In September of 1995, I was one of a few invited guests in the home of a prominent Israeli news broadcaster, Nissim Mishal, anchor of Israel’s mainstream, popular Channel 2 news. We were then discussing the increasingly apparent violations of the Oslo Accords by longtime PLO leader Yasser Arafat, now head of the Palestinian Authority.
At one point during the discussion, Mishal leaned into the group, with a look of grave concern, almost whispering, “I was just at a highly classified briefing at Israeli Military Headquarters, and there is a much more existential problem looming out of the East. The Iranians are working on a nuclear bomb. And we had better listen to what the Americans want us to do with the Palestinians because we will need them when it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat.”
Over the past two-and-a-half decades, Israelis, therefore, felt that they needed to go along with the charade that the Palestinian Authority were peacemakers, as opposed to the violent Hamas. They knew fully well that the P.A. was systematically teaching their children that there was one name for the map of Israel, “Palestine,” and that they exhorted decades of Palestinian children to return to. They knew fully well that the Palestinian textbooks, under UNRWA (which the United States contributed approximately $197 million to so far this year), are replete with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. They knew fully well that the Palestinian schools and their media outlets strongly encourage their children to conduct acts of jihad, glorifying and deifying shahids (“martyrs”), constantly relitigating the 1948 conflict over Israel’s existence, not the 1967 conflict over Israel’s borders.
All of this Israeli submission to the will of successive American administrations has proven to erode what only decades ago was strong, bipartisan support for Israel. It has also helped to cement in the brains of many young people, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, decades of libelous attacks that have been bandied about, mostly in academia, and taken by unsuspecting students at face value that “Israel stole Palestinian land,” and that it is a “colonial” “fascist” and “apartheid” state.
By now, this has infiltrated the corridors of power throughout the country.
None of the enormous history of Israel’s willingness to accept multiple offers for a two-state solution is ever taught, going all the way back to the Peel Commission in 1937. No one mentions the incredibly generous offers made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Arafat at Camp David on July 25, 2000, on 97 percent of the West Bank or Judea and Samaria, or the even more generous one of withdrawing from almost the entire West Bank and a partition of Jerusalem made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to P.A. head Mahmoud Abbas in 2008 at Sharm el-Sheikh.
Each one of these offers was met by a new round of violence. That’s not even to mention the unilateral withdrawal from all of Gaza in 2005 that has only been met with four wars, scores of missiles balloons and kites with incendiary devices attached to them, and thousands upon thousands of missiles launched into Israeli population centers.
And still, Israelis have held their tongues, hoping that when the big, Iranian existential threat is upon them that the Americans will come through.
Well, crunch time has arrived. According to both Israeli and American nuclear scientists, the Iranians are just weeks away from having enough highly enriched uranium for a total nuclear breakout. We also know that they have a delivery mechanism. What no one is certain of is whether or not they have the “weaponization” program or the means for delivering the fissile material onto their drones or missiles.
Having placed all of our eggs in the “diplomacy” basket, the United States only has a few tools left in its toolbox. The credible threat of military force is the only solution.
It was a bit encouraging to see last week that the U.S. Treasury Department has levied sanctions against several Iranian companies that are involved in the manufacturing of drones, and it is also a bit reassuring that on Saturday, the U.S. military has flown B-1B bombers over the Strait of Hurmuz, that narrow opening in the Persian Gulf.
Both of these steps are necessary but not sufficient. The Iranians have got to feel that there is a heavy price to pay for their malevolent behavior.
In the meantime, the 28 years of erosion of support for Israel since the signing of the Oslo Accords has done tremendous damage to Israel’s standing in the community of nations, manifested by, among other things, the increasingly popular BDS movement among North American college students.
The Faustian bargain that the Israelis made to go along with a muzzling of the truth about the decades upon decades of malign behavior on the part of the Palestinians has created a nightmare, while the trust that the Israelis have placed in America coming through at “crunch time” with Iran may ultimately prove not have been well-warranted.
And Israel might well be left on its own in a multiple-front war.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.