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A Tale of Two Wars

There are two possible conflicts on the table in Washington. One is with Iran and the other with Syria. The Iran conflict is the one that Washington doesn't want. Its most likely trigger at this stage is an Israeli assault on Iran's nuclear program. Like most of the wars centering around Israel, this one is existential and of no interest to the philosopher kings in D.C. who wage wars with the grand purpose of making the world a better place.

Washington does not particularly care whether Iran gets nukes or doesn't get nukes. It cares about History. With a capital H. Libya got bombed because it was on the wrong side of history. Syria is about to get bombed because it's on the wrong side of history. There are people in the administration like Samantha Power who would like to bomb Israel for being on the wrong side of history, but they don't think that even J Street and Peter Beinart could spin that as a pro-Israel move.

Being on the right or wrong side of history is one of those topics that primarily interests Islamists and nation builders on the right and the left who subscribe to a progressive version of history. Things don't just happen, they happen because a country and a people are riding the history escalator up or down, to the top floor of the mall of the world where the cultivated stores like Starbucks, Nordstrom and the now defunct Sharper Image are located, or the bottom where K-Mart, Payless and Gap take up space.

The Arab Spring was on the right side of history because of its transformative qualities. Supporters of it were on the right side of history. Opponents of it needed to be bombed if they were Arab dictators or disinvited from the right cocktail parties if they were merely columnists and analysts. And at the end of it all through the sublime majesty of democracy and people power, the Middle East would look exactly like Europe, but with a more exotic cuisine.

Israel has always been the hedgehog in the soup of Arab democracy, agitating them, empowering their rulers and causing them to distrust Western benevolence. Now Israeli jets threaten to spill the soup of the Arab Spring by bombing Iran, which may reinforce support for Syria, which will hold up the Arab Spring and halt the progressive escalator of history.

Washington needs the Syrian war to happen, and it needs to keep a conflict with Iran from happening. The great diplomatic problem of Israel has always been that its leader insist on viewing conflicts in practical terms. Israel does not fight wars to make the world safe for democracy, it fights wars because there's someone shooting missiles as it. This is an unacceptable reason for a war in a postmodern world where wars are fought to preserve the international order, protect civilization, make the world safe for democracy and prove that human rights violations will be punished by the duly constituted body of international jurisprudence. 

Self-interest is Israel's original sin. It was the sin that countless titans of the left from H.G. Wells to Lenin berated the Zionists for. Instead of contributing to the welfare of mankind and participating in the international brotherhood of workers, they went off to rebuild a country that existed only in their holy books and stirred up all kinds of trouble doing it. And since they have kept on stirring up trouble, not in the name of some grand idea, but out of their tawdry interest in defending themselves.

With angry Muslims boiling in European cities, Koran touting terrorists blowing up the modern infrastructure of the world's capitals and turmoil roiling the hundreds of millions of Muslims who still haven't managed to get refugee status in the UK or the US, the progressive vision is in big trouble and the only solution is to somehow stabilize the situation. Democracy is the only panacea that the progressive prescription plan covers.

Israel's insistence on a purely existential view is dismissed as selfish and narrow-minded when the Middle East is headed toward a brave new world where nukes no longer matter because no one is angry anymore because there are no more dictators and democracy is everywhere. While the Israelis see the Middle East as basically static, the progressives see the Middle East as constantly on the verge of a great leap forward to a new more enlightened age.

As a result any affinity between the neoconservatives and Israeli leaders was always going to be limited. The neoconservatives were impressed by Israel's modernism, but they assumed that it could be copied over to their neighbors and came to resent Israel as an obstacle for not playing a more meaningful role in their grand theory of history. While outwardly the progressives see Israel as very modern, they reject it for not possessing the most vital element of modernism. Transnationalism.

While Israel has more than its share of leftists, its animating philosophy is an ethnic nationalism that is repugnant to the transnationalist. They can find no meaningful globally applicable philosophy that defines its success. Like Japan, Israel is a self-contained wonder. It is a nation, not a philosophy. Its identity is rooted in an infuriating recent and ancient history. It is modern in defiance of the progressive understanding of history-- which is why its technology, its human rights and its basic decency are dismissed.

