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December 11, 2016 / 11 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘remember’

We Are What We Remember

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

One reason religion has survived in the modern world despite four centuries of secularization is that it answers the three questions every reflective human being will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?

These cannot be answered by the four great institutions of the modern West: science, technology, the market economy and the liberal democratic state. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use that power. The market gives us choices but does not tell us which choices to make. The liberal democratic state as a matter of principle holds back from endorsing any particular way of life. The result is that contemporary culture sets before us an almost infinite range of possibilities, but does not tell us who we are, why we are here, and how we should live.

Yet these are fundamental questions. Moses’ first question to God in their first encounter at the burning bush was “Who am I?” The plain sense of the verse is that it was a rhetorical question: Who am I to undertake the extraordinary task of leading an entire people to freedom? But beneath the plain sense was a genuine question of identity. Moses had been brought up by an Egyptian princess, the daughter of Pharaoh. When he rescued Jethro’s daughters from the local Midianite shepherds, they went back and told their father, “An Egyptian man delivered us.” Moses looked and spoke like an Egyptian.

He then married Zipporah, one of Jethro’s daughters, and spent decades as a Midianite shepherd. The chronology is not entirely clear but since he was a relatively young man when he went to Midian and was eighty years old when he started leading the Israelites, he spent most of his adult life with his Midianite father-in-law, tending his sheep. So when he asked God, “Who am I?” beneath the surface there was a real question. Am I an Egyptian, a Midianite, or a Jew?

By upbringing he was an Egyptian, by experience he was a Midianite. Yet what proved decisive was his ancestry. He was a descendant of Abraham, the child of Amram and Yocheved. When he asked God his second question, “Who are you?” God first told him, “I will be what I will be.” But then he gave him a second answer:

 

Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, the name you shall call Me from generation to generation.

 

Here too there is a double sense. On the surface God was telling Moses what to tell the Israelites when they asked, “Who sent you to us?” But at a deeper level the Torah is telling us about the nature of identity. The answer to the question, “Who am I?” is not simply a matter of where I was born, where I spent my childhood or my adult life or of which country I am a citizen. Nor is it answered in terms of what I do for a living, or what are my interests and passions. These things are about where I am and what I am but not who I am.

God’s answer – I am the God of your fathers – suggests some fundamental propositions. First, identity runs through genealogy. It is a matter of who my parents were, who their parents were and so on. This is not always true. There are adopted children. There are children who make a conscious break from their parents. But for most of us, identity lies in uncovering the story of our ancestors, which, in the case of Jews, given the unparalleled dislocations of Jewish life, is almost always a tale of journeys, courage, suffering or escapes from suffering, and sheer endurance.

Second, the genealogy itself tells a story. Immediately after telling Moses to tell the people he had been sent by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God continued:

 

Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – a land flowing with milk and honey.’ (Ex. 3:16-17)

 

It was not simply that God was the God of their ancestors. He was also the God who made certain promises: that He would bring them from slavery to freedom, from exile to the Promised Land. The Israelites were part of a narrative extended over time. They were part of an unfinished story, and God was about to write the next chapter.

What is more, when God told Moses that He was the God of the Israelites’ ancestors, he added, “This is My eternal name, this is how I am to be recalled [zikhri] from generation to generation.” God was here saying that He is beyond time – “This is my eternal name” – but when it comes to human understanding, He lives within time, “from generation to generation.” The way He does this is through the handing on of memory: “This is how I am to be recalled.” Identity is not just a matter of who my parents were. It is also a matter of what they remembered and handed on to me. Personal identity is shaped by individual memory. Group identity is formed by collective memory.

All of this is by way of prelude to a remarkable law in this week’s parsha. It tells us that first-fruits were to be taken to “the place God chooses,” i.e. Jerusalem. They were to be handed to the priest, and each was to make the following declaration:

 

“My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great, powerful and populous nation. The Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our suffering, our harsh labor and our distress. The Lord then brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with great fearsomeness and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. I am now bringing the first-fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” (Deut. 26:5-10)

 

We know this passage because, at least since Second Temple times it has been a central part of the Haggadah, the story we tell at the Seder table. But note that it was originally to be said on bringing first-fruits, which was not on Pesach. Usually it was done on Shavuot.

