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Island of Tranquility

Israel in the eye of a hurricane.

Sep 9, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 01 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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Syria is a proxy war with Iran, but the real Iranian challenge—nuclear weapons—remains ahead. Unless the American strike at Syria is far more robust than White House language today suggests, it will not reassure our allies in the region that America plans to solve their Iran problem. A year ago, in the summer of 2012, I thought Israel was about to hit Iran, and what I hear in Israel indicates that Netanyahu may well have wanted to but could not get a consensus among the key security players. Many people now doubt that Israel has the guts (in another version, that Netanyahu has the guts) to strike at Iran’s nuclear sites, but that is not the impression a recent trip to Israel leaves. On the contrary, it seems that a consensus is growing that an Iranian bomb is truly unacceptable, and that as a last resort Israel must act to prevent it. “Last resort” means they still wish the Americans, with our vastly greater firepower, would do it, but one meets few Israelis who believe that will happen.

So this island of stability may not be so tranquil down the road if the confrontation with Iran comes. But as one retired general of very high rank said to me, Iranian missiles and Hezbollah rockets may kill a few hundred people but not more, and it is a price we have to pay—and is worth paying—to stop the Iranian bomb. When I said Hezbollah had made Israel pay a real price in 2006 and had no doubt rearmed even more thoroughly since then, he laconically replied that Israel hadn’t stood still either. 

To Israelis, surrounded as they are by a region in complete turmoil, and with both a regime using chemical weapons and a concentration of 5,000-7,000 jihadists to their north, today’s smooth sailing is obviously not permanent. It is especially worrying to them that American prestige and clout in the region are at a historic low. But whatever the future holds, let’s not overlook the remarkable present: Ten or twenty years ago, who would have predicted that Israel and the West Bank would be the only tranquil places within hundreds of miles?

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

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