JWR Wandering Jews

Jewish World Review Sept. 18, 2002 / 12 Tishrei, 5763


Despite the dangers to their own safety, Israelis strongly back Bush on Iraq

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In Washington's forlorn search for allies in its war against Saddam Hussein, the support of one nation -- the people of Israel -- has been taken for granted and scarcely noted. Yet as the world debates the wisdom of a U.S. attack on Iraq, Israel's voice needs to be heard. No nation, after all, is likely to suffer the consequences of the war more than the Jewish state.

Israeli intelligence takes for granted that a cornered Hussein will seek revenge on America's ally and unleash his nonconventional arsenal on Israeli cities. Thousands of Israeli health-care workers have been vaccinated against a smallpox attack, a prelude to vaccinating the entire nation. Every Israeli home has gas mask kits for each family member, just in case.

This week, Hussein renewed his periodic promise to "wipe out" Israel. Few here treat those threats as mere bluster.

For six weeks during the Gulf War, we endured nightly Iraqi missile attacks, becoming a nation of insomniacs that measured time by air raid sirens. We sat helpless in "sealed rooms" with plastic sheets covering the windows and wet towels jammed under the doors, strapping hysterical children into gas masks and placing babies into plastic-covered cribs.

Still, we were lucky. Though extensive damage made parts of Tel Aviv resemble London during the Blitz, only one Israeli was killed by a direct missile hit.

Many here called that reprieve a miracle.

This time, though, Israelis suspect that we may not be nearly as lucky as we were in 1991. This time there may be no dress rehearsal for apocalypse.

Yet ask almost any Israeli Jew -- left, right or center -- whether the U.S. should attack Hussein, and the answer is unequivocal: The evil must be uprooted.

True, we have an obvious interest in ridding the Middle East of a formidable enemy. But so does the rest of the world -- and especially the Arab world -- even if it doesn't yet realize it.

Those of us who sit on the front line of this imminent war have little patience with the appeasers who urge caution even as Hussein approaches nuclear capability. After all, we've been in this scenario before.

In 1981, the Israeli air force flew across the hostile airspace of the Middle East and destroyed Hussein's nuclear facility at Osirak.

The international reaction was unanimous outrage. Israel was accused of barbarism and piracy; even the Reagan administration condemned us.

But we knew that we had saved not only ourselves but also much of the world from a danger that no one else was ready to confront.

More than two decades later, we received a belated "thank you" of sorts.

Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Nashville on Aug. 26, Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed the Bush administration's critics who prefer to wait until Hussein achieves nuclear capability, at which point "it would become even harder for us to gather friends and allies to oppose him."

Indirectly citing Israel's precedent, Cheney noted: "As one of those who worked to assemble the Gulf War coalition, I can tell you that our job then would have been infinitely more difficult in the face of a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein."

Despite the missile assault on its cities during the Gulf War, Israel deliberately kept out of the anti-Iraq global coalition, respecting the U.S. concern that an overt Israeli presence in the war effort could unsettle the coalition's Arab supporters.

This time, though, there is no Arab coalition. Rather than support the liberation of an Arab nation from the rule of a genocidal madman, the Arab world appears to be siding with Hussein.

As a result, there is no longer any reason for Israel to keep out of the current war debate.

Israel's courage is precisely what we can offer the world at this crucial moment.

We, who alone confronted Hussein's nuclear ambitions in 1981 and who must now contend with his chemical and biological arsenal, say to Washington's wavering allies: If not now, when?

Yossi Klein Halevi

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JWR contributor Yossi Klein Halevi is the Israel correspondent for the New Republic and a senior writer for the Jerusalem Report. He is the author of "Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist (Little, Brown) and, most recently, "At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for G-d with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land." Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002,Yossi Klein Halevi. This article originally appeared in the LA Times.