Before we begin, let me tell you a little about myself. I'm pro-Israel.
Now these days there's all sorts of debate about what pro-Israel means. Is Obama's pro-Israel? Is J-Street pro-Israel? Is Arafat's ghost pro-Israel?
There are two kinds of pro-Israel. There's the old-fashioned kind of pro-Israel people who think that Israel should survive and defend itself. And the new kind of pro-Israel who think that it shouldn't.
I'm the old fashioned-kind of pro-Israel. I think it should survive. And now let's discuss how it might do that.
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Let’s begin with the crisis that is most on our minds. The bomb.
It took quite a while until the Soviet Union was able to store up enough intercontinental ballistic missiles to be able to wipe out the United States. It will take a lot less time until Iran has the capability to wipe out the State of Israel. One reason for this is Israel’s population density.
Israel is not only small; it’s smaller than all but three American states, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island, it’s also very densely populated. Israel has the 37th largest population density in the world. By comparison Japan, which has cubicle hotels, has the 32nd largest population density in the world. And if you eliminate islands, city states and principalities, then Israel has the 10th highest population density in the world. And it gets more claustrophobic from there.
About half of Israel’s population is wedged into the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area in about 600 square miles. That’s not that much bigger than Los Angeles. (Imagine the Cold War if half of America had lived in Los Angeles.) Tel Aviv is one of the 50 most overpopulated cities in the world. If a nuclear attack happens it will be there and it will likely mean the end of Israel.
That’s bad news, but it’s not the entire roll of bad news. Iran is not the end of the story.
Egypt has a nuclear program, it has engaged in illegal enrichment. And the country is very close to falling into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is every bit as fanatical when it comes to destroying Israel as Iranian leaders are.
Iran is important, but it’s not the endgame. If Israel is around 50 years from now it will be living in a region where its enemies will have nuclear weapons. This is a reality. The question is how will Israel make it to that point?
To understand that let’s pull back a little and examine the two categories of nuclear attack that Israel might face.
The first category is an overt attack, if Iran carries out a first strike and announces it to the world it achieves a special status in the Muslim world for doing what so many of them have tried to do. The West grumbles a bit, issues some condemnations and maybe offers to take in the Israeli survivors. This type of attack can obviously be averted by preemptively destroying the nuclear program, but if that fails, it can also be averted through deterrence. The decision making process on the Iranian side will depend heavily on whether they think an attack will result in the destruction of Tehran and other major cities.
Iran has a majority urban population. Tehran holds over 10 percent of Iran’s population. That doesn’t make it nearly as vulnerable as Israel, but enough of Iran’s elites, its intellectuals and its clerics are located in major cities. Destroying Tehran would not finish Iran, but it would deal it a mortal blow. The key word here is “If”. For this to work, Iranian leaders and the leaders of any other regional Muslim nuclear power need to absolutely believe that a nuclear attack on Israel will lead to mass destruction. Having nuclear weapons alone is not enough for nuclear deterrence. Israel must have the credibility of the Samson Option, of being willing to destroy entire cities in order to make a point.
Remember countries which are looking for any excuse to fight usually see their enemies as weak and cowardly. The Japanese thought that the United States could be backed into a corner by bombing Pearl Harbor. They were wrong, but they saw what they wanted to see, which was an America that was unwilling to fight and looking to avoid a direct confrontation.
Deterrence is not about more than how many bombs you have; it’s about whether the enemy thinks that you are willing to use them. Israel’s problem is that its deterrence factor has been on the decline for decades.
Every time Israel points out how moral its forces are, how its purity of arms risks the lives of Israeli soldiers to avoid Muslim civilian casualties, it’s sending the opposite message. Which is catastrophic since nuclear deterrence depends on a willingness to cause massive numbers of civilian casualties. The more it dithers about Iran’s nuclear program, the more it suggests that it might not respond with nuclear weapons to a nuclear strike.
The Catch 22 here is that when in response to international delegitimization, Israel gets wrapped up in showing how careful, how merciful and how humanitarian it is, that makes it more likely that it will have to fight just to prove that it still can. The cleaner Israel tries to be, the more it’s forced to get dirty just to show it can still fight. And the problem with a nuclear exchange is that by the time Israel proves that it can still fight, it’s already too late.
To get to that extra 50 and survive in a region where its enemies have nuclear weapons, it will need to demonstrate that it is capable of being dangerous, that it is capable of taking swift harsh action without apologizing for it. It will have to convince its enemies that it is a country that is capable of killing tens of millions of people, not to protect itself, but to avenge its own destruction.
That is the Samson Option which will be the only thing keeping the majority of the Jewish people alive when the region goes fully nuclear. It isn’t pretty, but it’s better than a second Holocaust and cities of ash.
