From Zeno to Bibi (And Iran?)

We’re all familiar with the gag-line definition of a Jewish holiday.

“They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”

A tolerable gag line, except when the past tense becomes present and future. Once again, they’re killing us. Mr. Netanyahu’s invitations to the Jews of Europe are understandable. But they also abet the likely Islamist goal of a Europe Judenrein – a not surprising aspiration, given their plans for the world. And with each death and outrage, stricture and insult, some Jews mourn.

Others gloat. See? We told you so. Let’s smash Iran. Or at least, lecture Congress.

Would that it were so simple.

For ten years, we’ve been hearing that Iran was “within a few months, maybe weeks” of acquiring nuclear weapons. Now, building a nuke, then weaponizing, miniaturizing and mating it to a dependable delivery system, are not simple tasks. Neither is sticking a device in the hold of some freighter and sailing it undetected off to Tel Aviv or Haifa.

One might almost conclude that the Iranian policy is to remain capable of assembling the package on short notice, but not to cross any more of the red lines that Mr. Obama might get the urge to keep laying down.

Now, suppose that Mr. Netanyahu decides that an Iranian “Stop Just a Teensy Bit Short” policy doesn’t sit well with him or the missus. Tossing empty bottles at Iranian facilities might alleviate the situation. Let the Iranians claim the refunds; consider it a trust-building measure. But it wouldn’t help militarily. In any event, Israel doesn’t fly heavy long-range stuff, and submarine-launched cruise missiles might not pack the heft. We may presume that the IDF knows that.

We may also presume that the IDF and related agencies know the Iranian technology paths, have long ago identified the critical nodes, have war-gamed and simulated and practiced attacks ad nauseam, and still haven’t come up with an acceptable plan to put an adequate long-term kabosh on Iranian nukes without American help and world condemnation.

So we’re left with three situations:

An Iranian “Stop Just Short” policy that keeps the frenzy-ometer pegged but doesn’t justify action.

Action that may or may not solve the problem or even delay it, but will certainly infuriate Iran and lots of other people.

A usable Iranian nuclear arsenal.

By-bye, Israel?

Not likely. Possible. But not likely.

This confidence is based upon two historical facts, with two humongous “What ifs?” attached.

The first fact is that the history of the nuclear age since 9 August 1945 reveals the total non-use of nuclear weapons. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were what they were: America’s utterly justifiable attempt to end the war as fast as possible, for myriad valid reasons. Four years later  — four years during which America used no nukes on anyone — the game changed utterly.

Deterrence works if either or both of two conditions applies. First is the certainty of response, nuclear or non. “Gunboat diplomacy” prevailed for a century or two because if you dissed the gunboat, you could expect a visit from a battleship or bombing squadron. The Romans in their day did the same, but far more brutally.

The other condition, which applied through most of the Cold War, entailed the knowledge that nuclear war would be so horrific, even a miniscule chance of catastrophe wasn’t worth the gamble. This set of calculations effectively negated a nuclear 1914 or 1941. It even deterred all the crazies who acquired the Bomb during those years: those inhuman calculating-machine True Believer Russkie Commies; those lunatic, murderous CHICOM; those wild & crazy Pakistanis and North Koreans; even Charles de Gaulle with his “Rattle Your Sabres 360 Degrees” dementia.

A second fact arguing for the continued efficacy of deterrence: Leaders of nations and large organizations, no matter how Islamist their rhetoric and beliefs, tend not to seek personal martyrdom. That’s for the lower echelons, the expendables. They also like their comforts and powers. Perhaps they even love their countries more than they hate us.

All very fine. But there remain two wild cards. One involves subnational and transnational groups getting hold of “loose nukes,” a favorite theme of bad movies and worse scholarship in recent decades. Suffice it to say: A nuke is a pretty finicky piece of gear, not easily maintained, and there are, and have been, many ways of dealing with the problem.

The second what-if: a nuclear-armed state, going down in an armed struggle with other states or in the end game of a civil war. If Hitler had nukes in 1944/5, he would have used them joyously. The latest North Korean thug du jour, likely also. But it is unlikely in the extreme that any Islamic leadership, Iranian, Hezbollah, or any other with access to nuclear weapons, would care to take on Israel, even in extremis. And missiles and planes leave return addresses.

But imagine a scenario where Iran takes the Gulf region hostage and threatens to blow up the oil fields unless Israel and the West . . .

And now, back to the real subject of the series: The Hellenistic encounter of the Greeks and the Jews and why it ain’t what you think.

Priests back then were priests, stockpiling and consuming sacrifices and tending to the civic good. (Were the Jews back then the most over-sacrificing – perhaps, the most religiously exploited people – of late antiquity?) If a pagan wanted answers to the Meaning of It All, codes of proper conduct, the reality of the gods, etc., he went to a philosopher, not a priest. A Jew likely consulted a rabbi.

So what happened when the philosophers and the rabbis encountered each other?

To Be Continued

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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