By Rabbi Avi Shafran
There isn’t a sane person on the planet — at least if evil counts as insanity — who doesn’t wish for Iran to be forced to abandon its nuclear ambitions (or to have them vaporized by one or another air force).
Many American Jews — most Orthodox Jews likely among them — feel that the military option is the only realistic one, and that it needs to be employed as soon as possible. Actually, yesterday.
It’s an understandable feeling. Iran’s president hasn’t made a secret of his lust for a world without an Israel, or of his country’s progress in producing nuclear material. (Though he has tried mightily to make secrets of the whereabouts of Iran’s nuclear facilities and of its less-than-peaceful plans for the uranium it is enriching.)
It has become an article of faith for many that economic pressure on Iran is futile, that negotiations will only buy the mullahcracy time. To disagree is apostasy.
In this view, the apostate-in-chief is President Obama. Yes, he declared at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention in Washington that “I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary” regarding Iran. But he is nevertheless inclined to give the unprecedented sanctions that have been placed on Iran some more time to, he hopes, convince the country’s leaders to see the wisdom in abandoning their “peaceful” nuclear program.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trigger finger is itchier. He has insinuated that Israel may feel the need to move militarily against Iran sooner. (And Mr. Obama acknowledged Israel’s right to do what it judges it must.) What seemed to emerge from the AIPAC convention and a private meeting between the two leaders is that, despite timetable differences, they were essentially on the same page. Mr. Obama stated boldly that he had no intention of waiting until Iran actually achieves a nuclear weapon. “Iran’s leaders should know,” he announced at the gathering, “that I do not have a policy of containment. I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Israeli leaders — and not just doves like Shimon Peres but hawks like Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom — were impressed with Mr. Obama’s words. “We’ve never heard such a supportive speech in Israel,” Mr. Shalom told Israel Radio.
Our collective fancy is tickled by the thought of an Iran waking up one dawn to the utter destruction of its nuclear program, humbled by a supersonic flock of screaming aircraft raining bunker-busting explosives on every target; followed by other countries rejoicing as a grateful Iranian populace overthrows its leaders and creates a Persian Spring.
But we have to consider another scenario, too, in which an attack is not fully effective, and Iran emerges more determined than ever to see its evil intentions to some sort of fruition; and another, where even after a successful attack, havoc results in the oil market and Americans are paying $10 a gallon at the pump. Most Americans strongly support Israel at present. In, chas visholom, a newly decimated economy, with a Jewish state’s actions as its proximate cause, will that support will be quite as…unwavering?
Israel may well wait until the U.S., with its larger bunker-busting bombs and its air bases in the Middle East, is willing to act in concert with her. That will make it more likely that an attack will truly set the Iranian nuclear program back many years. And even should Israel act on its own, there is a chance that the U.S. will join the mission. That may have been signaled by Mr. Obama when he said that, regarding security issues, the U.S. “always has Israel’s back” — a phrase usually used when one actor has taken an initiative and the other one helps ensure that it goes well.
One wonders what Torah leaders in Eretz Yisrael have to say about attacking Iran. Politicians may not particularly care; but we should. To my knowledge, the only godol baTorah who has spoken publicly to the issue thus far has been Rav Ovadiah Yosef.
“Don’t attack Iran,” he declared on Israel radio recently. Pray and study Torah, he exhorted listeners, “and G-d will save the People of Israel.”
Ultimate success, in other words, isn’t in Mr. Obama or Mr. Netanyahu’s hands, but in our own.