The Arab Spring seems to be everything that Israel is not, a transnational transformation, the soul of Europe invested in a Middle Eastern body. A great leap forward that will lift the region out of its backward fanaticism and move the world closer to the modern place it ought to be. Then with some selective sanctions in Asia, laptops for every child in Africa, and some really good books on human potential, the entire world will be just like the European Union. If Israel doesn't louse it up this time.

The progressive philosopher-kings aren't stupid, their knowledge of history is. They believe that their wonderful system was not the product of a civilization, but of political protesters demanding change. If the political protesters demanding change are similarly empowered in the Muslim world, then they will end up with the same results.

To the left a theory of history in which a humanitarian society is created through the overthrow of the status quo makes perfect sense. To the American liberal right, a similar theory favoring democracy as the key element has almost as much appeal. Both agree on the notion that if their native process is exported, then the results will be the same.

There's a certain kind of technocratic sensibility to it, that if you build the same machines and use the same recipe, then anyone can make Coca Cola. Which is true, except that people in different parts of the world prefer versions of Coca Cola that taste differently. Exporting the process of democracy does not export the outcome of democracy. It only helps the local create the sort of government they really want. Egypt and Tunisia have already shown us what kind of government that is.

Washington is not interested in Israel's selfish need not to be nuked. It isn't in this for existential reasons and it doesn't see why Israel should be either. If the United States can sacrifice thousands of lives for the greater good to promote peace, tolerance and respect for international law, then why can't Israel risk a few million lives, especially when there are foreign policy experts who will explain slowly and distinctly to the dunces in Jerusalem why it is very unlikely that Iran will actually detonate a nuclear bomb.

Israeli leaders have a diminishing interest in grand theories of history arising from DC or Brussels. Small nations can't afford grand theories of history. They make do with keeping the rain from leaking through the roof. The Israelis aren't interested in another war, which is exactly why they want to launch a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear program. In response Iran's terrorist proxies will do their part by shelling Israeli towns and villages, but that's part of life. Not the good part, but the part about living in a region overrun by terrorist militias that anyone can sponsor for a dollar.

They are often stupid, but they are rarely stupid in the way that American and European leaders are stupid. Israel can't afford its own version of Blair, Sarkozy or Obama. The closest thing to them, Shimon Peres, was quickly voted out despite wearing the cloak of martyrdom and has been relegated to a ceremonial office which allows him to explain his vision of the New Middle East dominated by nanotechnology and free trade zones to foreign visitors who are impressed by this visionary.

When Israel looks at Syria, it doesn't see a potential gateway to regional progress, it sees a local civil war backed by its neighbors, which will result in instability and one side or the other gaining Syria as a pawn. It sees Assad's weapons stockpiles ending up in the hands of terrorists, terrorists flocking to fight in the civil war, and it even sees Alawite refugees desperate enough to flee across the border. What it does not see is the glowing symbols of the Arab Spring.

And when it looks at Iran, it doesn't see a rogue state, it just sees a bunch of fanatics about to get their hands on nuclear weapons. And time running out in which their efforts can be aborted or at least slowed down. It will do something about it not because it wants to change the region or advance human civilization, but because it knows the exact casualty count from a nuclear detonation over Tel Aviv.

Washington desperately doesn't want anything interrupting its rush to war in Syria. Jerusalem has run out of patience and will go it alone in Iran. The consequences aren't unpredictable and won't be much fun. But that is also the difference between responsible and irresponsible leadership. Responsible leaders can take a hit now to avoid much worse consequences down the road. Irresponsible leaders take refuge in philosophy and chase after theories of history, rather than keeping the rain from leaking through the roof.


  1. I think it somewhat unlikely that Israel will 'go it alone' with Iran.

    That is because; Israel lacks the conventional resources to derail Iran's pursuit of nukes. And because a pre-emptive nuclear attack by Israel is a political non-starter.

    An Israeli nuclear attack upon Iran would almost certainly result in the near complete political and economic embargo of Israel. Obama would push for and, might well succeed in permanently halting all American aid to Israel. Pakistan might well start handing off nukes to Hamas and Hezbollah for retaliation.

    Netanyahu must know this and that is what has held Israel at bay.

    Israel nuking Iran is truly "crossing the Rubicon".

    Which is not to assert that they shouldn't do it. Just that the consequences would be severe. It's going 'all in'.

    I don't see Israel as unified and tough minded enough to do it.

