Kissing My Daughter Goodbye
I just kissed my daughter goodbye, leaving her in Israel. This has always been one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, as a mother. I know that living in Israel is an independent choice that she has made as an intelligent, thinking adult. Yet, I remain acutely aware of the ever-increasing dangers of living in the heart of that highly contested land, which is like an oasis of sanity in an increasingly more primordial, primitive, and more radicalized Middle East.
This ominous feeling became a bit more intensified by the fact that, as I was leaving, there were two national air raid drills. On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Israel as "the most threatened state in the world." The Israeli Defense establishment recently reported that there are 200,000 missiles and rockets in the collective hands of Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and Hamas that are aimed at every Israeli city.
The situation in Syria is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe -- and a catastrophe that threatens to spill over across neighboring borders. Just yesterday, two rockets hit a Shiite neighborhood in Lebanon, heightening the possibility of an expansion of this brutal, internal civil war.
Well over two years ago, I had been on Capitol Hill with some wonderful, secular Christian Syrian dissident friends of mine, arguing for the very things that some would like to provide the Syrian resistance with today: a no-fly zone, humanitarian assistance and a place of sanctuary, and instruments for non-lethal defense.
At that point, these people felt they might have a true ally in the United States, and could not, in their worst nightmares, possibly fathom that the Americans would allow this brutal conflict to linger on for so long.
Unfortunately, after watching 80,000 fatalities, (at last count), the secular dissident population has long become soured by the United States, (if there was ever a viable, truly secular opposition), and the window for creating any meaningful semblance of a Western ally of support against the Shiite Iranian-Hezb'allah axis in that region has long been shut.
If I were a truly secular Syrian dissident, my patience for American intervention would have long ago worn thin. While America has turned its back and the small, secular dissident population has either been ruthlessly slaughtered or hardened, the Al Qaeda-linked Sunni faction has gained ground in Syria.
For America to now enter into this conflict would be much too little, much too late. And the suggestions that I and my Syrian dissident friends had proposed over two years ago on the Hill now seem analogous to attempting to put out a raging forest fire with a water pistol.
In matters of all relationships, and that includes both personal and international relationships, timing is everything. And we have squandered an opportunity to cultivate a meaningful American ally in defiance of the brutal menace of Tehran, which has hegemonic ambitions, by our failure to act on time.
America has no dog in this fight. I had just reread the United Nations Charter, and had been convinced that there is simply no reason for America to get involved in this fourteen-century-old internecine Muslim-on-Muslim struggle.
And contrary to some ridiculous rumors in a recent article in the London Times, neither did Israel. Of course they do not want to strengthen an Iranian axis on their northern order, but neither do they want an Al Qaeda stronghold there. To state the obvious, neither harbor great love for the Jewish state.
The only thing Israel has been concerned with is keeping Iranian-made Fahrir missiles that can easily reach Tel Aviv out of the hands of Hezb'allah, as well as chemical weapons.
That, according the United Nations Charter, is a very real, legitimate concern.
However, over the last several days, a few game changers have entered into the equation. while America has turned its back, the Russians have been eager to resurrect their stature as a global power by entering into this brutal killing field. And, as is their pattern, acting by proxy through their support of Assad and Hezb'allah.
One would hope that they will be wise enough to avoid escalating this never-ending internecine Muslim conflict by flexing its muscles and trying to bring back the days of the Cold War.
And one certainly hopes that they would be wise enough to avoid giving Bashar Assad the highly sophisticated, long range S-300 surface-to-air missiles, totally tipping the balance of power in the region and eradicating Israel's qualitative military edge, vis-à-vis Bashir Assad's Syria. Giving the Iranian puppet, Bashir Assad, and its Hezb'allah fighters which it has been long allied with, such a highly sophisticated, long-range missile system would be the ultimate game changer.
Which brings us to the most menacing danger to the stability of the region, if not the world: the Iranian nuclear bomb.
The Obama administration in now sending out feelers that, despite their strong rhetoric during the election season about the fact that he is "not bluffing" about a policy of prevention, a strategy of containment might well become a reality. Earlier this month, a think tank which is very closely aligned with the Obama administration, the Center for New American Security, published an 84-page report titled, "If all else fails, the strategy of containing a nuclear Iran".
