Israelis know about Middle East power struggles
December 20, 2005
Since most Americans’ closest encounter with a terrorist comes from a newspaper headline or the evening news, it’s no wonder our collective resolve to confront Islamo-fascist killers halfway around the world is waning.In Israel where terrorists have killed or wounded more than 7,500 people in five years, the very real prospect of a nuclear weapon possessed by those bent on your annihilation can focus the mind with amazing clarity.During my recent visit to Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported that no less than the president of Iran vowed that, once his country develops a nuclear bomb, Israel could expect a nuclear holocaust. Days later, ironically, he claimed Hitler’s holocaust never happened.The first war Israel loses will likely be its last, so the chance that Iran might not use nukes against the Jewish state is not a gamble Israelis can afford to take – nor can they put all of their eggs into the basket of a diplomatic resolution orchestrated by others for whom the stakes aren’t as great.During a recent visit to Israel organized by United Jewish Communities, I couldn’t help but notice that many Israelis – across the political spectrum – have a much clearer understanding of our imperative in Iraq than we do.Dr. Reuven Hazan, professor of political science at Hebrew University, told our delegation that in his view an early departure from Iraq would embolden Islamic extremists and set back the cause of moderate Arabs for 20 years.Premature withdrawal “will leave (Iraq) in a worse situation than prior to the start of the war because the terrorists will have won and will inevitably visit your shores once again, emboldened and empowered,” he said.In Hazan’s view, if U.S. troops withdraw before Iraq’s economy has stabilized and before civil society can be maintained, “then all the time, money and lost lives will do little to stop the next Saddam or Ayatollah from making Iraq a hostile entity to the region and to the world.”Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, 82, widely regarded as a dove and perhaps the most respected statesman of the Israeli left, offered even more remarkable candor.”I can justify America’s intervention in Iraq,” said Peres. “Since Hitler, since Stalin, no other dictator has been as brutal as Saddam Hussein.”I don’t understand why the U.S. searched for weapons of mass destruction. (Saddam) used them over Iran and killed thousands of Kurds. Imagine if Saddam had developed a nuclear bomb.”Of course, Saddam tried to develop a nuclear bomb, but the Israelis acted decisively in 1981 to destroy Iraq’s reactor. Considering that Baghdad is just 540 miles from Jerusalem (closer than Denver is to Kansas City), Israel’s unilateral action is understandable.”I know it’s painful and hard to justify to mothers who are losing their loved ones,” empathized Peres, himself a fighter in Israel’s 1947 war for independence.”Each of us must keep intellectual honesty,” he said. “I can’t understand protests against America striking Iraq (when) they never protested against Saddam Hussein.”By contrast, we know why Iraqis didn’t protest Saddam. Testimony in his ongoing trial details his brutal reign of terror – punctuated by millions of deaths and subjecting his own people to gang rape and meat grinders. The shameful question is how those clamoring for withdrawal from Iraq or urgent deployment to Sudan can ignore the measure of freedom now realized, thanks to our soldiers’ courage, by those once terrorized by Saddam.Peres’ sentiments were strikingly similar to those voiced in Washington by Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat, who recently expressed disappointment with Democrats and Republicans who are more concerned about their next election than making certain our soldiers’ courage in Iraq isn’t undermined by lack of resolve back home.Israel demonstrates two important principles that Americans must remember as we consider Iraq: First, democracies don’t attack their neighbors, except to protect themselves. Second, mature democracies aren’t immune from terrorists attacks but persist in spite of them.Peres recently left his longtime roots with Israel’s Labor Party to join the newly formed Kadima Party, started by his former rival, Prime Minister Arial Sharon. Like Lieberman, he has been the target of criticism from his former partisan allies.”Politics is about credit,” Peres explained. “Unity is an attempt to put credit aside and put unity in the center. My worry isn’t about credit. My worry is my country. It costs, but it’s right.”For all Americans, success in Iraq must be paramount, demanding that on this one issue, we put unity ahead of politics. If partisans would agree to stop exploiting Iraq for political advantage, our troops – rather than terrorists – would be emboldened.Mark Hillman is Colorado’s acting state treasurer. He can be contacted at email@example.com.