What makes this law remarkable is this: We would expect, when celebrating the soil and its produce, to speak of the God of nature. But this text is not about nature. It is about history. It is about a distant ancestor, a “wandering Aramean,” It is the story of our ancestors. It is a narrative explaining why I am here, and why the people to whom I belong is what it is and where it is. There was nothing remotely like this in the ancient world, and there is nothing quite like it today. As Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi said in his classic book Zakhor: Jews were the first people to see God in history, the first to see an overarching meaning in history, and the first to make memory a religious duty.

That is why Jewish identity has proven to be the most tenacious the world has ever known: the only identity ever sustained by a minority dispersed throughout the world for two thousand years, one that eventually led Jews back to the land and state of Israel, turning Hebrew, the language of the Bible, into a living speech again after a lapse of many centuries in which it was used only for poetry and prayer. We are what we remember, and the first-fruits declaration was a way of ensuring that Jews would never forget.

In the past few years, a spate of books has appeared in the United States asking whether the American story is still being told, still being taught to children, still framing a story that speaks to all its citizens, reminding successive generations of the battles that had to be fought for there to be a “new birth of freedom”, and the virtues needed for liberty to be sustained. The sense of crisis in each of these works is palpable, and though the authors come from very different positions in the political spectrum, their thesis is roughly the same: If you forget the story, you will lose your identity. There is such a thing as a national equivalent of Alzheimer’s. Who we are depends on what we remember, and in the case of the contemporary West, a failure of collective memory poses a real and present danger to the future of liberty.

Jews have told the story of who we are for longer and more devotedly than any other people on the face of the earth. That is what makes Jewish identity so rich and resonant. In an age in which computer and smartphone memories have grown so fast, from kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes, while human memories have become so foreshortened, there is an important Jewish message to humanity as a whole. You can’t delegate memory to machines. You have to renew it regularly and teach it to the next generation. Winston Churchill said: “The longer you can look back, the further you can see forward.” Or to put it slightly differently: Those who tell the story of their past have already begun to build their children’s future.

{Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, in conjunction with the Orthodox Union}

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Memorial Day: Remember America’s Fallen Heroes

Monday, May 30th, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, The Lid}

The Original Order Creating the Memorial Day Holiday:

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but Posts and comrades will, in their own way, arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are here to play, Comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers sailors and Marines, who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead? We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security, is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation’s gratitude—the soldiers and sailors widow and orphan. 

It is the purpose of the Commander in Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

A Memorial Day Prayer:

Lord who grants salvation to kings and dominion to rulers, Whose kingdom is a kingdom spanning all eternities; Who places a road in the sea and a path in the mighty waters – may you bless the President, the Vice President, and all the constituted officers of government of this land. May they execute their responsibilities with intelligence, honor and compassion. And may these United States continue to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

 

May He bless the members of our armed forces, who protect us from harm, on the land, in the air, and on the sea. May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters and their families from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor. 

May the God of overflowing compassion, who lives in the highest and all worlds, give limitless rest to those who are now under his Holy sheltering spiritual wings, making them rise ever more purely, through the light of your brilliance, and may he bless their souls forever and may he comfort the bereaved.

And let us all say, Amen

American-Flag

 

Jeff Dunetz

Remember

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Today, as you read these words, the entire Jewish population of Eretz Yisroel is in a somber and reflective and most noticeably: mournful mood.

Today the State of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole remember and mourn the 23,477 individuals who have been killed for wanting to live as Jews in Eretz Yisroel.

It is because of them that you and I can go there today to learn and to live.

These 23,477 individuals who fell include Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and those who died while serving in the pre-State underground militias and the Jewish Brigade in the British Army.

They also include almost 3,000 civilians who were murdered in brutal and cowardly terror attacks.

Of these men, women and children who were murdered, some were young people and some were elderly; some were rich and some were poor; some were educated and some were not; some were religious and others non-religious; yet, they all had one thing in common: they were killed for being Jews who wanted and insisted in living in the land promised to us by Hashem Himself.

While so many of the soldiers were killed in active combat, the civilian victims of terror were killed in cold blood.

Many were killed while doing mitzvohs and learning Torah or davening; others were killed while mundanely walking the streets of the holy land.

There is hardly a family in Israel who does not know someone or is not related to someone who is being mourned on this somber and mournful Memorial Day.

For me and my family, we too mourn today.

