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A Message from Israel

"The ultimate quandary of statecraft centers on Iran."

9:10 AM, Sep 21, 2010 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, spoke at three Washington, D.C. synagogues on Yom Kippur—at Adas Israel at Kol Nidrei services last Friday night, then at Washington Hebrew Congregation Saturday morning and at Kesher Israel in the afternoon. Conservative, Reform and Orthodox Jews heard the same eloquent message, and Oren's text is reproduced below. It's well worth reading in full—and then you can go back and read the Book of Jonah, which is read in synagogue on Yom Kippur and which Oren uses to frame his remarks!

But for busy tea-leaf readers and policy makers, Oren's key passages seem to me to be these:

More than Gaza, more than peace, the ultimate quandary of statecraft centers on Iran. 

This is the radical, genocidal Iran whose leaders regularly call for Israel’s annihilation and provides terrorists with the means for accomplishing that goal. This is the Iran that undermines governments throughout the Middle East and even South America, and an Iran that shoots its own people protesting for freedom. 

Iran does all this without nuclear weapons—imagine what it would do with the nuclear arms it is assiduously developing. And imagine what you, awakening once again as the Israeli Prime Minister, will decide. Do you remain passive while Iran provides nuclear weaponry to terrorist groups, targets Tel Aviv with nuclear-tipped missiles, and triggers a nuclear arms race throughout the region? Or do you act, as Israel has now, joining with the United States and other like-minded nations in imposing sanctions on Iran, hoping to dissuade its rulers from nuclearizing? And, if that fails, do you keep all options on the table, with the potentially far-reaching risks those options entail?

And later:

Stand with us as we resist Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Respect the decisions we take through our democratic system and respect the risks that we, more than any other nation, take.

It would seem that if President Obama does not act to stop Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu will.

Here's Oren's complete text:

ISRAELI AMBASSADOR MICHAEL OREN:

On Yom Kippur we read the Book of Jonah, one of the Bible’s most enigmatic texts. It is also one of the Bible's shortest texts, weighing in at a page and a half, which is quite an accomplishment for this holiday. And it features one of our scripture's least distinguished individuals. Jonah—a man whose name, in Hebrew, means dove—not dov, as in Hebrew for bear, but dove as, in English, pigeon.

Yet this same everyman, this Jonah, is tasked by God with a most daunting mission. He is charged with going to the great city of Nineveh and persuading its pernicious people to repent for their sins or else.

Not such an unusual task, you might think. Twenty-first century life is rife with people who warn of the catastrophes awaiting us if we fail to modify our behavior one way or the other. Today we call them pundits, commentators who, if proven correct, claim all the credit but who, if proven wrong, bear none of the responsibility.  

Jonah, though, cannot escape the responsibility. Nor can he dodge his divinely ordained dilemma. If he succeeds in convincing the Ninevehians to atone and no harm befalls them, many will soon question whether that penitence was ever really necessary.  Jonah will be labeled an alarmist.  But, what if the people of Nineveh ignore the warning and the city meets the same fiery fate as Sodom and Gomorrah?  Then Jonah, as a prophet, has failed.

Such is the paradox of prophecy for Jonah, a lose-lose situation.  No wonder he runs away. He flees to the sea, only to be swallowed by a gigantic fish, and then to the desert, cowering under a gourd. But, in the end, the fish coughs him up and the gourd withers. The moral is: there is no avoiding Jonah’s paradox. Once elected by God, whatever the risks, he must act.

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