This might be the administration's way of sending out a trial balloon, to test the waters. To be fair, the report clearly states that a policy of containment is not a desired outcome. However, if it does appear that our sanction strategy has not convinced the Iranians to abandon their nuclear program (as it does), and that the P5 plus one talks produce nothing, (as they have), how willing is the Obama administration to actually engage the military option? At what point will they say, "enough is enough?" Are there any red lines? Or is "all options are on the table" simply a nice rhetorical point during the election season?
Last Wednesday, the IAEA issued a report that very explicitly states the rapid progress that Tehran has made towards nuclear breakout, with substantial upgrades in both its uranium and its plutonium-producing facilities.
A report issued this week by the Institute for National Security studies of Tel Aviv University states that Iran is steadily moving to a situation that might soon become "unstoppable."
No one wants another war, but the credibility of America is clearly being tested by the mullahs in Iran. These mullahs have religious fervor and a hegemonic appetite, which includes a seminal antipathy towards America, Israel, towards Christians and, most especially, towards Jews. Iran wants to emerge as the key player in the region, to finally be victorious in their internecine dispute with the Sunnis, and to be seen as ascending to the throne and wearing the one true mantle of the heirs of Islam.
President Obama has drawn a red line in Syria, saying that we would enter into the conflict when the Assad regime used chemical weapons. Now that it has been confirmed that they have crossed that red line with impunity, will Iran similarly test the resolve of the Americans by crossing all imagined red lines?
The Americans can display resolve against the Iranian nuclear threat by increasing a naval presence in the Persian Gulf, and simulating war games, in another region, together with America's allies. However, after last Thursday night's speech, I fear that the administration is taking us into period of neo-isolationism, and to choose to believe that state-sponsorship of the war the radical Islamists have waged against the West is over. I remain unconvinced that Israel possesses the capability of taking out the Iranian nuclear bomb without the support of America.
This is not just about Israel; it is about the United States. We all know that soon after the Islamist revolution of 1979, Iran declared war on the United States. They did this by seizing our embassy and taking our embassy officials hostage. It is Iranian-made IED's with Farsi imprinted upon them that were used to maim and kill our U.S. servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is Iran that bombed our U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, killing 242 U.S. servicemen.
America is, in their words, the "Great Satan," Israel is simply "The Minor Satan." It is simply the Eastern outpost of all that the Iranian regime and other radical Islamists despise about Western liberalism and Western democracy.
It is, however, low hanging fruit and a much easier target for the Iranian Fajir missile systems.
All over the Middle East, the region is imploding. We all know by now that the Arab Spring has quickly deteriorated into the Islamist winter. People all over the region have used the ballot box to trade secular tyranny for Islamist tyranny. The region is heaving with peril, instability, and volatility.
Those are just a few of the many reasons why I held my daughter a bit closer while kissing her goodbye.
Yet, she and her husband would never live anywhere else. Despite all this, Israel has one of the highest happiness quotients in the world. In repeated international surveys, more Israelis have been reported to state that they are "very or quite satisfied with their lives", than anywhere else in the world.
Between wars and terror attacks, the resilient people of Israel dust themselves off, rebuild their lives, open up their cafes, and enjoy living life with gusto. Whenever their neighbors offer them a minute of respite, they seem to savor all of the juice out of that moment of sanity and stability that they possibly can.
And there is a feeling, there, of living not just for oneself alone, but for the good of the nation as a whole, a feeling of giving back. Most of my children's friends are involved with doing something for the greater good. It is in the air that they breathe. My daughter and son work together with some friends, with a group new Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, who have come from a rural environment, and help them get acculturated to twenty-first century urban life.
My daughter has often told me, "No one knows when some crazy terrorist will attack you on a metro while riding to work in Washington. You just have to appreciate each day."
There is a great deal of wisdom in her words. After arriving home, and reading articles about the Boston marathon bombings, and the heinous stabbings that occurred this week in England and in France I am beginning to understand the wisdom in my daughter's words. That is a wisdom that most Israelis have had to learn to possess, in the most difficult way, possible, and that we, here in the West are, unfortunately, just beginning to appreciate.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank in Washington, D.C.