I mourn for the soldiers who have fallen while helping to establish a viable and growing and stable Jewish community in the Land of Israel.

They helped create an environment where Jews can live and visit and Israel and learn Torah in a manner unmatched since the time of the Second Beis HaMikdash.

I also mourn for those killed in terror attacks who were killed unarmed and in cold blood; they too created the “facts on the ground” that Jews have the G-d given right to live in the land of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yakov.

I personally mourn for a Jew who was brutally attacked by a knife wielding Arab on a quiet street in the walled city of Yerushalayim while he made his way in the pre-dawn hours to daven Vasikin.

That Jew, who was mortally wounded in the attack, succumbed to his injuries on the 19th of Elul 1851.
He is considered the first victim of terror in the ‘modern era.’ His name appears first on the Wall of Names of Victims of Terror in the military cemetery at Har Herzl in Yerushalayim.

His name was Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Tzoref and he was my great-great-great-great-grandfather.

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about him on Yom HaZikaron in 2012:

“The name of the first terror victim is here on the Wall of Names, Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Zalman Tzoref.

Rabbi Avraham was one of the most prominent figures of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. One day, in the summer of 1851, while on his daily walk to synagogue for his morning prayer, he was attacked from behind by Arab rioters who hit him on his head and fatally wounded him. He fought for his life for three months before he succumbed.

But his death did not stop his legacy or the settling of the country, which his family continued. You have, no doubt, heard of this man’s grandson. He was the renowned Yoel Moshe Salomon, one of the founders of Petach-Tikva, where my mother was born.

Six of his offspring fell in Israeli wars, sacrificing their own lives to ensure the continuity of the Jewish nation. Eventually, his descendants filled major positions in Israel’s economy and in our public sector.”

Indeed, many of his descendants do fill major positions in Israel; I have thousands of relatives in Israel in all walks of life.

Rav Avrohom Zalman Tzoref life’s work was to rebuild the famed Churva Shul in the Old City. The reason he was specifically targeted for assassination was because of the leadership role he assumed as the head of the Jewish community’s efforts to ‘redeem’ the land where the Shul was and begin the rebuilding of the famed Mikdash Me’at (Synagogue).

He never lived to see that day as we killed while still in the midst of his efforts to secure the necessary funds and permits. The fact that his life was cut short while attempting to build a Shul for the Jewish community of Yerushalayim is a source of sadness and pride for me and my family.

That being said, even more meaningful for me is that today Memorial Day/Yom HaZikaron.  the day when I remember my great-great-great-great-grandfather, and the day when 23,447 families remember their loved ones- I am also comforted.

I am comforted by the fact that on this same morning when I mourn my great-great-great-great-grandfather- a man who never lived to see his life’s work.  the building of the Churva Shul completed,  his great-great-great-great-great-grandson (My son Meir) davened Shacharis in that very Shul!

Rav Avrohom Zalman Tzoref and his Rebbetzin are buried at the foot of Har HaZeisim. Every morning, his descendants (my son and my grandchildren) pass his Kever (grave) on the way to Shul and on the way to school- every single day he sees them.

We are sad today, we are mournful today…indeed, I am personally mourning and I am personally pained; however, I am simultaneously comforted, as I also know that tomorrow the sun will shine brighter.

I know that Hashem has not forsaken His people.

I know that my antecedent Rav Shlomo Zalman Tzoref did not die in vain… for his death- as painful and tragic as it was- it helped pave the way for his descendant’s to live, learn Torah and thrive in our homeland; it helped set in motion the events which allowed my son Meir and his sons to learn Torah in the very place that their holy Zaide gave his life for.“

[And Hashem said], And I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, and I said to you, ‘With your blood you shall live,’ and I said to you, ‘With your blood you shall live.’” (Yechezkel 16:6)

Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman

Remember The Holocaust

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Do you want your family to be part of the forthcoming Holocaust Remembrance Campaign? The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and In My Hands, two books on the Holocaust, republished as part of Random House Children’s Books Read to Remember, will help your family appreciate the tragedy in two very different ways.

 

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas Lewis-050616-Pajamas
A Fable
By John Boyne
216p. Random House. $9.99
ISBN 978-0-385-75153-7

 

In this simple and seemingly effortless book, which topped the New York Times bestseller list and was made into a movie, Boyne shows us how war destroys the experience of childhood and, without gruesome graphics, brings us close to the horrors of the Holocaust. Marketed for young adults, the book is a must-read for all ages.

