Saturday, June 06, 2009

06-Jun-09: Facing the jihadists and their nuclear arsenals

The opinion piece below, written by one of this blog's two editors, was published this week in the Kalgoorlie Miner (Western Australia) in response to a syndicated op-ed column entitled Koreans, Israelis and Nukes, by a London-based military commentator Dr Gwynne Dyer, published in several dozen newspapers in different parts of the world during the week of 1st June, 2009.

Bravery, Cowardice and Terrorists
Arnold Roth

Coming of age in Melbourne during the fifties and sixties turns out to have been an invaluable precursor to living, as my wife and I and our children do, in the Middle East.

Our apartment is in the suburbs of Jerusalem. We moved here in the late eighties when our oldest was ten. Making our home here was and is literally the fulfillment of a dream.

My mother and father were among the statistical fly-speck of Europe’s Jews who survived what the Nazis and their many helpers served up to them. But in saving their own lives, they lost almost everything else to the Third Reich’s whirlpool of hatred: their parents, their homes, their freedom, their youth.

But not their future. Neither of them managed to spend a single day inside a high school. But they dedicated themselves as parents to ensuring my brother and I missed out on none of life’s privileges. They bestowed a powerful optimism, a willingness to love life and get on with it on us and – along with other Jewish survivors like them – on an entire generation of post-Holocaust children.

Life was too comfortable and safe for me at the time to see this for the extraordinary life-affirming bravery that it is.

In August 2001, our fifteen year old daughter died.

Malki was two when we moved to Israel. Though she had no time for or interest in politics, she grew up with a deep personal appreciation of her people’s history, and of the dramatic grace and grandeur of its troubled, beautiful land.

She developed a passion for working with special-needs children, and grabbed every opportunity to be close to them. She embraced life, and faced it with a wide and lovely smile. During the summer between tenth and eleventh grades, she volunteered at a camp on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that challenged children with disabilities. She adored the experience. We have some gorgeous photos that were given to us by her friends.

A day or two after returning home, she and her best friend and thirteen other people, most of them children and women, were blown to pieces by a powerful guitar-case bomb carried into a pizza restaurant in the centre of the city by a religious fanatic in the service of Hamas jihadism.

Israel, whose national consciousness was formed in large part by the horrifying experiences of my parents’ generation, is grappling today with life-and-death threats funded, ideologically inspired and in large measure equipped by one source: the Islamic Republic of Iran.

For people living far from these events, it must be hard to keep track of who Hamas, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and the other terror organizations are and the differences among them. Reading about their political and ideological aspirations, it must be doubly confusing for an observer located far away to confront the perverse morality that characterizes their actions: the notion that attacks on women and children, attacks on bus stops and restaurants, attacks on defenseless and unarmed non-combatants – that these are the highest quality attacks, the greatest achievement of jihadism. In all the years of their terrorist thuggery, they have rarely attacked soldiers or military installations.

Gwynne Dyer’s smooth, confident tones are those of an informed observer. As a military analyst and published commentator on international relations, Dr. Dyer must have reviewed the open-source intelligence on Iranian missiles, on years of Iranian disinformation in the face of nuclear watchdog inspections, on Iranian holocaust-denial. He must know of the central role Teheran plays today, this month, this morning, in equipping the terrorists of Gaza and Southern Lebanon with missiles and explosives whose sole function is to be lobbed anywhere in the direction of Israeli homes, shopping centres and schools.

Despite knowing these things, his slightly bizarre thesis is that Israelis like me have nothing to fear from the Iranians and their nuclear program, and if we think differently it’s because of our hysteria. We need to act more like the South Koreans, whose territory for decades has been patrolled and protected by tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of American service personnel, so that the world can become a better, saner place.

The analysis looks and feels very different when it’s happening to you and to those you love.

Very much unlike South Korea, the land in which I live is regularly under attack from people driven by a religious or ideological (or both) indoctrination based on a profound and absolute hatred of everything that characterizes my neighbours and me. So deep, so imponderable is that hatred, that they are willing to send human bombs into our midst, knowing this will cost the lives of some of their own children.

They do it, we have learned, because the joy of seeing their enemy suffer eclipses the pain of their losses.

Nothing I learned from my parents or from my murdered daughter has helped me understand that mentality. The gulf between the society we are building here in Israel and the one the jihadists want to create is expressed pointedly by a quotation ascribed to an Iranian mullah:
“We have the patience needed to destroy the Jews and spread Islam throughout the world. After all, we have been weaving carpets for thousands of years. The decadent West doesn’t understand what patience is.”
In the face of this kind of threat, you need to choose your role models and your values very carefully. 

Gwynne Dyer expresses disdain for Israeli concerns about a powerful, committed, exceedingly well-equipped enemy with a clear and explicit agenda. On behalf of those of us living in the cross hairs, there are some lessons I wish he and some other experts like him would learn. 

Sometimes, as I have found, those insights can come from unlikely places.

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