My cousin Ben was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces this week. I used to change his diapers so I’m having trouble accepting that he is old enough to drive let alone be trained to fire a machine gun.
But there he is in a photograph, standing tall and smiling, beside his mother, head shaved close, minutes before being inducted for his army service. Like thousands of others, he has accepted his duty and will be a proud defender of the State of Israel.
Also this week, Roger Cohen, columnist for The New York Times, spent time on defense. But not for the State of Israel or the Jewish people. Cohen played defense about a couple of columns he wrote about the Jews of Iran and how the existence of that community refutes the image of the Islamic Republic as totalitarian, anti-Semitic, anti-American and bent solely on nuclear Armageddon.
Cohen was on the hot seat in Los Angeles, at Rabbi David Wolpe’s synagogue, Sinai Temple. At Wolpe’s invitation, Cohen met with some leaders of the Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles during the day and spent the evening answering questions from an audience upset with his defense of the Islamic Republic. “I think the Iranian regime is anything but apocalyptical. Its central obsession is survival,”
Cohen told the assembled audience.
The audience and Rabbi Wolpe weren’t buying it.
Wolpe asked Cohen what would happen if the balance of power between Israel and Iran (and Iran’s proxies Hezbollah and Hamas) were reversed. “Let’s say tomorrow … Hezbollah had the firepower of Israel and Israel had the firepower of Hezbollah. Let’s say Hamas had the firepower of Israel and Israel had rockets?” Wolpe explained that he was not merely asking a hypothetical question. “Iran is pursuing means by which they could actually in the end be more powerful than Israel. … If Iran gets several nuclear bombs, they have much more territory and they could be more powerful than Israel. What would happen if Hamas and Hezbollah, which are Iran’s proxies, had that power tomorrow?
“I don’t know what would happen,” Cohen replied. The audience laughed at him. They know, as does everyone, exactly what would happen to the Jewish state in Wolpe’s scenario.
But there’s no need to hypothesize about Iran’s deadly intentions. The reality is bloody enough.
The Washington Institute’s Michael Knight reports that in “December 2008, shortly before assuming office, President Barack Obama called for ‘tough but direct diplomacy with Iran.’ As the new administration moves forward, it must realize that U.S.-Iranian negotiations will take place while Iran is killing Americans in Iraq and increasing its support for armed Iraqi factions. Like its predecessor, the Obama administration must prepare for the challenge of negotiating under fire.”
Much as Roger Cohen may wish to deny it, Iran isn’t just trying to
survive; it is thriving by developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons and by attacking and killing its declared enemies – America and Israel. The Islamic Republic is killing Americans in Iraq and its proxies are kidnapping and killing Israelis in Lebanon and Gaza. According to Knight’s report, “In some cases, notably the January 2007 kidnap-murder of five U.S. soldiers in Karbala, [Iran’s] proxies have shown a marked proclivity for risk taking in their dealings with the United States.” In Lebanon, Hezbollah captured and killed Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser and in Gaza, Hamas kidnapped (and may yet kill) Gilad Shalit.
Which brings me back to cousin Ben. While he sweats through his new uniform training to be a soldier, Roger Cohen speaks about the need for bold initiatives and new approaches. “Let’s put aside the guys who yell ‘Death to Israel’” he told the gathering in Los Angeles. “President Obama needs to declare that America does not seek regime change in Iran,” he said. Cohen argued that Americans need to “begin to view Hezbollah and Hamas as legitimate movements, not just terrorist groups.”
So armed kidnapping, rocket fire, using civilians as human shields and murder are legitimate actions? These groups Cohen says are “legitimate movements” look at my cousin Ben and see a target. For shame, Roger
(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org.)