With oceans to our east and west, and weak neighbors to our north and south, we Americans sometimes have a hard time understanding the plight of nations threatened by big, bad neighbors.
Examples: China’s Communist Party insists it is entitled to rule the people of Taiwan. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is itching to subjugate South Koreans. And of course, we’ve known for years that Russian President Vladimir Putin had designs on Ukraine. Yet few of us expected him to launch a full-on, barbarian war of imperialist and colonialist conquest.
I was in Israel last week. That country’s predicament is a bit different. The rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran do not want Israelis to submit. They want them to perish. “Death to Israel!” is a slogan meant to be taken both literally and seriously.
Iran’s rulers are referring to Israeli Jews, but they also menace members of Israel’s minority communities who do not subscribe to the view that Palestine must be Jew-free from the river to the sea.
Israel has other enemies, more than a few. It isn’t clear which are responsible for a wave of terrorism that began in late March. In the first three attacks, 11 civilians were murdered. Among them: a rabbi, a Jewish teacher, a Druze police officer, two Israeli Arab police officers and two Ukrainian nationals.
On April 7, on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street, a lively boulevard chockablock with restaurants, bars and stores, a terrorist shot more than a dozen Israelis — three fatally.
Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah—terrorist organizations closely tied to Tehran—celebrated.
Within less than 24 hours, Israeli security forces tracked down the culprit and, in the exchange of gunfire that followed, killed him. Identified as Ra’ad Hazem, 28, he was from the West Bank town of Jenin and had been living in Israel illegally.
There are several theories for this sudden rise in terrorism. The one I find most compelling: It’s a response to the current, and historic, Arab-Israeli detente.
Israel-haters were chagrined last month when the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt gathered on Israeli soil to work on expanding their relations.
Such a meeting would have been unthinkable prior to the Abraham Accords, the 2020 statements of peace, cooperation and normal relations signed by Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain—an implicit acknowledgment that Jews and Arabs are ancient and kindred peoples of the Middle East who can and should peacefully coexist.
Of course, these Arab leaders also are acutely aware that the theocrats in Tehran threaten them at least as much as they do Israel.
Iran’s rulers already control Lebanon, now a failing state, through Hezbollah. They maintain troops in Syria, where with their assistance and that of Russia, dictator Bashar Assad has killed more than a half-million of his subjects. They back the Houthi rebels who have drenched Yemen in blood. Militias loyal to them are attempting to undermine a fledgling democracy in Iraq. They fund, arm and instruct Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. They have called Bahrain the 14th province of Iran.
Meanwhile, President Biden’s envoys continue to palaver with Tehran over its nuclear weapons program. Expect any agreement that results to be weaker—difficult as that is to imagine—than the deal former President Barack Obama concluded in 2015, and from which former President Donald Trump withdrew three years later.
What appears to be holding up the deal at the moment: Iran’s rulers insist that the United States remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. If Biden sees that as a bridge too far, kudos to him.
Are many Arab leaders more concerned about these issues than they are about the “plight” of the Palestinians? Perhaps, but they also recognize this reality: There are no Palestinian leaders willing to negotiate seriously with Israelis.
Such obvious but inconvenient truths are ignored by the anti-Semites at the United Nations and elsewhere. Most recently, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, lavishly funded nongovernmental organizations, have been accusing Israelis of apartheid.
It’s a ludicrous charge. Israel is the only nation in the Middle East where Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druze and other peoples attend the same universities, work in the same hospitals (the lives of two victims of the Tel Aviv attacks were saved by an Arab-Israeli doctor), preside over the same courts of law, and have family picnics on the same beaches.
Israel is the only nation in the Middle East where Arabs and Muslims vote, run for office and are elected in free and fair elections. Israel’s current ruling coalition includes Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am Party.
Though Abbas considers himself an Islamist, he acknowledges that the “State of Israel was born as a Jewish state, and it will remain one,” and that, whatever Israel’s flaws, an apartheid state it is not.
As for Gazan and West Bank Palestinians, they are governed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority respectively. They vote in their own elections (albeit rarely, but that can’t be blamed on Israelis). They don’t acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and refuse to take even baby steps to “normalize” relations.
For more than 70 years, Israelis have had to fight wars and “wars between wars” to retain their independence, sovereignty and self-determination. Right now, Ukrainians are fighting for exactly the same thing.
That’s what nations with big, bad neighbors must do to survive. If we Americans understand that we will give those nations maximal support, recognizing that their enemies are our enemies too.
Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a columnist for “The Washington Times.”