History, Hope and Worries about Iran

On the day that images from Pluto were beamed back to earth from 3 billion miles away, we are debating the inner workings of something far closer to home, the intricacies of the human heart.  It is around our view of the heart that the arguments about the recent Iran nuclear deal spin.

President Obama appears to believe that within every human being there is a seed of evil and that therefore all people are redeemable because all are sinful.  It is this view that colors his foreign policy decisions and in particular his approach to Iran.  Prime Minister Netanyahu by contrast believes that some are unredeemable, that there are those so inclined toward evil that we can only say, “Do not cross this line.”  While hope might be on Obama’s side, history stands on Netanyahu’s.

I do not trust the intentions of Iran’s leaders.  History has shown us in far too many instances that if someone stands up and says he intends to do the Jewish people harm, we must believe him.  We must take antisemites at their word.  History also provides ample evidence that antisemites will focus on the Jews’ destruction even if it is to their own detriment.  I therefore do not believe that the billions of dollars that will soon become available through sanction relief will be used in their entirety for Iranian domestic consumption.

Even if one billion dollars, a small fraction of the total, were redirected to Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist enemies, then this will threaten Israel’s borders and perhaps even threaten United States interests.  I have not forgotten about the Marine barracks in Beirut!  Iranian leaders’ hatred of American values and their vilification of the Jewish people, and in particular the State of Israel, will not be refashioned by sanction relief.  Perhaps ordinary Iranians will one day agitate for change, but I remain skeptical that this diplomatic effort will provide such a path.

It should be admitted however that once the United States, and Israel, decided against military action (at least that is how I read the past several years’ events), negotiating with our enemy was the only option to reduce Iran’s nuclear capability.  In this regard, the Obama administration has achieved a success.  If Iran abides by the deal (about that I am deeply concerned) then their nuclear capability will be significantly reduced.  Of course, it is true that diplomacy is better than war but not if it strengthens our avowed enemies and emboldens those who agitate for our destruction.  Thus while American leaders appear hopeful, I remain nervous.

Still I am not a nuclear scientist.  I am more familiar with the heart, although no one can claim expertise in its inclinations.  I am more comfortable speaking about matters of belief.

I share President Obama’s hopeful view when it comes to the intricacies of personal relationships, but when it is about the machinations of nation states I must in this instance side with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  (I still believe however that it was a political blunder for Netanyahu to speak to Congress.  Alienating the President of the United States does not serve Israel’s security interests.)  Moreover the fact that Buji Herzog, the leader of Israel’s opposition party, is now meeting with Netanyahu to discuss a unity government is a telling sign.  This meeting is in addition being brokered by President Rivlin.  In Israel political leaders are unified in recognizing the threat Iran represents.

Here in the United States the debate appears to be breaking down along ideological lines.  Most Democrats, although some tentatively, are supportive.  Republicans stand in opposition.  JStreet supports the agreement.  AIPAC opposes.  The editors of The New York Times supports.  The Wall Street Journal opposes.  And so on.  We tend to view present decisions through prior ideological commitments.

History marches forward.  We turn the pages.  We leave the wilderness and discover new words.  We move from Numbers to Deuteronomy.

The Torah reading offers hope.  It provides a turning of history that continues to be an antidote to skepticism and despair.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Moskowitz is the rabbi of Congregation L'Dor V'Dor, a community serving Long Island's North Shore. He began his rabbinical career in 1991 at the 92nd Street Y in New York. He travels every summer to Jerusalem to learn at the Shalom Hartman Institute where he is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow. Rabbi Moskowitz is married to Rabbi Susie Moskowitz and is the father of Shira and Ari.
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