Avoiding a second Holocaust


New York Daily News, August 30 -  What does it mean to be faced with an existential threat?

It means you, your family, your community, your city and even your nation could cease to exist at any moment based on the decision of another actor, over whom you have no control.

Add to this the fact that this hostile actor tells you at every opportunity that he aims — nay, lusts — to destroy you, to “cut out the cancer” that is your nation.

That is how Israel is referred to by the leaders of Iran, who want nothing less than what they say: End the existence of the Jewish state.

And if they develop nuclear weapons, as they are now desperately trying to do, their dream could become deadly reality.

It’s hard for Americans to understand this. We haven’t faced such a threat for decades, since the height of the Cold War, when Nikita Khrushchev told the West, “We will bury you.”

Some of us still remember the Civil Defense drills of the 1950s and beyond. In the event of an atomic attack, people were taught to take shelter under a table or next to a wall and to cover exposed skin.

As David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy wrote last week, “Since then, the notion that any single actor with any single act could effectively obliterate Americans or their lifestyle is very hard for many people to get their brains around.

“But that is exactly the threat that Israelis face from even a ‘limited’ Iranian nuclear attack. And though it is reasonable to debate whether the Iranians would actually use such a weapon against Israel given the likely consequences for them, from the Israeli perspective, given Iranian threats and actions, the risks of guessing wrong about the intent of the leaders in Tehran are so high that inaction could easily be seen to be the imprudent path.”

Some argue that a nuclear-armed Iran would be crazy to attack Israel, knowing that the response — almost certain to include American force — would be immediate and catastrophic for its own nation.

“Yes, a bomb in Tel Aviv would arguably be the end of Israel, while retaliation would destroy ‘only’ 20 million Iranians. But then, the very apocalyptic nature of the attack on Tel Aviv is what makes the threat of retaliation credible,” wrote Bernard Avishai in The Daily Beast.

But what if he’s wrong? What if, despite concerns of an Israeli counterstrike, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — or some other high-level Iranian — pulls the trigger anyway? Can the risk of total annihilation, however slight, be acceptable to any Israeli leader?

And the rhetoric of war has only grown more heated.

In recent days, Iranian leaders have embarked on an almost unprecedented orgy of hate speech. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (who made the above remark about the Israeli “cancer”), called Zionism a “danger for all humanity.”

Not to be outdone, Ahmadinejad proclaimed that Israel’s existence is an “insult to all of humanity.”

A couple of weeks earlier, he told a gathering of Muslim diplomats that, “Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime.”

Also, Ahmadinejad told Muslim ambassadors in Tehran that, “It has now been some 400 years that a horrendous Zionist clan has been ruling the major world affairs,” saying that Jews control “the major power circles in political, media, monetary and banking organizations in the world.”

Hitler would have been proud of such a speech — and the parallels to Nazism are intentional, obvious and highly significant.

For much of the world, the Holocaust has faded into history. But for Israelis, it is still all too real.

Many Israelis have or had parents and grandparents who survived — and many other relatives who did not.

For Jews, the massacre of 6 million — nearly the population of Israel today — remains living history.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now faces one of the toughest decisions any Israeli leader has ever faced: Attack Iran preemptively, destroying its nuclear reactors, or hope that diplomacy, including tough sanctions, will wean Iran off its murderous ambitions?

Assuredly, Netanyahu knows the great cost — economic, diplomatic and, of course, human — of an attack on Iran.

But he simply cannot take the risk of allowing the Iranians to acquire the means to end the existence of Israel — which would condemn the Jewish people to two Holocausts in the space of 80 years.

Alan Elsner, a former Reuters journalist, is an executive director of The Israel Project. Click here to read the original article.

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