(March 3, 2022 / JNS) “Promise me, Danny, that you will always believe more in the threats of our enemies than in the promises of our allies.” Those were the words of the late Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel as he held my hands tightly at one of my final meetings with him in my role as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
The very tragic situation in which Ukraine finds itself must be a lesson to all of us, and for Israel, above all. I took on board Elie’s comment then, and I believe him more than ever now. Assurances from the international community that can be ignored with no consequences are not assurances at all. Resolutions mean nothing if they are not followed up with action.
Israel has sadly had no choice but to learn such lessons from its own history. When Arab armies attacked Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War to destroy the Jewish state, the United Nations—the apparent guarantors of the peace—fled its peacekeeping role in the Sinai Desert and enabled the Egyptian army to advance.
In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Egyptian and Syrian armies attacked Israel, the United States withheld weapons from Israel for many excruciating days, holding out for diplomacy that would never come. It thus prevented Israel from defending itself effectively, resulting in a devastating loss of life. And just last May, when Hamas in the Gaza Strip launched more than 4,000 rockets into Israeli population centers, the United States and the international community called for a diplomatic solution and berated Israel for defending itself.
Yet Israel’s short history has seen isolated cases of precisely the opposite. These bold and decisive actions have served Israelis well. In June 1981, at the behest of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel conducted “Operation Opera” in Osirak, Iraq, and destroyed the country’s unfinished nuclear reactor.
This reactor had caused great concern for Israel when it was initially purchased in 1976 under the guise of research. Israel did not buy that particular shpiel and believed that it was designed to be used in order to escalate the Arab-Israel conflict. With less than a month before it was reportedly said to go active, Israel bombed the reactor as an act of pre-emptive self-defense.
At the time, immediate and unanimous condemnation came from the world over—in the halls of the United Nations, from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and from the United States, which under the Reagan government temporarily suspended delivery of aircraft to Israel. An excerpt from former President Ronald Reagan’s diary questioned why Israel had not approached him first.
The response from Begin would, I believe, have been immediate and clear; a diplomatic solution would have been proposed, not the required action, and by then, it may have been too late for Israel. A decade later, in 1991, the Gulf War began, and soon afterwards, Iraq attacked Israel with Scud missiles. At this point, almost the entire Israeli Knesset—100 out of 120 members—signed a letter of appreciation thanking Begin for his foresight in ordering the attack on Osirak and recognizing the momentous decision for which he was viciously attacked at the time.
Decades later, in 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered a similar attack on a Syrian nuclear reactor. This time, in contrast to Begin, Olmert took the steps to apprise President George W. Bush of Israel’s concern over the site and requested advance American support and assistance.
Predictably, the United States decided upon a diplomatic course and confirmed that no action would be taken. Instead, they proposed a joint press conference with Olmert and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to highlight the dangers of the reactor to the world. Olmert promptly declined the offer; on the very same day, Israel bombed the reactor. Three hours later, Olmert reported back to the United States on the mission. Bush took it upon himself to thank Olmert for averting what may have become a catastrophic situation had Syria attained nuclear capabilities.
Fast-forward to 2022, as the international community (with indirect U.S. participation) continues to push diplomacy with Iran. Talks in Vienna on rejoining the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which the Trump administration withdrew from in 2018, are still absurdly going on with the involved parties seemingly desperate to reach an illogical deal, no matter the cost or potential consequences.
In fact, in recent months, the United States took the steps of appeasing Iran by lifting some sanctions, in addition to $29 million in frozen assets. This for a country that burns American and Israeli flags; preaches hatred towards the West; and even refuses to meet or negotiate with the United States. Such appeasement not only indicates weakness to Iranian ayatollahs; it emboldens them.
The JCPOA was a bad deal from the outset. It never addressed Iran’s export of terror throughout the Middle East, nor did it tackle Iran’s research and development of long-range ballistic missiles. Moreover, it gave Iran a 30-day period of grace before inspectors were allowed in the country to examine facilities.
The deal in the making is even more atrocious. In addition to the now-limited time frame—many of the deal’s clauses expire in just three years—the proposed plan will not allow IAEA inspectors to investigate recently revealed undeclared nuclear sites in Iran. The world’s biggest state sponsor of terror is essentially being given a green light to do what it wants and is not expected to give anything back in return.
Many of the solutions put forward to Israel by the international community in relation to Iran are made up of similar pledges that have been made to other countries—namely, that Israel’s security will be assured. Should Israel believe such promises? How should Israel respond given the wary international response we have seen in relation to Ukraine?
The answer is clear. With a country like Iran, which has stated time and again that its goal is to destroy the one Jewish state on the planet, Israel cannot stand back and wait to see if it follows through with its threats. For Israel, the diplomatic “wait and see” approach in relation to Iran is tantamount to extinction. Israel must therefore act preemptively.
Israel needs to learn, once and for all, that its national policies must never be at the expense of national security. The country must always be able to defend itself with its own forces. It must strengthen its security systems and emphasize quality over quantity.
We need to do all we can to protect ourselves because no one will come to our rescue in a time of crisis. We will stand alone and we will fight alone. This is our reality and we should take heed.
Ambassador Danny Danon, chairman of World Likud, served as Israel’s 17th Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Minister of Science and Technology and Deputy Minister of Defense.
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