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What do we really talk about when we talk about Palestine? We’re talking about state sponsored terrorism. Not by a fictional Palestinian state, which is an entity that never existed and consists of an invented people. We’re talking about state sponsored terrorism by Muslim countries.
The Middle East is full of convenient militias, armed gangs ready to be used by any country willing to pay them. Not all of those militias are aimed at Israel. Some are aimed at Iran. For example Israel has been reportedly using a militia like that to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists. But the money has really been coming in for militias aimed at Israel.
These militias, backed by everyone from the usual suspects like Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to the Soviet Union and yes, the United States, operate under the guise of wanting a Palestinian state, but they don’t want anything of the kind. Their leaders want money and power. They don’t want to provide garbage pickup or police domestic violence complaints or any of the other tedious parts of governing. That, aside from all the terrorism, is why the Palestinian Authority is a complete disaster. The so-called Palestinian leaders are not out for a state, they’re out to cash in, tear down Israel and then retire to Paris. They’re not nationalists, they’re opportunists.
Palestine is homicidal opportunism and the peace process turned them into a serious existential threat to Israel. What Israel did was put Arafat and his cronies into a leadership position over a large number of Arab Muslims, gave them control of the educational system, and unsurprisingly they used it to build a terrorist state.
The terrorist state is a permanent crisis that Israel keeps trying to manage, but it’s unmanageable. Can the status quo continue for another 20 years, never mind another 50 years?
A constant state of terror creates domestic instability and negotiating with terrorists sends the message that Israel is not here to stay. If it’s willing to cut and run from Gaza, Judea, Samaria and even East Jerusalem, where isn’t it willing to cut and run from?
1967 is not a magic number; it’s not the source of the grievance. 1948 is. And it’s not even 1948, it’s 1917 and the Balfour Declaration, it’s 1897 and the First Zionist Congress. And it’s Mohammed’s massacre of Jews in 627. The history on this has no beginning. It’s virtually timeless.
The goal isn’t just to roll Israel back to 1967. That’s what the left, which associates victory with grievance, thinks. The goal is to roll back Israel to 1948 and then 1939 and then 1897. And there are plenty of Western governments who think that they would be better off if that happened, just as they thought that in 1939.
So now let’s fast forward to Israel in 2062. What do you see? Flying cars, food pills, a space elevator, everything made out of chrome? Everyone living in the matrix? Not likely. Israel is technologically advanced, but its survival will not hinge on technology, it will hinge on confronting its core crisis. Israel’s core crisis is the same as that of the West. It is the revelation that not even the most modern of states can survive without the use of ancient violence.
Violence is not a nice word. We’re not supposed to have it in a better world. Flying cars yes, jet bombers, no. But if the modern world is to survive, it will only survive by reevaluating the place of violence in the modern state.
Israel is at a tipping point in that regard. It is small, it is vulnerable and it is surrounded by the same enemies who are now threatening the rest of the modern world. It doesn’t have the comfort and luxury of many Western countries of denying that reality. But like them it’s trying to deny it anyway.
The Palestine gambit worked so well not because terrorist bombs brought Israel to its knees, but because the idea that Israel had become an oppressor undermined its self-image. In the same way terrorist supporters used Gitmo and Abu Ghraib to undermine America’s self-image after September 11.
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So back to 2062, what will Israel be like? It will be an adult country. What do I mean by that? As children and even as teenagers we see things in black and white. There are no compromises. Things are either one way or another. As we grow up, we see more things in shades of grey. We recognize that life is complex.
The modern State of Israel is young. It sees things in a way that is both cynical and idealistic, which is a quality that many of the parents in the audience will recognize in their own teenagers. This is the gateway to maturity.
Not all teenagers survive this stage. Hopefully Israel will. To make it to 2062 or 5822 in the Hebrew calendar, because we’re a good deal older than we seem, it is going to have to grow up.
For Jews in particular, reconciling idealism with realism can be very hard. We try to see the world as it should be. That’s one reason we give birth to so many utopian movements, to so many idealists, to so many geniuses who can’t seem to see the world for what it is. We are young and old at the same time. And we have to grow up.
So many Jews try to find solidarity with what they think is Palestinian idealism. But it’s not idealism, it’s cynicism. The Muslim world has used local Arabs and with the help of the Soviet Union manufactured an idealism for them. That idealism has no purpose except to destroy Israel and wipe out or subjugate its Jewish inhabitants.
The peace process is a mistake. A mistake that Israel made at the age of 43 which is a young age for a country. To make it to the more mature age of 114, it will have to leave it behind. It will have to leave some of its idealism behind. It will have to recognize that the purpose of a state is not to be ideal, but to be real.