    But I hope I'm wrong.

  2. Daniel13/2/12

    Israel can make the situation require a US military component.

  3. Hmm, I trust Daniel you'll be a bit more specific when you think it appropriate.

  4. Barring a nuclear attack, I imagine that Israel can inflict a severe setback on Iran's nuclear program.

    While it's hard to accomplish conventionally, the Israelis have managed to achieve stunning unconventional results before.

    Certainly the tone from Netanyahu and Barak seems to suggest that there's a way to cripple of severely set back the program.

  5. Anonymous13/2/12

    "That is because; Israel lacks the conventional resources to derail Iran's pursuit of nukes."

    Do not count on that....
    Israel has many uncoventional non nuclear devices...
    The attack has been planned for years
    obama willing or not,it will occur before novembre 2012.



  6. The consequences aren't unpredictable

    Should be "are" instead of "aren't"

  7. The Iranian vengefulness plus it's fat finger in the pie of world wide terrorist organisations shall definitely have repercussions for Jewish "soft"targets around the world in case of an Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear structure. Pakistan's warning of providing the terrorists with a nuclear device should also be heeded, the ISI (Pakistan's secret service) apparently one of the world's best, could pass such a device to any of the larger terror groups. In all the Israeli leadership is not to be envied for the decisions it has to make in preventing the psychopats of Iran from going nuclear, especially if it finds itself completely without America's support.

  8. “The neoconservatives were impressed by Israel's modernism, but they assumed that it could be copied over to their neighbors and came to resent Israel as an obstacle for not playing a more meaningful role in their grand theory of history. While outwardly the progressives see Israel as very modern, they reject it for not possessing the most vital element of modernism. Transnationalism.”

    Transnationalism? Rather, the neoconservatives and the progressives hate Israel because of its rejection of the idea of self-sacrifice, at least as an ingredient of self-preservation. Self-sacrifice is the touchstone of virtue to both groups. I sincerely hope the Israelis figure this out, and act accordingly. Otherwise, they’ll be dead meat on Iran’s banquet table of murder.

  9. London_Liz13/2/12

    Surely the very recent statements from the Supreme Leadership of Iran that they consider it a religious duty to destroy all Jews is a declaration of war against Israel. These have been posted on many state sponsored websites which mean that this is Iranian policy, not merely the musing of some cleric. Israel has to be very canny in these circumstances and do all it can to protect its populace. Just heard of the attacks on Israeli diplomats today again, Iran's war has already started!

  10. Anonymous13/2/12

    Iran is the central hub for a whole web of international terrorist groups. I must admit, even through I'm worried of the consequences, I can't wait until the Israelis start pounding Iran's facilities with Jericho III's. My guess is we'll see a bombardment of around 40-50 Jericho missiles on key sites, and then the IAF will engage the flying museum Iran calls an airforce. However, the US 5th fleet in the Persia Gulf is incredibly vulnerable to Iran's Sunburn and Yakhont anti ship missiles. I'd hazard a guess that the US will lose some ships before this game is over.

  11. Greg RN13/2/12

    Perhaps it will be a simultaneous event, Starting in Syria, and Israel taking out Iran's Nuke facilities, Iran will then attack the Fifth Fleet, pulling the US into the fray. Probably in the summer when the Sanctions will have severely curtailed cash flow. Plus I believe Iran is storing excess oil in ships.
    But, the point is, Israel is head and shoulders above the rest of the World in understanding the Mideast and the Barbarians that surround them. Conventional weapons will be used, Netanyahu understands the choice. May G_D be with Israel.

  12. Anonymous13/2/12

    Mr. Knish you have been watching too many Raid On Entebbe films. Israel does not have the capability of taking out Iran’s facilities by air strikes. If she could she would have done so a long time ago. The element of surprise is gone and only a sustained 30 day attack by the Unites States can accomplish that. Right now (until a new government takes over in D.C.), assassinations and computer sabotage are the way to go.

  13. There's no need to be insulting.

    Israel certainly has the capability to inflict serious damage on elements of the program. That's not in dispute.

    The only question is the cost and how it will delay the program.

    Computer sabotage is going to have limited impact, assassinations nearly none. Those are ways of marking time.

  14. No one knows the future. Otherwise, it would not be the future. Nothing cryptic here. Unpredictability is simply part of the definition of the future.

