Since 1948, Israel has been guided by a simple principle: never again. Never again will the Jewish people be helpless and defenseless. And never again will six million Jews put their security in someone else’s hands. This is a founding tenet of the Jewish state, and it’s a principle that every Israeli leader, including Shimon Peres, has supported.
So it was quite surprising to read Mr. Peres’ recent comments in The Times of Israel, where he once again repeated his complete confidence that President Obama will use military action against Iran if all diplomatic efforts fail.
Peres is without question an iconic Israeli leader. And he has recently taken strong stances on Hamas and the Palestinian peace process. But his comments on Iran are alarming, and they undermine Israel’s policy of “never again.”
The Holocaust was barely three years old when the State of Israel was founded, and Israel’s leaders promised that they would never again allow the Jewish people to be slaughtered as they had been in Europe. Israel would build itself into a strong, powerful nation – and it would rise up to confront anyone who sought to exterminate the Jewish people.
Israel’s leaders were also guided by another principle: that Israel couldn’t trust its security to anyone else. They knew that if times got tough, the world might abandon the Jewish state, just as it had abandoned the six million Jews in Europe.
This belief was immediately proven correct in 1948. As Israel stood on the brink of annihilation, greatly outgunned and outnumbered, the United States and Europe refused to intervene. It was only through Israel’s own actions and its fortitude that the Jewish state survived. And this self-reliance is why Israel still exists today.
Despite those who accuse American Jews of dual loyalty and warn about the “Israeli lobby” in Washington, American Jews are Americans first. We understand that Israel and America will sometimes have different interests, and we expect our leaders to do what’s in the best interest of America. Israel must realize this, and understand that it can’t put its security in the hands of the United States of America.
This principle applies to Republican and Democratic administrations. For example, President George W. Bush was one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the White House. But when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Bush in 2007 asking America to destroy Syria’s nuclear weapons plant, President Bush refused, deciding that America could not take such an action.
But Olmert knew that for Israel, preventing the Syrians from building a nuclear program was a necessity. So he ordered a unilateral Israeli strike (a move that, today, is almost universally praised).
What drove Olmert’s decision? He understood that Israel could not put its security in anyone else’s hands – even its great ally the United States, or its great friend George W. Bush. Never again.
An Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program is obviously a much tougher call, and there are strong arguments on both sides. But Israeli cannot place its security in the hands of America and President Obama.
America and Israel face different threats from Iran. And for all the terrible consequences that would arise from a nuclear Iran, the Islamic state would never be able to destroy America and its 300 million citizens.
Unfortunately, less than 70 years ago, we saw that it is possible to destroy six million Jews.
With peaceful efforts near failure, Israel may soon be forced to weigh the risks and decide whether or not to strike Iran. But if the United States refuses to act, Israel must make this calculation according to its own interests, just as Americans (and American Jews) expect President Obama to make his decision based on America’s interests.