Iran War Odds: Negotiations Must Be Based on History, Not Wishful Thinking

After several trips to Europe and Asia, I have developed a greater affinity for the Jewish people and their efforts to sustain their culture and religion. The existential threats and acts of overt violence directed at the state of Israel and Jews individually are an integral part of the 3,000 year-old odyssey of these people.

I believe Israel’s survival is the most important objective for Jews. The country has and should continue to serve as a safe-haven for Jews that are persecuted around the world. Many have criticized my perspective, including a number of young Jews. History has taught us that unhappy people often target Jews. Nevertheless, many young Jews believe these episodes are a thing of the past.

The most important questions are, what is the value of Israel? And is it justified in protecting itself in an aggressive fashion against regimes like Iran? I have heard all the counterarguments: Iran is governed by sensible leaders who know that using a nuke would guarantee their demise; Iran is a responsible and peaceful nation; Iran is only responding to Israeli aggression against Palestine, etc.

Iran has repeatedly defied United Nations sanctions, fomented unrest throughout the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) and bears a 1,000 year-old grudge against Sunnis. Personally, I believe the Shia/Sunni legacy is much more important to Middle East stability than the Islam/U.S. differences in the long run.

As I think back to time spent in Amsterdam, Istanbul and Russia, I realize that the issues and treachery that have plagued Jews for thousands of years still are a threat to them today. For better or worse, I believe history is one of the best sources to predict how people will act. I offer these lesser-known historical facts:

In Amsterdam, the citizens of the city cooperated with the Nazis resulting in the murder of over 40,000 Jews. The population of Jews in Holland was over 150,000 in 1941; it was about 14,000 in 1947. The percent of Jews killed in Amsterdam was among the highest in Europe. To this day, the people of Amsterdam bear the guilt of their treachery as they sold the lives of thousands of innocent Jews to forestall a military assault on their city. Reflecting this condition, it should be noted that many Jews now hold important government positions in Amsterdam.

At the Holocaust Museum in Istanbul, a synagogue leader told me that of the six million plus Jews killed during the Holocaust, nearly three million were killed in the regions east of Germany and Poland in the former Russian Soviet Socialist Republics now known as Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Moldova. The Russians collaborated with the hated Nazis and orchestrated the murder and death in lesser-known concentration camps to assuage the Nazis and focus their wrath on Jews rather than Russian citizens. This fact is important because most people believe concentration camps liberated by the Allies were the deadliest places. As it turns out, more treachery, again, resulted in additional Jewish deaths

Also in Istanbul, I visited a synagogue that was viciously attacked by a Palestinian group led by Abu Nadal in 1968. Twenty-two Jewish worshipers were gunned down during the assault. Given that Istanbul has only 23,000 Jews, why would a Hamas group choose such a peaceful target? The answer is that hatred of extremists causes such senseless violence.

Unless Israel believes Iran is close to developing a deliverable nuclear weapon, I do not recommend either an Israeli or U.S. attack. This represents a change in my thinking on this matter. Several compelling op-eds have been written on this subject.

One such piece written by Dennis Ross and titled “How America can slow Israel’s march to war with Iran” appeared in the International Herald Tribune on August 22. In it, Ross provides some background covering well-known facts and then offers four actions that could delay an attack by the Israelis and give diplomacy more time to work. They are: 

1. “The U.S. must put an endgame proposal on the table that would allow Iran to have civil nuclear power but with restrictions that would preclude it from having a breakout nuclear capability . . .” 

2. “America should begin discussions with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany . . . about a ‘day after’ strategy in the event that diplomacy fails and force is used.” 

3. “Senior U.S. officials should ask Israeli leaders if there are military capabilities we could provide them with- like additional bunker-busting bombs . . .” 

4. “The White House should ask Mr. Netanyahu what sorts of U.S. support he would need if he chose to use force . . .”

These suggestions may increase the likelihood of violence in the future, but they would give a peaceful resolution a greater chance in the short term.

What does all this mean for Jews? The support for a Jewish state is waning. After the Jewish baby boomers are gone, Israel will not have the same U.S. support it has had in the past. Israel may no longer be a safe-haven for persecuted Jews. Considering the number of times that Jews have been targets of revolutionists, nationalists, communists, and Arabs, we should then expect to have Jews around the world seek asylum in America in response to atrocities they experience.