    Extending this line of reasoning, we are not exempt from visualizing the future in our heads, since planning helps to determine outcome. We just do not know precisely how. Everything hangs on a thread - sometimes called luck and at other times the Will of God.

    Of course, the Deep Left that seeks perennial change at the cost of others' lives and others' wealth is always wrong because they should know that the changes they propose are not the changes they get. And the worst among the Left don't care that this is so.

    Mr. Knish has of course gotten it quite right in his analogy of caring for the leaky roof rather than the welfare of humanity. Small steps, taken cautiously, are the only ones that can be predictive of outcome in most instances. For example, slavery disappeared within cultural Judaism at least a thousand years before the American Civil War without the loss of millions of lives. Only the most retrograde cultures still practice slavery with self-serving justifications. But as the Left persists in evening the playing field among all people, survival may require the reinstitution of slavery because people will demand it in order to merely eat. Of course, I am not predicting the future. This is only one possible endpoint.

  15. It's sink or swim.

    They're sitting ducks and exactly what every Arab and other anti-Semitic regime wants--a large concentration of Jews (7 million if I recall correctly) in a small area.

    I hope to G-d that the various political parties in Israel get on the same page and fights before it's too late. Screw the rest of the world.

  16. What has always bothered me was why Iran sought nuclear weapons almost out in the open (semi Publicly) instead of like N.Korea, Pakistan and India clandestinely (Totally)?

    we can't destroy Iran's intellectual progress and advancement, the data and know-how exists. Enough fissionable material could be stockpiled in the center of Tehran for the assembly of up to at least 5 devices.

    They may have off the shelf nuclear devices purchased from any of the FSR's , Pakistan or N. Korea. For the right price you can buy anything. Unstable Pakistan is certainly a greater existential threat to Israel with some 50-100 nuclear devices than is Iran today. Yet nobody is talking about destroying Pakistan's nuclear capacity although they can be considered a potential threat to Israel.

    Israel can use tactical nukes like EMP and neutron bombs to neutralize Iran's ability to counter attack. Bombing each site with dirty bombs rendering them inaccessible for hundreds of years is doable.

    I look for commando raids on each sight to accomplish maximum effectiveness, such an attack will have to take into consideration Irans command and control (EMP) and it's hardened missile sites. Hitting the regime personnel would be smart. War is War.

    Even if Israel fails in her aims, we must attack Iran and use nukes, otherwise we will face nuclear proliferation of almost every country in the region and render our nukes useless as a deterrent. If our enemies are convinced we will never use them then they are useless and that would be worse than the consequences of Iran getting nukes that they might not use. Israels second strike submarine capability and our arrow systems might cause them some doubt on the success of their attack and they know we will let loose with all we have if we are attacked with nukes. They may be fanatics awaiting their Maddi, but not suicidal with nothing to show for it.

    We shall see shortly as the window of opportunity if not closed is closing fast.

    I'm not convinced BB has the balls to go through with it and Obama certainly not.

  17. Anonymous13/2/12

    Mr.Knish I was not being insulting. My point is that too many people because of things like Entebbe and Osirak have this magnified idea of Israel's capabilities. Attacking Iran would cost scores of precious pilots lives and how does the IAF get there and back and where is the surprise element?

  18. Anonymous14/2/12

    I think if Israel uses any kind of nuke, it loses way too much in reaction from the US and the rest of the world. Nukes have only been used once, as we all know, and that was after an attack (Pearl Harbor) and 4 years of war.
    Using "conventional" weapons will be hard enough to handle, considering all the targets Iran and pals have, and all the forces ready to blame Israel. Very hard situation. Time to (continue to) support Israel!

  19. I do not see how Israel can successfully attack Iran's nuclear bomb making assets with their Air Forces, without being spotted by radar well in advance. If Israel were able to strike at Iran in any manner, it would cause Iran to immediately strike back with their long range missiles, including those from their friends in Lebanon and Gaza. I think the most opportune time for Israel to attack would be the minute Assad is removed from power in Syria, and replaced with a West friendly government (assassination is most likely).

    American personnel and military assets would be the only enemy Iran could, and would, immediately attack with their air, ground, and sea forces. Iran is surrounded by American military forces.

    Israel will start the war with Iran, and America will have to finish it for them.


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