On September 11, 2001, I was sitting in my office in a suburb of New York City when an e-mail alert came in about a small plane hitting the World Trade Center. I turned on the television and what I saw on the screen led to an almost immediate email to my closest friend in Israel. “I think more people have just died than have been killed by all Arab terrorism aimed at Israel,” is what I wrote. It seemed to me in that terrible moment that Israel and the US were now fighting a common terrorist enemy and that the friendship between the two nations could only grow stronger.
Unfortunately, too many Israelis — including many of our leaders — seem to think we are still living in that moment. They do not understand that America of 2012 is not the America of 2001. The United States of 2012 is a war-weary country. Living in Israel, we all feel war and peace in a very concrete way. Even in the comparatively safe bubble of Tel Aviv, we are acutely aware that mere miles away, missiles can be launched, any time some fringe group decides to fire them. That being said, Israelis do not realize that since 9/11, the United States has been engaged in the longest war in its history. True, their volunteer army means that war does not impact the population in the same way that it does here in Israel. But it does have an impact nonetheless. The army is exhausted with career soldiers on their 3rd, 4th and even 5th tour of duty in the war zones. And, in the US military, soldiers do not come home for the weekend like ours do. The prospect of yet another military front being opened does not appeal to anyone in the US.
To us, the security measures we endure have been part of lives as long as we can remember. Relatively few of us recall flying in and out of the country before 1968 when first El Al plane was hijacked and airport security changed so dramatically both in Israel and at El Al facilities around the world. To the average American, however, the security at airports changed what used to be a pleasant and sometimes exciting experience to a series of unpleasant encounters. I remember working for the Jewish Agency in New York in the early 1970’s, watching security being transformed from a retired cop sitting behind a desk to the double-door entry security system that all Israeli institutions now maintain as the standard practice. The average American on the other hand has only recently had to deal with security measures being implemented in office buildings and other public places.
How many Israelis realize that since September 11th, America has lost 4,422 men and women in the war in Iraq and an additional 2308 in Afghanistan? There have also been the 31,926 wounded in Iran and the 17,586 wounded in Afghanistan. Yes, America is a vastly larger country and the impact of such losses is not felt in quite the same way as losses in Israel. But most Israelis are too young to remember how the 3,000 deaths in the Yom Kippur War tore a hole in our society that took a generation to mend. The deaths of American servicemen and women have also opened wounds in America’s societal fabric that will take years to heal.
Yes, America is a weary of war. They have gone to war in two locations far, far from home in wars that seem to have accomplished very little and certainly have made America no new friends. The rioting in the Muslim world these last few days has underscored this reality for many Americans. Over a trillion dollars has been spent on the prosecution of these two wars. Together with the lives lost, Americans are asking, “For what? Was it worth it?”
In the US today, the Israeli government is being perceived as pushing America to engage in yet another war- not in self defense, but a war of choice. We can argue all that we want whether we have a right to attack or not, but to the rest of the world including most of the American people, this new conflict will be seen as a war that was unnecessary. Even pro-Israel Americans plead wearily with Israel not to get them into another war that will kill their sons. In this light Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public campaign to force America to establish “red lines” is more inexplicable; as is his seeming doubling down his support of Romney, when most informed observers predict an Obama victory.
In the Jewish community, there is, of course, greater support for Israel’s position. But even within the Jewish community, that support is far from universal, with many fervently pro Israelis American Jews leery of the current Israeli government posture.
So I ask, how could our leaders even consider an attack on Iran if we cannot count on the support of our most important ally? Oh yes, and have I have mentioned that an attack would be a clear violation of international law? In all the discussion of possible attacks on Iran, one point has not been noted: it would also be legally different from our attacks on the nuclear reactors of Syria and Iraq as in both those cases, we were technically in a state of war with those countries; a ceasefire agreement existed but no peace treaty. We have never been in a state of war with Iran, a former ally.
There are three possible ways to explain Prime Minister Netanuyahu’s position. One: it’s all a bluff to get the world to act. If that’s his intention, he seems to have overplayed his hand. Two: he truly believes that he can force the US to act against what it perceives as its own self-interests. That could be a fatal mistake, which could lose us our strongest and most irreplaceable ally. Clearly, the US believes at this time that any attack on Iran must be the very last option after all others have been exhausted.
Finally – and most dangerous – is Netanyahu acting purely on the belief that having a state solves the Jewish problem, because a state can defend the Jewish people? Unfortunately, those who subscribe to that ideology are still hearing the words of Ben- Gurion when he said, “ Um Klum” (the UN is nothing) in 1956 instead of remembering what he did: entering into an alliance with Britain and France before attacking Egypt, and then withdrawing fully from Sinai when he realized that the Eisenhower was going to brook no delays. What Ben-Gurion knew and our leaders need to remember is that Zionism meant creating a state so that can participate fully on the world stage. We are no longer powerless, but as States have learned throughout history, even if you are a superpower, you still need allies, and if you are a small state surrounded by fundamentalist enemies then you need allies that much more.
An Israel alone in a sea of fundamentalist is much more endangered then a nation who has Allies facing the possibility that one of them might get the bomb.