Bill Clinton made that phrase-"It depends on what the definition of 'is' is"-famous, or infamous. That was during his impeachment. That phrase now comes back to haunt his wife, the secretary of state, and the president who defeated her for their party's nomination in 2008. Is Israel now in mortal peril? It depends what your definition of "is" is.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton want Israel to hold off, take no precipitate action, and, above all, not stage a "preemptive" strike against Iran and the rapidly developing Iranian nuclear weapons program. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warns that Iran may be moving its nuclear program into "hardened" sites, deep underground, protected from even the most powerful of U.S. "bunker buster" bombs.
If Iran does that, Barak warns, Iran can enter "a zone of immunity" that will allow the ruling mullahs to proceed without interference from Israel or the United States. Then, whether it takes six months or six years really will not matter: There will be no way to stop the Iranian rulers from getting their bomb. Or bombs. Ahmadinejad, Iran's so-called president-has called Israel a "two-bomb country." Just two nuclear weapons set off in Tel Aviv and Haifa could destroy the vast majority of the Jewish state's population. Jerusalem, under this scenario, would be spared, but only because it is to be occupied territory.
The New York Times reports that Americans are telling the Israelis "not so fast," that we can afford to wait until the new tougher sanctions begin to bite, and that the Iranian mullahs will feel the pressure from their long-oppressed people and be forced to abandon their nuclear program-just wait.
Martin Indyk, who has served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and who now serves at the reliably liberal Brookings Institution in Washington, said that "no end of consultations can remove [the] asymmetry." He means that for Israel, the threat from Iran is mortal. For the United States, it is more remote.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration's view is hopelessly blinkered. They really think taking away the Iranian mullahs "stuff" will deter them. Senior administration spokespeople repeatedly say that sanctions will prove to the Iranians that developing a nuclear weapon is "not in their interest."
Years ago, New York Magazine published an article about a Suburban Joe in New Jersey who had befriended the son of a Mafia don. Joe felt a thrill at the idea of entertaining this notorious mobster's son in his beautiful home. One afternoon, over wine and cheese, the don's son asked Joe, "What would you do if a man with a gun came into this living room right now?" Joe said, "I'd tell him to take whatever he wanted, but not to harm us." "Suppose," that mobster's scion asked, "what he wanted was to harm you."
The Iranian rulers invented suicide bombing. They have conducted a 30-year war around the world against Israel and the United States. They believe they have a mission from God-jihad-to eradicate "the Zionist entity." They don't care about "stuff." They rule a police state with an iron fist. Their long-suffering people will suffer longer. That does not matter to the mullahs. What they want is to harm.
The asymmetry Indyk referred to is only half of the matter. There is a greater asymmetry between liberal policy makers whose worldview cannot imagine anyone seriously willing to die in order to kill and the hardened realism that Israelis have been forced by bitter experience to adopt.
Take for example the murdering of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Any group that would do such a heinous thing or would condone such a monstrous act would be despised forever. Wouldn't they? The PLO planned and executed those atrocities. The PLO applauded the murderers, sheltered them, lionized them. And did the PLO bear forever the obloquy of the world community?
Within just a few years, PLO boss Yasser Arafat was being rapturously applauded at the UN. Within 20 years of those heinous murders, Yasser Arafat was received at the White House and emerged clutching a Nobel Peace Prize.
All histories of the Third Reich show that Hitler made destruction of the Jews his highest priority. He sacrificed all of his European conquests. He had built a Germany greater than even Bismarck's. He added to the pyre all the vast wealth of an industrious people and a dozen captive nations. All of that he burned in order to achieve his fanatical goal of extermination.
Aristotle defines power as the ability to be and to make things be. Israel has power for only one reason: to assure that the Jewish people will be and continue to be. Israel Is. That is the only "is" that matters to them.