikes Kill Two Hamas Gunmen" with no mention in the headline as to why Israel struck.
As for Iran, the phrase "If Israel is attacked" is even more problematic. It implies that America will step forward to help Israel only after Israel is attacked by Iran. This is not good enough. If an Iranian attack involves a nuclear missile or bomb, the casualties would be devastating to a country as tiny as Israel.
According to a 2007 estimate by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies, if Tel Aviv were the target of an Iranian nuclear attack, 200,000 to 800,000 Israelis would die from the primary impact. Others have noted there would be many more Israeli casualties as a result of nuclear radiation.
Who would want to live in such a place, visit Israel, or invest there in the aftermath of a nuclear attack? It would likely mean the destruction of the Jewish State. The mere fact that Iran possessed nuclear weapons and could use them at any time would make businesses skittish about investing in Israel and inspire many Jews to desert their homeland.
Allies protect one another before tragedies and attacks occur. Little good would come for Israel were the U.S. to react after such an attack.
When Iranian officials hear "If Israel is attacked," perhaps it means to them that America will allow them to get in the opening salvo -- a free shot to kill as many Israelis as they can before facing American retribution.
Iranian leaders have said they would be willing to sacrifice millions of their own people to an Israeli or American counter-strike in order to attain the goal of destroying Israel. This is a regime that sacrificed thousands of boys whom they sent into minefields to detonate those devices rather than risk casualties to soldiers during their war against Iraq.
Defending Israel after the fact is simply no defense at all. Policy must be to pre-empt Israel's enemies and, beyond that, remove the threat to Israel in its entirety.
If politicians and other officials are careless in their choice of words and mean to say they will prevent Israel from a nuclear attack in the first place, they need to be clearer in their formulation. But if their statements are meant to be taken literally -- that is, that America will only respond to an attack, but not pre-empt one -- it is yet another sign that the Israelis can truly only rely on their own courage and judgment.
Steve Feldman is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America's Greater Philadelphia District.
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