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It’s never a good idea to abandon a good friend, especially when you’ve been close kin for a long time, and that friend is about to stand up to a bully.
And that, in a nutshell, is why America should think long and hard before possibly making a regrettable mistake – abandoning Israel. Today’s bully, as is known, is Iran, which seems bent on obtaining nuclear weapons, and perhaps using them.
The danger signs are all there. Just this week, for example, Iran appears on the verge of sealing a deal to import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from former Soviet Kazakhstan, according to the Associated Press.
Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected President Obama’s indefinite deadline for coming clean on Iran’s nuclear program, saying his nation won’t comply until the U.S. gets rid of its atomic arsenal.
In November, the United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency, a "watchdog" organization, asked Iran to explain evidence that suggests Iranian scientists have experimented with advanced nuclear weapons design.
And in the past year, Iran has built spinning centrifuges, two-stage rockets and a secret uranium enrichment facility. Together, that has brought Iran, as columnist Charles Krauthammer points out, "materially closer to becoming a nuclear power."
In light of all this, it is worth remembering that Israel announced, a few months ago, that it might take unilateral action if Iranian plans to build nuclear weapons were not derailed by the end of 2009 – that is, now. There is also, remember, a precedent for bold Israeli action, as when Israeli jets bombed an Iraqi nuclear facility in the 1980s.
If Israel does take preemptive action, it will be interesting to see what America’s reaction will be. Will American policymakers support military action, even tacitly, perhaps by neither approving nor condemning such action?
Or will they join the expected outcry against Israeli action, and echo the chorus denying Israel the right to protect itself against a clear and present danger with a first strike?
For many, the conflict between Israel and its neighbors seems like a fight between two squabbling neighbors, evenly matched, and neither right or wrong.
But for Israel, the conflict with Iran is a matter of life or death. Israeli policymakers may disagree with each other on many things, but they will act decisively, as one, when it comes to the security of the nation.
Unfortunately, there are several long-term trends – as well as short-term reasons — that may weaken America’s traditional support for Israel.
The first, perhaps surprisingly, is the gradual loss of the understanding that America is founded on a Bible-based Judeo-Christian ethic. That ethic – a framework by which politics is practiced, as it were — holds that it is not the king’s religion that determines your religion. Rather, it is the right of each individual to choose his religion.
That framework, so foundational to America, has also informed American attitudes toward Israel. Because the God of the biblical text loves Jewish people and Israel, so do Americans. This is true of both believers, who understand the biblical text, and of non-believers, who have grown up accepting the guiding principles by which the nation was founded.
That common understanding, for example, is why Harry Truman’s immediate recognition of Israel moments after the nation was re-founded was applauded on all sides of the political spectrum. And that is why America, with its biblical foundation, has been largely free of anti-Semitism.
As an understanding of the nation’s biblical foundations has been lost, it has been replaced by a "multi-cultural" explanation of the nation. In that view, America isn’t a unique Judeo-Christian nation, but rather a nation merely made up of various religious groups, from Christian to Muslim to no religion at all.
President Obama expressed that revisionist view when he addressed Muslim leaders in Cairo in April. Expressing a viewpoint that surprised many Americans, he denied that America was in any special way a Christian nation. (Leaders there, not surprisingly, applauded his statements.)
But if America is not a Judeo-Christian nation, then there is no particular reason to give special consideration to Israel. After all, Muslim nations have no special love for Israel. Israel, under the "multi-cultural" interpretation of America, is just one nation among many.
Next, America’s support for Israel may fade as the Holocaust begins to fade from memory.
That tragic history is now six decades old, and there are fewer and fewer survivors of the Nazi wickedness. For decades, the testimony of those survivors has served as a living reminder of our failure to respond promptly to anti-Semitism, and our need to support Israel in the face of anti-Jewish hostility. The loss of the living witness does not bode well.
More immediately, the current economic downturn may also weaken America’s support for Israel, especially if the downturn includes a spike in the price of Arab-produced oil.
Unfortunately, economic fears often cause general good will to disappear. Many people who support Israel if it doesn’t cost them anything extra at the gas pump may turn sour if gasoline and heating oil prices go up.
Finally, if a terrorist strike destroys an American city, there may well be a huge outcry for America to retreat from the international stage. The pressure will be to abandon any overseas commitments, including Israel. The mood may turn very ugly, especially if support for Israel is seen as one so-called "reason" for the strike.
Why, in light of all this, is support for Israel so crucial for America’s future? There are lots of reasons, both for believers and secular policymakers alike.
From a biblical perspective, the Jewish people are God’s chosen people and Israel is the piece of real estate that God has set his special favor upon. The biblical text promises that God will bless those who bless Israel.
From that perspective, it is a good thing to get in line with the divine purpose. It’s no surprise that conservative evangelicals are among the strongest supporters of Israel.
From a secular perspective, it is important to support Israel because we are in the habit of supporting legitimate governments. By any decent reckoning, Israel is a legitimate government, much as is America.
(Israel has always considered its neighbors, despite their undemocratic traditions, to be legitimate governments, and has thus sought to live and let live. Meanwhile, many Arab leaders, captured by radical religious ideas, have continued to poison relations by publicly calling for Israel’s destruction.)
Were America to not support Israel, a legitimate government, it would give tacit approval to those who would undermine other legitimate governments, including our own.
Next, with or without America’s help, Israel is worth supporting because it is the only functioning democracy in the Middle East. In a sea of anti-Western nations, Israel holds "American" values (which, as we’ve seen, are really biblical values).
A diminished Israel would only embolden Islamic radicals in their war against the West. Plainly speaking, our survival is tied to Israel’s survival.
Those radicals, be it understood, mean business. After Ahmadinejad came to power in 2004, the Iranian leader declared himself committed to destroying Israel, to bring in the "Mhadi," the 12th Imam, the Islamic "messiah."
But Israel is unlikely to stand by contemplating its own destruction.
As leaked in the Times of London earlier this year, the Saudis have given permission to Israel to fly over Saudi Arabia in an air strike against Iran.
That "flyover" is not outside the realm of possibility. The Saudis dislike Iran, because the Saudis are Sunni Muslims, while Iran is Shiite Muslim. Theirs is a rivalry over which group is the "true" Islam, and those two factions have been fighting since the founding of Islam more than a dozen centuries ago.
If the Israelis use the Saudi route to take out the nuclear facilities in Iran, the Saudis will be rid of their enemies (while blaming "the Jews" as a cover).
With Israel determined to defend herself in a preemptive manner, and events moving rapidly, it would be wise for American policymakers to think proactively so as to not be merely in "reactive" mode
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FESSING UP TO FOREIGN (POLICY) FAILURE IS FIRST STEP TO PREVENTING MORE DANGEROUS DISASTERS, PROTECTING WEST
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