Netanyahu tells congress Israel has historically acted in its own interests against American advice; Boehner pledges Congress will never let Jewish state ‘stand alone.’
By Herb Keinon, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON – Citing historical precedents in which the US and Israel did not see eye-to-eye and Israel acted according to its own perception of its interests, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told congressional leaders Tuesday that Israel viewed things differently than the US did at times, because it was not a global power and was more vulnerable.
Israeli sources said Netanyahu, meeting congressional leaders before flying back to Israel Tuesday evening, noted that David Ben-Gurion declared independence against the advice of the US; Levi Eshkol launched a preemptive attack in 1967, against Washington’s counsel; and Menachem Begin decided to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 despite US opposition.
America has global interests, while Israel is “on the ground and more vulnerable,” Netanyahu said in reference to Iran, saying that this made for a very different perspective.
A very different perspective! While the United States has global interests, Iran does not pose an existential threat to the United States; if Iran succeeds in building nuclear weapons, she would pose an existential threat to Israel.
This is not to say that the United States has never faced an existential threat. Russia has enough nuclear weapons, mounted on sophisticated delivery systems, to turn this country into a radioactive black hole in the ground. And while Russia seems like more of a remote threat now than the old Soviet Union was, the threat still persists.
But Americans really know very little about existential threats. The threat of a sudden Soviet nuclear attack, which was always possible, was still a sort of unrealistic, hazy, implausible, and just plain unreal thing. I am old enough to remember nuclear attack drills in kindergarten, where the teachers would have us scramble under our desks, on the red mats on which we’d take our daily kindergarten naps, but those were back in 1958, when Nikita Sergeievich Khrushchev was Premier and Cпутник was our new orbiting moon. For Americans, the existential threat was always just a threat, something never carried out, and something very unlikely to ever be carried out.
For the Israelis, an existential threat is all too real, because the Jews have faced a real, actual attempt to kill every last one of them, and though now quite elderly, there are still Holocaust survivors living in Israel. Even after the end of the Third Reich and the liberation from the concentration camps, the recovering Jews still faced real opposition in their attempt for form a new state, not just from the hostile Arabs in the Levant, but from the British, who, fearing the Arab reaction if too many Jewish refugees were allowed into the Levant, threw many of them into the Atlit detainee camp. Israel was formed again not by peaceful Jewish refugees from the devastation of Europe, but by an armed struggle against the British Mandatory Authority. This is part of the history that every Israeli child learns, is part of the culture that every Israeli knows, and is still attested to by some of the now very elderly men, and women, who fought for Israeli independence.
We Americans don’t understand the Arabs, and cannot see the appeal that political Islam has for Muslims in the Middle East. The Israelis, being much closer to Western civilization than the Arabs, are a people with whom we can more closely identify. But if we more closely identify with them, many of the Israelis really are cultural strangers to us. While we can kind of, sort of picture the Israeli settlers as analogous to our Western pioneers, they were actually quite different, rarely safe, scratching out an existence in a barren land, surrounded by hostile natives who could not be driven far off, and with the women just as responsible for the defense of the community as the men.
The Israelis are somewhat closer to us than the Arabs, culturally speaking, but only somewhat. When Prime Minister Netanyahu notes that Israel has gone its own way on certain issues of critical importance to them, it has often been because the Israelis believed there was no other choice. Some Americans believe that the Israelis ought to be willing to take chances for peace; that is easy to say when your country is safe and secure behind 3,000 miles of blue water. When your country is a small nation, one that can be driven across in an hour, it may not seem that there is a lot of room to take chances.
Cross Posted on THE FIRST STREET JOURNAL.