Naomi Ragen: Has Israel Lost Control Over the Iranian Situation?

July, 28 2012

On the sleepy afternoon of March 21, 2012, alarm sirens went off all over Jerusalem, sending me and my racing heart lunging toward our air raid shelter. Squeezed in among my neighbors, bags of old clothes and various bicycles, I found my mind wandering back to elementary school at the Hebrew Institute of Long Island. “Get down beneath your desks and cover your heads with your hands,” Mrs. Ganeles instructed us. It was the Cuban Missile Crisis. But I remember thinking even back then: This is ludicrous. Nothing is going to save us from that great white mushroom cloud.

Being a Jew in Israel as Iran’s self-proclaimed genocidal regime methodically prepares its annihilation fantasy makes me feel like the lobster in the “How to cook a lobster” recipe: “First put the lobster into a large pot of warm water, then slowly turn up the heat.” Having made aliyah more than 40 years ago, I, along with the rest of my fellow Israeli citizens, am no ingenue when it comes to being maligned, threatened and physically attacked. For years now, we Israelis have been hearing ourselves described in vicious Nazi terms by the Iranian mullahs. Back in 2001, they called us “thieves and criminals.” In 2008, we were likened to “a black and filthy microbe,” and in 2011 to a “cancer cell” that must be removed.

Threats to wipe Israel off the map are nothing new either. In my senior year of high school, on May 16, 1967, Cairo Radio declared: “The existence of Israel has continued too long . . . The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel.” The Six Day War followed, and for a time we all lived in the afterglow of defeating our blowhard enemies. It didn’t last long. Wars with various other names followed: Yom Kippur, Lebanon, Galilee Peace. . .

But this time, I feel we are facing something completely new. This time it’s not a war with tanks and foot soldiers and airplanes, the kind of war that takes weeks and months and where our old, our women, children and grandchildren are safe behind front lines. It’s not even a barrage of missiles with conventional warheads landing outside as we sit safely in our shelters—something citizens in Israel’s south and north have already experienced. This time it’s an existential threat. This time it’s the next, or the final, Six Million. This time it’s everything that is dear to me in life, my children and grandchildren. My country. The miracle of a reborn Israel.

How do you prepare for that?

Until very recently, I managed, like most Israelis, to hold on to a comforting sense of denial even as I viewed the step-by-step progress of Iran’s nuclear program. Surely it wouldn’t, couldn’t happen? For even though the world had shown us it was not prepared to do the dirty work necessary to stop the Iranians, surely our own government would. Bibi, Barak, the staunch defense men—they must have a plan, right?

This provided some comfort until I visited New York for a conference in April and attended Shabbat services at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. The guest speaker was Brad Gordon, AIPAC’s director of policy and government affairs and formerly an assistant director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency for Nonproliferation Policy. I listened in shock to the alarming information that Iran already had a stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, a concentration about seven times greater than the 3.4 percent needed for the “peaceful” nuclear reactor they were claiming was their goal. As I’ve since learned, based on facts supplied by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has already stockpiled enough low-grade enriched uranium to fuel five nuclear bombs. All it needs to do is put what it already has back into its centrifuges—some of them located beneath a mountain—for three to six months. You need about 16 kilos of 90 percent enriched uranium (or U-235) to produce a nuclear implosion bomb. But if you would be satisfied with one “only” slightly less effective than the kind dropped on Hiroshima, all you need is seven kilos. According to Iran Watch, the time it would take to obtain that is a month and a half. And Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak has made it clear that Iran is closing in on the point when its accumulated know-how, raw materials, experience and equipment (as well as the distribution of materials among its underground facilities) would mean that any military strike would fail in derailing the nuclear program.

Here I sit, 40-odd years of living in Israel behind me, with children and grandchildren scattered all over this beautiful little country, like that little girl under her desk so many years ago. If I weren’t a religious Jew, I would probably be making hasty plans to move elsewhere and take my family with me. But then, if I weren’t a religious Jew, my family and I wouldn’t be here in the first place.

God help us, because sanctions haven’t, the world community can’t or won’t, and the Israeli government, for all its hubris, is facing a situation over which it may simply have lost control.

Naomi Ragen is a novelist and playwright living in Jerusalem.

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