Israel’s ideals are in conflict with its reality, with its survival. If its reality is to triumph, if it is to be around 50 years from now, with or without the flying cars, it will have to do it as a country that exists for the sake of its people, rather than for the sake of an idea. Nations are founded on the ideal, but they have to exist around the real.
To survive, Israel will have to grow up.
Terrorism succeeded by turning Israel’s strengths into weaknesses and the weaknesses of the terrorists into strengths. This is a form of Judo that exploits our weaknesses and we cannot defeat it without changing ourselves.
A good way to think of this is similar to a con game. To avoid being conned you have to know how con games work and change your natural reaction to the con. Israel has spent a great deal of time studying what terrorists do, but it has failed to change its reaction. So they know how the con works, but they still end up falling for it anyway. To stop yourself from being conned, you have to stop allowing your emotions to be exploited and stop responding in ways that can be taken advantage of.
The bottom line way to defeat terrorism is to change the ways we react to terrorism. Like con artists, terrorists take advantage of two particular set of responses. They take advantage of our sympathies and our willingness to believe in easy answers.
To defeat terrorism, Israel will have to change its character. It will have to close down some of its vulnerabilities. The Israel of 2062 will have become harder in some ways. It will have learned from its mistakes and recognized that some people cannot be reasoned with and that some problems cannot be solved. That life is about living with imperfection and finding satisfaction in making it through the day and the year.
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Israel has benefited from a similar energy as the United States. Like America, Israel has been transformed by wave after wave of immigrants from different parts of the world bringing their own ideas and unique cultures along with them.
This energy has kept Israel from stagnating and helped break up its old time political establishment. Russian and Middle Eastern Jews have swung Israel to the right and they may have a major role to play in the transformation of Israel’s political structures in the next two decades. But the sources of immigration are also drying up.
Israel has tapped the immigrant pools of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. It might be able to draw on a combined hundred thousand or two hundred thousand more. That leaves Europe, where Muslim violence is encouraging immigration. And North and South America.
At the same time there is a sizable Israeli expat population abroad creating a new diaspora that will eventually be ingathered again, repeating the cycle. It’s a different notion from the secular messianism of the old Zionism which assumed that all the Jews would move to Israel. Instead Israel has become part of the global Jewish migration, not perhaps as the final destination, but as a major gathering point and tribal encampment.
Jews from around the world move to Israel and their children and grandchildren become Israelis and then sometimes move away again, only to eventually return, bringing with them ideas and culture, and bearing them out again.
The Israeli immigrants of tomorrow are the grandsons and granddaughters of the Israelis of today. Immigration to Israel will not stop, because it is a cycle, with Israel as part of the cycle.
The Israel of 2062 will be a nation marked by this constant inflow and outflow, it will be at the center of a Jewish migration that carries with it art, science and economic creativity. The wandering Jew will not stop wandering, but Israel will be the beginning and end of his journey.
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This siege mentality is a mild version of what happens on the battlefield and if events continue as they are, we will all be living this way soon enough. We’ll all be shell shocked all the time. Every time you go through the airport or deal with any of the new restrictions after September 11, you are already, to an extent, living the way that Israelis do. You are witnessing some of the compromises that get made under a siege mentality. And when the government all but bans criticism of Islam and appeases Muslim terrorists, that too is another aspect of the Israeli reality.
It has been said that Israel is the canary in the coal mine and that is true enough. We’re all living in the coal mine now. And it’s getting hard to breathe the air.
Terrorism is a constant pressure that is meant to wear us down, to get us to make bad decisions and make mistakes. Like any form of stress and worry, it degrades our long term thinking. That is why it is important to take our heads out of the bad air in the coal mine and look over the clouds to see what the future might be like.
We have made too many expedient decisions and compromised too much, until when looking back at Afghanistan and Iraq, we have trouble understanding how and why we made those decisions. In times of terror, we need perspective. We need to be able to see the future that the terrorists want to deny us. We need to see the promise of the future and the challenges, not as rhetoric but as reality, and in examining the future, we can free ourselves to make the decisions that have to be made today.
Will Israel be around in 50 years? The diplomats and peacemakers want us to believe that it’s up to the terrorists to decide that. And that’s a lie. It’s not up to the terrorists. The terrorists have already made their decision. It’s up to us.
If we want Israel to be there in 2062, it’s up to us to take a stand for the future.
For by Thee I run upon a troop; and by my God do I scale a wall. (Psalms 18:30)
I want to thank Doris Wise Montrose of CJHS, David Horowitz and Michael Finch for helping make the event possible.