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Ira Sharkansky


Disturbing developments in the Middle East:
Here is the litany—and a response, September 4, 2006

By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM—Is the sky falling? Maybe not in the next five minutes, but perhaps soon after.
I see a lot of material about Israel and the Middle East. Some comes in response to what I write. More comes because I have an Israeli academic address, or have gotten on some other list. Some I find by my own wanderings through the internet.
A great deal of material demonizes Israel. Here I am not focusing on that, except as it is part of the stimulus that provokes the view that the sky is falling.
Among the themes in this writing are:
  • Hatred of Israel and Jews is extensive and growing, due to reactions against Israeli actions in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the pre-existing nucleus of Christian anti-Semitism
  • Islam has become the primary source of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel material, due not only to the recent actions of Israel but also to fundamental elements of Islam that insist on its own primacy, and the sacred calling of expanding control throughout a large view of the "Middle East" (including former Muslim lands in Iberia) and beyond to Britain, northern Europe and elsewhere.
  • We cannot accept peaceful overtures from Muslims, insofar as Islam recognizes the need to lie for the purpose of advancing the faith, and views anything like "cease fire" or "peace with unbelievers" to be temporary accommodations in response to tactical needs.
  • The comments of Iran's president that deny the existence or the extent of the Holocaust, declare that Israel's existence is illegitimate, and must be ended insofar at it is the sole cause of Palestinian misery.
  • The refusal of Iran to stop its nuclear program, the unwillingness of Russia, China, and Western European governments to act seriously in support of sanctions.
  • The inevitability of Iran developing a nuclear weapon despite its denials (Muslims lie for tactical reasons). Economic sanctions will not occur or will be strong enough to not stop the process.
  • Iran's nuclear program is too scattered, and too well protected for Israel's military to do more than knock out a bit that might delay development for a few years, and make it even more likely that Iran will use its nuclear weapon to attack Israel.
  • The American administration is too weakened by its foolhardy adventure in Iraq (it started the war against terror in the wrong country) to take the appropriate military action against Iran's nuclear program.
  • Israel has not taken sufficient action against its enemies, perhaps because of its own misdirected humanitarian concerns for harming civilians, or because of concern for international sanctions. As a result, it will only be a matter of time until Iran and Syria re-arm Hezbollah, which will renew the attack with even more dangerous weapons.
  • Sooner or later the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank will have the weaponry of Iran and Syria, and be able to join in attacking Israel from the east and south.
  • Hateful and inciting education and mass media throughout the Muslim world, including Palestinian schools and media, render foolish any Israeli hope or aspiration for peace.
All this has more than a bit of truth. Things are even more depressing if we read the Israeli press to conclude that the country's president is a sex maniac, its prime minister is corrupt, and its defense minister is a social activist interested only in increasing programs for the poor. Moreover, we read that neither the prime minister nor the defense minister know anything about national security, and much of the IDF officer corps is incompetent.
Should we take all this seriously and start packing our bags and ordering tickets? But for where? There are already too many Muslims in Europe, Australia, and North America.
While all of the above is true, it is not the whole truth. There is room for maneuver, and Jews have been polishing their talents for maneuver for at least 2,500 years.
Among the holes in the depressing truths are the following:
  • The Holocaust did happen. Western elites know it, and give us some wiggle room on its account.
  • We recognize our vulnerability, and seek to stay on the right side of governments that tolerate us, and may even help us.
  • We are helped among peace loving Western countries by our Jewish values, which serve to limit the violence we direct against our enemies.
  • Islam is complex. It is not entirely hateful of others. Moreover, most Muslims are not primarily religious. They are more interested in living a decent life than following the most extreme of those who claim to be religious leaders.
  • Political elites in most Muslim countries want to benefit from what the West offers; they recognize threat to themselves from Islamic extremists, as well as from the likes of Iran and Syria. They also cut Israel some slack, even while they express criticism of its actions.
  • Israel is well armed. So far it has proved its capacity to act against those who threaten it. We can argue if it has been tough enough against Hezbollah or the Palestinians. Meanwhile I would not like to own real estate in Gaza, Nablus, Jenin, or the Shiite areas of Lebanon.
  • Non-Hezbollah Lebanese are more than a little upset at Syria and Iran, as well as Hezbollah. We have yet to see the last chapter in this story.
  • Even if Iran develops nuclear weapons, that will not assure the destruction of Israel, without also risking the destruction of Iran. Stand off worked between the USSR and the United States, and so far between India and Pakistan. It is not pleasant. It might not work for us, but it might.
Survival will take hard work. We will need help. We have never been populous enough, rich enough, or powerful enough to dominate the world or even our region. David's empire may have been a myth. It gives some of us pride, but causes problems among Muslims who view it as a Jewish model for Israel's expansion. The City of David might have been the whole thing: a few dusty acres, expanded by the imagination of Jews who knew how to write well.
We are here again, living better than our enemies. So far so good. True, that is what the person said part way through a fall from a high building. If we remain wise, we should survive longer than the person whose early end seems likely.

Sharkansky is an emeritus member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem