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Friday, October 30, 2009

Ein breira (there is no choice)

In Friday's Wall Street Journal, Yossi Klein HaLevi talks about what's on most Israelis' minds these days: The possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb.
Opinion here has been divided about the ability of an Israeli strike to significantly delay Iran's nuclear program. But Israelis have dealt with their doubts by resurrecting a phrase from the country's early years: Ein breira, there's no choice. Besides, as one leading Israeli security official who has been involved in the Iranian issue for many years put it to me, "Technical problems have technical solutions." Israelis tend to trust their strategic planners to find those solutions.
Ironically, ein breira was the motto of those who argued in the late 1960's that Israel had to return to the 1949 armistice lines in the hope that we might then be left in peace by our neighbors. I can recall going to a Saturday night event at our synagogue in Massachusetts in the late 1960's where an activist for a group called Breira kept telling us "ein breira" and the entire shul membership kept screaming at him "aval yesh breira" (there is a choice). Now, the slogan has been turned on its head, and it's the right nearly the whole country that believes that there is no choice and that if no one else takes care of it, we must strike Iran regardless of the consequences. In fact, that's the main reason Binyamin Netanyahu got elected: People believed he has the... well... you know what... to strike Iran and Tzipi Livni does not.

Klein HaLevi goes on to ask whether the Obama administration's 'engagement' with Iran will "effectively end the possibility of a military strike"?
On the face of it, this is not May 1967. There is not the same sense of impending catastrophe that held the Israeli public in the weeks before the Six Day War. Israelis are preoccupied with the fate of Gilad Shalit (the kidnapped Israeli soldier held by Hamas), with the country's faltering relations with Turkey, with the U.N.'s denial of Israel's right to defend itself, and with an unprecedented rise in violent crime.

But the Iranian threat has seeped into daily life as a constant, if barely conscious anxiety. It emerges at unexpected moments, as black humor or an incongruous aside in casual conversation. "I think we're going to attack soon," a friend said to me over Sabbath dinner, as we talked about our children going off to the army and to India.

Now, with the possibility of a deal with Iran, Israelis realize that a military confrontation will almost certainly be deferred. Still, the threat remains.
And Jennifer Rubin sums up what the Obama administration is thinking:
All signs point to the argument of inevitability. You can see the wheels in motion. We talked. We tried. Now they have nuclear arms. The alternatives are horrible. We can live with this, manage the threat. After all, look what a productive relationship we’re establishing with the regime! That’s what you see and hear underlying each move by the Obama team. No regime change — the democratic protesters are the fly at the engagement picnic. No sanctions right now — we’re negotiating. No big deal about Qom — the public may be alarmed we let this slide by. Don’t hold to any deadlines — we might reach a point of confrontation.
It's not 1967 - no one is digging graves and preparing body bags in anticipation of - God forbid - thousands of deaths. But I disagree with Klein HaLevi. While 'engagement' almost certainly means that the US will not attack Iran, and Israelis are very nervous about the prospect of going it alone, I cannot see Israel's decision makers living with Rubin's portrait of the Obama administration's thinking. As Rubin herself points out:
We can argue about just how naive the Obami are — or how compliant they think the American public may be when presented with the news that Iran has gone nuclear — but the Israelis don’t have the luxury of deluding themselves about the Obama administration’s game plan. It isn’t one designed to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat at all costs.
Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran.

Ein breira - there is no choice.


At 4:45 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

No one in Israel trusts Iran to be rational. A country that endorses Holocaust Denial and which calls for Israel to be wiped off the map is a country that cannot be expected to be a rational actor. Israel simply cannot afford to trust Iran's good intentions.

That is the bottom line and yes - its ein breira to Israelis.


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