Samuel Schwartz
Samuel Schwartz
Scholar of International and Intercultural Relations

Queen Esther and the Iran Deal

The Book of Esther tells the story of how the King of Persia conspires with his vizier Haman to kill all of the Jewish people and is thwarted by the maneuvers of Queen Esther and Mordechai.  Midway through the story, Queen Esther informs the hitherto ignorant King that she is Jewish and therefore, together with her people, she too will be murdered. A bizarre passage follows in which Queen Esther explains her rationale for disturbing the King’s day with this unpleasant information. She says:

“For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king” (7:4).

Weird, right?  Every last Jewish person is about to be murdered and Queen Esther apologizes for raising the subject, noting that if it had only been slavery that was on the table, she would have kept her mouth shut and taken one for the team.

Thankfully today, the modern Persian state, the Islamic Republic of Iran, does not have the capability of murdering every last Jew.  However, Iran’s leaders have repeatedly stated their aim of wiping Israel (where 7 million of the world’s 14+ million Jews live) off the map and have bragged about developing the weapons to do so.

The good news is that the State of Israel was created, in part, in order to ensure that never again will 6 million Jews be murdered. As Israel’s Defense Force has done in the past, it will destroy Iran’s capability of using nuclear weapons against us if it comes to that. However, we don’t want it to come to that.  If we have to go to war to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, our recent hostilities with Gaza will appear inconsequential in comparison.  When in 2012, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak predicted 500 Israeli civilian deaths in such an exchange, he was criticized for lowballing the estimate.  In any case, since then, Iran, having received more than a hundred billion dollars as part of the 2015 Iran Deal, developed more accurate precision guided rockets, cruise missiles and drones, and distributed them in the hundreds of thousands, to its proxies which surround us: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria to the North, Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq to the East, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza in the Southwest, the Houthis in Yemen to the South.  Most of these groups have already test fired their new weaponry on our cities and all have committed to unleashing them at us on Iran’s command. I’m not going to get into the current projected figures for Israeli civilian deaths in a war launched to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons that presumably would kill all Israelis but suffice it to say that it really is a “Sophie’s Choice”.

Which brings me back to the quote from the Book of Esther.  As most of you know, my public postings on social media tend to be about my beautiful family (kinuhura), gorgeous flowers, magnificent hikes, exquisite choral music. You get the picture. Even my scholarly writing of late has tended to focus on Arts-Based International Disaster Relief, Culturally Responsive Teaching in War Zones and the like. However, I’m beginning to feel like Queen Esther.  While my Ph.D. and some of my published work dealt with controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, I would have kept quiet and not disturbed you with the politics of the imminent US return to the 2015 Iran deal if it were just about slavery.  While the entire Jewish people are not in danger of annihilation, my children and I, and thousands of our countrymen are in line for being “destroyed, killed and annihilated.”

As I noted, the 2015 nuclear deal provided Iran with more than a hundred billion dollars, a large percentage of which went to developing new and more deadly weapons and sending them to our enemies. Some have already been used to kill Israelis.  In a cruel irony, in the opinion of the overwhelming majority of Israelis, the Iran Deal will not even prevent Iran from developing nuclear bombs. We believe the Iran Deal, even if Iran upholds it meticulously, will ensure that Iran will have the capacity to build dozens of nuclear weapons, at will, with no way for anyone to stop them, within less than 10 years.

In sum, Israelis oppose a return to the Iran Deal, not just because it will provide the funds for Iran to purchase of arms for itself and its proxies that could be used to kill thousands of Israelis.  Since the Deal will not prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in ten years, by which time in which it will be too late for us to stop it, we will have to attack now and endure the above-hinted casualties.  If we wait for Iran to use all of the additional money it will receive from the 2021 nuclear deal, our casualties will be that much higher.

While my primary concern is for the lives of my children, myself and my countrymen, I want to spend a minute noting that however many casualties we suffer, our enemies will suffer more.  We don’t relish in the deaths of even those who seek our destruction, not to mention those, including children, who are not involved in attacking us. It causes us great pain. As it says in Proverbs 24:17 “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.”  War is a terrible thing and one of the cliches about it is that you know how it starts but not how It ends. I don’t generally engage in hyperbole, and when the US killed Qasem Soleimani or when the missiles started falling from Gaza, I told people that while any loss of life is terrible, this isn’t going to lead to a regional war.

I can’t say that now.  If the US returns to the Iran Deal, my best estimate is that this decision will lead to a regional war.  Many of my colleagues agree with me which is why I tell whomever is willing to listen that they should do whatever is possible to prevent a US return to the Iran Deal.

And this brings me to the article I published a few days ago in The Times of Israel: “Israelis Oppose the Iran Deal: Do You Not Care or Do You Think We’re Fools?” which you can read here: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/israelis-oppose-the-iran-deal-do-you-not-care-or-do-you-think-were-fools/

The article argues, using polling data and quotes from current and retired security officials, that Israelis overwhelming oppose a US return to the Iran Deal and believe the Deal itself represents a serious threat to the lives of thousands of Israelis.  However, my article’s real focus is on the attitudes of Israel’s friends around the world who support the Iran Deal.  Have they internalized the depth of the near across the board Israeli opposition?  If they haven’t yet, I think they must after reading the article. The data doesn’t leave room for much doubt. If so, what do our friends make of our single-minded focus on opposing the Iran deal?  Do they think that they know better than we do about what threatens our lives and therefore believe our fears are hysterical and inappropriate? Alternatively, do they agree with us that the Iran Deal poses a clear and present danger to Israel but judge that due to other priorities, it is more important to proceed with a return to the deal and, to paraphrase Esther 4:16 “If we perish, we perish”?

About the Author
Samuel Schwartz, Ph.D., M.P.P., is a Senior Lecturer and Assistant Dean of Students at Ono Academic College. He was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy and Strategy at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and at Harvard University’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East. As Spokesperson at the Consulates General of Israel in Boston and Los Angeles, he led numerous conflict resolution projects in twelve U.S. States.
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