Latest update: March 4th, 2012
It’s difficult for a religious person to observe from a strictly secular and factual point of view the emerging conflict between Israel and US over Iran’s nuclear program, a conflict which is about to reach its peak with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to President Barack Obama Monday.
That the meeting is to take place in the week of Purim, our national commemoration of an attempt – some 2500 years ago – on the part of a Persian prime minister, to annihilate the Jewish nation, has not escaped, I’m sure, the attention of many shul rabbis, who took the opportunity this past Shabbat to make the obvious connection for their flock – as if they hadn’t figured it out by themselves.
So who are the Megillah characters in this round? We definitely have our Hamman in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. King Achashverosh should be President Barack Obama. Benjamin Netanyahu is more Esther than Mordechai, given his direct dealings with the ruler of the free world. What we’re missing is an obvious Mordechai, that stubborn, unrelenting, proud and morally upright man of state, whose wisdom and reassurance would guide our modern-day Esther through the maze of Washington politics.
If you ask me, I’m voting in favor of Amos Yadlin for the role of Mordechai (even though some amateur mystics in my shul have pointed out that Netanyahu’s first name, Benjamin, is reminiscent of Mordechai’s tribal association and the ancient observation that only the sons of Rachel—not Leah—are capable of fighting Amalek, our primeval nemesis).
On June 7, 1981, Amos Yadlin, who later became chief of Israeli military intelligence, was one of eight Israeli fighter pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. He recalled that event in a NY Times Op Ed Friday, one of those rare moments when you remember why you’re the last Jew on your block who still reads the Times.
The pilots sat down with then IDF chief of staff, the late General Rafael “Raful” Eitan, and laid out all their concerns regarding the mission: running out of fuel, the possibility of an Iraqi retaliation, damage to Israel’s relationship with the US, and the fact that even after a successful strike destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear facility the international condemnation would rain down Israel.
“Listening to today’s debates about Iran, we hear the same arguments and face the same difficulties, even though we understand it is not 1981,” comments Yadlin.
Raful’s decision in 1981 did not necessarily ignore all the very good and complex reasons against striking Hussein’s nuclear facility. Instead, the old war horse, who had been a soldier since before the creation of the Jewish State, did what he could at the time to stop a real threat, and chose to deal later with the inevitable collateral damage: mission difficulties, retaliation, US ire, and international condemnation. He simply did the math and decided that facing all of those outcomes was less risky than facing a nuclear Iraq.
He was right, and delivered a stupendous, unprecedented victory, the kind that has been becoming sadly rarer in the IDF’s recent history. A victory that in hindsight saved two US presidents from confrontation with a nuclear foe in dealing with Iraq.
Yadlin writes that the Pentagon could not understand how the Israelis were able to do it, using US made F-16s that “had neither the range nor the ordnance to attack Iraq successfully.”
In Yadlin’s opinion, it came down to “Israel’s military ingenuity.” They “simply” maximized fuel efficiency, and relied on the best pilots on the planet, who trained tirelessly for that specific mission. In the end, all they really did was attack the Iraqi reactor “with pinpoint accuracy from so close and such a low altitude that our unguided bombs were as accurate and effective as precision-guided munitions.”
It’s maddening how the same political and military system is facing almost exactly the same challenge, and so far has not been able to follow General Eitan’s straight forward thinking: deal with the nuclear target first, everything else couldn’t possibly be a worse threat than a nuclear enemy at Israel’s doorstep.
President Obama last week told The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg that both Iran and Israel should not ignore the possibility of a US attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff.” He said to Goldberg. “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”
In the interview, Obama remarked that “all options are on the table,” and that included the “military component.” But the president insisted that sanctions have pushed Iran into a “world of hurt,” and that economic duress might soon force Tehran to rethink its nuclear ambitions.
And Obama is perfectly aware of the threat a nuclear Iran poses not just to Israel, but to the Gulf states and, inevitably, to American targets around the world, including, possibly, the US mainland.
“You’re talking about the most volatile region in the world,” he told The Atlantic. “It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe. The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.”
Yadlin writes in response that the problem “is one of time. Israel doesn’t have the safety of distance, nor do we have the United States Air Force’s advanced fleet of bombers and fighters.”
Only America is capable of launching an extensive air campaign, with stealth technology and practically unlimited amounts of ammunition—something Israel simply cannot do. Only America can drop enormous payloads, hitting and penetrating targets to depths no other military force can duplicate.
“This gives America more time than Israel in determining when the moment of decision has finally been reached,” argues the former head of Israel’s military intelligence, warning that “as that moment draws closer, differing timetables are becoming a source of tension.”
Yadlin concludes with a warning: If President Obama does not provide Israel with “Ironclad assurance” that the US would act militarily against Iran if necessary, once Israel’s window of opportunity closes, “Israeli leaders may well choose to act while they still can.”
Or, as Biblical Mordechai put it (Esther 4:14): “Relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place.”
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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