One day, in 1942, naïve, nine-year-old Bruno returns home from school and discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their five-story mansion in Berlin far away to a bleak, forbidding house that is so unpleasant that “nothing, not even the insects” would choose to stay here. From his bedroom window in his new home, on the other side of a tall, infinitely-long fence, likeable and well-mannered Bruno notices huddled groups of strange-looking people. Intent on fulfilling his longing to be an explorer, Bruno follows the fence and meets Shmuel, a boy his age, who lives on the other side of the fence. Their meeting results in a friendship. When Shmuel reveals that his father has gone missing, Bruno offers to help his friend find him – an offer which leads to devastating consequences.

A master writer, Boyne takes us right into the lives of children by immersing us in their language and experiences. In Bruno’s limited understanding, Auschwitz and the Fuhrer become “Out-With” and “the Fury” – puns that cleverly convey the essence of what they describe. Vague terms such as “the foreseeable future” cover over ominous tidings. The repetition of key phrases and rules of conduct (Bruno refers to his sister Gretel as a “Hopeless Case” and his father’s study is “Out of Bounds At All Times and No Exceptions”) are Bruno’s buoys in a world that has become topsy-turvy. We grow to love Bruno as we watch him strive to maintain his nascent humanity in the horrible reality that surrounds him. We admire him for his continual attempts “to be honest with himself.” These very characteristics render the ending of the fable all the more shocking.

As a fable, the book is not historically accurate. There were no nine-year-old boys in Auschwitz; the Nazis immediately gassed those unable to work. Furthermore, although the absence of explicit visual detail (beatings are referred to, but glossed over; the horrors of the camp aren’t clearly seen) makes the reading emotionally easier, it trivializes the horrors and allows for a false representation of the abominations. Despite this, the book still manages to make us shiver.

 

 

In My Hands: Memories Of A Holocaust RescuerLewis-050616-Hands
A Memoir
By Irene Gut Opdyke
As told to Jennifer Armstrong
279p. Random House. $10.99
ISBN 978-0-553-53884-7

 

“I did not ask myself, ‘Should I do this?’, but ‘How will I do this?” says Irene Gut Opdyke. Irene, a Polish patriot and a good Catholic girl, had a burning desire to stand up for what was right. It became the impetus that drove her to save Jewish lives even though throughout Ternopol, Ukraine, posters and loudspeakers declared: Whoever helps a Jew shall be punished by death. While In My Hands is marketed for teenagers, we highly recommended parents read the memoir first and make their own decision concerning its suitability for their children, as Irene was prepared to pay a high price for her defiance.

Rhona Lewis

Iran: Neither Lunatic State Nor Rational Actor, But Rational Aggressor

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

The United States now estimates it will take one year for Iran to get nuclear weapons; Israel says some months.

Is Iran a Lunatic State or a Rational Actor? It is neither; it is a Rational Aggressor.

“One of the great unresolved questions of Barack Obama’s presidency,” says Time Magazine, “is whether he can peacefully resolve  America’s conflict with Iran over its nuclear weapons’  program.

Ridiculously wrong.
 
One of the great unresolved questions of Barack Obama’s presidency is whether he can successfully resolve America’s conflict with Iran over its nuclear weapons’ program.

Time continues that the Obama-Rouhani handshake “would  be the most important…handshake since the historic grip between Rabin and Arafat….””

Also wrong. Remember that while it has still not been admitted by the United States, that event 20! years later was a failure costly in lives. Israel must satisfy seemingly monthly American demands by releasing terrorists who murdered Israelis.

The handshakes of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with Hitler (the Munich agreement) and of the Nazi foreign minister and Stalin (the Nazi-Soviet pact) were also a historic grip, at the time peaceful but not ultimately successful.

Time continues, “It would only be a symbolic act, to be sure. But when it comes to international diplomacy, symbolism can go a long way.”

But it is not a mere symbolic act but the start of a foolish deal that Iran will break.

So is Iran a lunatic state or a rational actor? A hell of a lot more rational than U.S. foreign policy is today, as apparently has been the Muslim Brotherhood’s policy and trickery. After all, the UN just elected Iran as Rapporteur for the General Assembly’s main committee on Disarmament & International Security without Tehran having to do anything.  And Obama will blame Congress for diplomatic failure if it increases sanctions. In fact diplomats doubt Iran will actually do anything anyway.

