Sunday, November 13, 2011

Post #72 - Israel -- in the Eye of the Beholder

Rev. John Hagee
Many perceive that support of Israel on “the Christian Right” may have less to do with sympathy for Israeli citizens or world Jewry, and more to do with end-times prognostications. Pastor John Hagee, a Texas evangelical preacher and broadcaster, asserts that “The United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plans for both Israel and the West; a biblically prophesized [sic] end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to Rapture, Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ.”

Whatever the motivation, their unwavering support for the State of Israel at its most “dug-in” has made it difficult for the Christian community as a whole to take up the thorny issues surrounding Middle East conflict and make a prophetic contribution toward peace. Curiously, on the other end of the religious spectrum, some atheists such as transplanted Englishman Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything) have been just as staunch supporters of aggressive exportation of our values to the Middle East (backed up by military might) as any militant Christian.

The current Iraq War and its dead and wounded are no longer on every day's front page; the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on much, much longer and has itself claimed several hundred thousand lives. Bonnie Block, who traveled to Iran in 2006, captures part of what makes the topic so difficult:

"Americans find it hard to understand the intensity of the Arab and Muslim world’s feelings about the State of Israel because most Americans see Israel as a free and democratic state that embodies the right to a Jewish homeland after the horrors of the Holocaust."

From the perspective of most Israelis, most Jewish-Americans, indeed of most Americans, the State of Israel should exist because “the world” made it necessary. The Zionist motivation has been captured in the statement, "When people say, 'Go home,' we have a place to go. Before, we had nowhere to go."

The Israeli poet Eliaz Dohen speaks of the land and the language of Israel as “the spring of Jewish destiny.” For him and many others, what we now know as the “Occupied West Bank” is comprised of the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria. A nearly-3000-year saga of exile and assimilation, economic success and marginalization, intellectual dominance and genocide set the stage for the phenomenon known as “Zionism” – an urge, a policy, a plan and a movement to “reclaim” or “recreate” a Jewish homeland that would not depend on the indulgence or forbearance of non-Jews. That enterprise was long viewed by many of us in the West as really an almost quintessentially “American” enterprise, combining personal courage, pioneering spirit, inventiveness and hard work, “to make the desert bloom” and allow the Jews to make a home for themselves, as immigrants to America famously did.

Poet, Agi Mishol
As the project has continued, over the almost-100 years since the Zionist dream began to be realized, the lamentable counterpoint to Israel’s remarkable success -- like the situation of European settlers in North America on the "western frontier" -- has been having to cope with nearly continuous fear. Israelis' life on the edge of catastrophe led poet Agi Mishol, daughter of Hungarian Holocaust survivors, to title one of her works “In the beginning were the words ‘And then I heard the boom.’” She was making reference to the words she heard repeated, with only slight variation, by a succession of witnesses to bombing incidents in Israeli markets or streets).

In the current context, Iran has sometimes been characterized as an "existential threat" to Israel. However, as Ray Takeyh points out (in Hidden Iran), "From Tehran's perspective, the prospect of a radical Sunni regime coming to power in Pakistan with its finger on the nuclear button is nearly an existential threat." (Perhaps a more credible one.) Dr. Yitzhak Ravid, former head of military studies at the Armament Development Authority (RAFAEL), said that “exaggerated analyses of the Iranian threat capability played straight into Tehran's hands, and aided Iran's attempt to frighten Israelis,” according to a blog story about an April 17, 2007 meeting at Tel Aviv University. Ravid said, it was reported:

"...the Iranian regime was struggling to produce a first generation-type nuclear bomb, which has the same power as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima...He argued that the Iranians faced a major challenge in attempting to fit such a bomb onto a missile that could carry the weight of a nuclear warhead to Israel.
The analyst noted that an image of an Iranian 'missile' test, widely circulated around the Israeli media, were actually images of rockets, not missiles.
"'Never in human history have more than one Shihab missile been successfully test fired, Ravid said. 'And the Shihabs themselves are very limited. They are actually a scud-sized missile.'
"Ravid referred to a quote by Uzi Rubin, head of ballistic missile research for the Ministry of Defense, who said, 'The Iranians are almost frantic in volunteering information about their weapons capabilities, sometimes to the point of incredulity [sic]… they are meant to impress before they are meant to be used in anger.'
"Taking the example of the threat posed by missiles carrying chemical warheads, Ravid said: 'More harm is caused to people by attempts to prepare for such an attack, than harm which would be caused by a direct hit by such a missile.'
"He noted that during the 1991 Gulf War, suffocation by mishandling of gas masks killed more people than Scud missiles. 'This exaggeration causes damage in terms of anxiety, and pressured diplomatic activity,' Ravid concluded.

Dr. Martin van Creveld is an Israeli military strategist and professor of military history. In an interview done in May 2007, van Crefeld said:

"We Israelis have what it takes to deter an Iranian attack. And I think we are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us. We cannot say so too openly, however, because we have a history of using any threat in order to get weapons. And it works beautifully: Thanks to the Iranian threat, we are getting weapons from U.S. and Germany. I think some people in Israel are deliberately exaggerating our fears because it prompts the response, 'Oh, those poor Jews. They're going to have the Holocaust again. Give them weapons'."

[To be continued...]

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