Editor’s note: This column, updated from its original publication in The Jewish Press in mid-2009, is highly relevant to today’s situation.
Recent warnings by President Obama to Israel against an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities are reminiscent of the period prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. Then, as now, Israel was faced with an existential threat. Then, as now, the U.S. pressured Israel not to take action.
Despite the fact that after the 1956 Sinai War Israel received a signed U.S. guarantee of intervention in the eventuality of an Egyptian obstruction of the Straits of Tiran, America ignored its commitment and threatened Israel that if it would attack Egypt, the U.S. would not stand at its side. President Lyndon Johnson lamely excused his betrayal by telling Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol that he “couldn’t find his copy” of the document.
America’s approach to Israel prior to the Six-Day War was patently negative. It imposed an arms embargo on the Middle East, while Soviet arms continued to flow freely to the Arab states. But after the successful Israeli attack – that also included the destruction of the USS Liberty in the waters off the Sinai Peninsula – the American approach to Israel completely changed. Arms and vast amounts of aid began to flow from our “great ally.” The flow of aid was downgraded only after Israel surrendered the Sinai to Egypt in the Camp David Accords. Currently, only one-sixth of the American arms sold to the Middle East are directed to Israel. The rest is sold to the Arab world, directly endangering the Jewish state.
The situation was not much different in 1948. The American government did not want to lose a market of 400 million Arabs and planned to vote against the establishment of the State of Israel. Public opinion after the Holocaust forced the U.S. to vote in favor – but only because they were convinced that the Arab armies would destroy the fledgling state in no time. For those who still hold the “great friendship with America” cliché dear, it should be noted that in those difficult pre-state days, America also imposed an arms embargo on the Middle East – in other words, on the Jews. Jewish-Americans who were caught smuggling arms to Israel were imprisoned.
There is no doubt that healthy relations with the (crumbling) American superpower are an important Israeli interest. But we must remember that those relations have always been founded on mutual interests and nothing more. If we were to evaporate in a radioactive plume, God forbid, Obama would respectfully lay a wreath at the new wing of the Holocaust Museum in Washington. Nothing more. So the American warning on an issue that is existential to Israel must not be taken into account at all.
One of the main lessons that we should have learned from the Holocaust is that when a Jew-hater who heads a country declares his intention to destroy us – he means it. As we have not yet attacked Iran after all of Ahmadinejad’s blatant threats, we have not really learned the Holocaust’s lesson.
In the Six-Day War, Israel initiated an aerial attack against its enemies that involved the entire Israeli Air Force. In the technological reality of those days, it was a mission no less complex than the proposed strike on Iran today. It demanded evasion of the Jordanian radar, total radio silence, and difficult navigation at extremely low altitudes deep inside enemy territory – all with mechanisms that can only be described as primitive relative to the weapons systems used today by Israel’s Air Force. Failure then would have left Israel with no air defenses against the attacks of all the Arab armies.
In other words, we have been in this scenario before. Israel has no choice but to attack Iran. America’s relations with us should not be part of the question of whether to attack. At most, we can ask ourselves how America will relate to us following a strike. And the answer is simple: A successful attack will improve relations, while no strike or an unsuccessful one will, God forbid, worsen them.