That’s not moderate but radical in a smart way.

More politely, Iran is a rational actor in terms of its own objectives. The issue is to understand what Iran wants. Policy is always best served by truth, and the truth is best told whether or not people like it. Iran is an aggressive, rational actor.

Remember: The problem is not that Iran is eager to use nuclear weapons but that the Obama Administration is not going to apply containment properly and credibly.  And that encourages Iran’s non-nuclear aggression and terrorism.
 
The hysteria over Iran, however, had also better get under control, even as the real, very threatening situation should be understood. Armchair theorists from far away may want to provoke a U.S.-Iran war. This is a bad idea.

The fact is that the history of the Iranian Islamic regime does not show suicidal recklessness. A key reason for this is that the leaders of Iran know they can be reckless without risking suicide. In other words, Iran did face threats from the West commensurate with what Tehran was doing. Therefore, the risks it took were not suicidal. If apparently suicidal rhetoric does not produce suicide but serves a very specific purpose, that rhetoric is not in fact suicidal.

What, then, did Iran want?

Its basic goal was to be as powerful a regional hegemon as possible–including control over Syria and Lebanon. It would like to take leadership of all Muslims in the area. Today, however, it is clear that the Sunni Arabs reject Tehran’s leadership and will fight against it.

In other words, the ultimate extent of Iran’s zone of influence could only include part of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, southwest Afghanistan, Bahrain, and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. That is the maximum, and Iran is far from achieving that goal. And it will probably never achieve it.

Iran’s influence is limited by the location of Shia Muslims. Not all Shia Muslims favor Iran, and pretty much all Sunni Muslims oppose it. Therefore, whatever the outcome is in Syria–in other words if the regime wins–Iran will at most keep its current levels of influence. But if the regime wins, the Sunnis will hate Iran even more and will fight against it harder.

So Iran still wants to get the most power without fearing reprisal.

Nuclear weapons are a defensive shield to carry out conventional aggression.

As I’ve insisted for many years, it is increasingly clear that Iran will get nuclear weapons. We should start discussions in that framework. The recent brilliant decision of the Iranian elite–who is not only more ruthless but strategically smarter than Western leadership–to pick a national security insider, who is at best a slightly moderate extremist, as president guarantees it.

The question is only: when will Iran get nuclear weapons? The evidence seems to show that this is several years away. (It would be interesting if that development was too late to affect Syria’s civil war, and such will probably happen.)

Why will Iran certainly get nukes?

First, the West isn’t going to take strong enough action to stop it because the alternatives are deemed–perhaps accurately so–too risky. No surgical Israeli strike is going to stop it, and Obama will never support such a strike. Of course, there is a great deal of indifference about the potential victims and lots of greed about the money to be made from Iran. The sanctions may seem tough, but there are more holes than cheese.

After Ahmadinejad, though, there is perhaps a better money-making climate. His successor will further soothe Western willingness to battle on this nuclear issue.

And of course they just don’t care that much about potential genocide in Israel.

Second, with international support at a low point, the logistical difficulties, and a U.S. president who is incredibly reluctant, Israel is not going to attack Iran to stop it from getting nuclear weapons. What Israel should and will do is to make clear it will attack Iran if there is any reason to believe that Tehran might launch nuclear weapons. It will build up a multilayer defensive and offensive system.

This is not mere passive containment but would mean assured massive retaliation.

Note that there is more than one potential victim of Iran’s nuclear weapons. People, including the Israelis, talk a lot about Israel. Yet the Sunni Arab states are increasingly involved in shooting situations with Iranian proxies. Unlike Israel, they won’t do anything and perhaps can’t, except to beg the United States to take strong action. But the U.S. won’t do so.

And of course everyone can just hope everything will turn out all right.

A rare piece of good news, however, is that before the “Arab Spring,” it was conceivable that Iran might become leader or hegemon of the Arabic-speaking world. Israel-bashing was an important tool to do so. Now the Sunni Muslims have their own successful–even U.S.-backed!–Muslim Brotherhood movement. They not only don’t need Iran any more, they fight against Tehran.

Pushed on the defensive with more limited prospects–and knowing the Israel card won’t work–Tehran has lots less incentive to stake its survival on that issue. The nuclear weapons arsenal isn’t intended for a big bang to get revenge on Israel, it’s intended to keep the current regime in power against a growing number of enemies.

Put bluntly, Iran won’t waste its nuclear weapons on Israel or, as they might put it in Tehran, to give Israel an “excuse” to attack Iran. No pile of quotes from Iranian leaders to the contrary changes anything.
The key factor is not an appeal to the “international community” to protect Israel. Israel’s power rests precisely in old-fashioned credibility and deterrence:

Only Israel can credibly destroy the Islamic regime.  And the Islamic regime in Iran knows that. 
 
Israel was so important in Iranian verbal declarations precisely because Israel could at one time be turned into a card that strengthened Iran’s appeal with the Arabs and the Sunni. Iran certainly had very few other cards. But the Sunni and Arabs don’t care about this, given the big change of the last two years. The Israel card–as shown by the Syrian regime’s failure with it–is worthless.

Note that while Iran has been the leading sponsor of international terrorism and poured invective out against Israel, Iran did not notably take any material action against Israel beyond terror attacks and its sponsorship of Hizballah, Hamas, and Syria–which were its allies at the time. Compared to Arab efforts in the second half of the twentieth century, this was not very much.

In other words, against Israel, the Tehran regime talked a big game but did relatively little.

On other issues, too, Iran did not act like a country bent on suicide. Against its Arab enemies, it did not take considerable risks. Iran could wage a proxy war against America in Iraq, because the United States didn’t do very much about it.

All of the above in no way discounts an Iranian threat. Yes, of course, Iran sponsored terrorism and sought to gain influence and to spread revolution. Yet it did not attack a single country in open terms of warfare. Remember, Iran was invaded by Iraq. And when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself was persuaded that the United States was entering the war against him, he quickly ended it, though he said that doing so was like eating snakes and scorpions; but that was necessary to preserve the regime.

Iran is the kind of aggressor who was once described by Winston Churchill as a thief who went down the street rattling doors to find one that was open.

Second, Iran sought to defend itself by threatening antagonists with total destruction and by obtaining the ultimate deterrence, nuclear weapons. This does not mean one should sympathize with Tehran since, after all, it sought nuclear weapons to ensure its defense while it continued aggressive policies.

Iran can also complain about American encirclement. Of course, if it did not follow the policies that were being practiced, there wouldn’t be a U.S. motive for any such efforts. The point, however, is that the claim that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons so it could destroy itself by attacking Israel is just not demonstrated.

Thus, Iran is not a demonic, crazed, kamikaze country. It is simply a typical aggressor who wants to have insurance against having to pay the price of such continued activity. North Korea and Pakistan sought nuclear weapons for the same reason, and it is working for them.

Let’s approach the issue in another way. Suppose Iran helped the Syrian regime win the civil war. Would the danger to Israel be increased? No, certainly it would not be from a nuclear standpoint. Assad would reestablish control over a wrecked and tottering country where the damage would take years to rebuild. But the problem is that Iran will be more secure in defending itself which means it will be more aggressive, but now with nuclear weapons.

The use of nuclear weapons loses whatever the possession of nuclear weapons gains.

Iran would be relieved at the Syrian regime’s survival but would not be better able to carry on a (nuclear) war against Israel. The Sunnis would be prepared to cooperate with the United States against Iran and even, covertly, with Israel up to a point. Indeed, the ability of Sunni Islamists to attack Israel would be reduced because of their obsession with the principal danger.

Again, I don’t want Assad to win in Syria. I believe that Iran is a threat. I think Iran will succeed in getting nuclear weapons. I don’t think the Tehran regime consists of lunatics who cannot wait to immolate themselves in a fiery funeral pyre. They want to stay in power for a long time. Israel has an alternative of preemption if necessary. But the United States will never help stop Iran’s getting of nukes.

This analysis should be conducted in a sober fashion. I believe, indeed I see clearly, that Israeli policymakers understand these issues. We should remember that Iran is not an insane state and that there are threats other than Iran in the Middle East.

The problem is not that Iran is eager to use nuclear weapons but that the Obama Administration is unlikely to apply containment properly and credibly. And then its version of containment might fail.

Barry Rubin

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/iran-neither-lunatic-state-nor-rational-actor-but-rational-aggressor/2013/10/07/

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