September 18, 2019

Yes or No? What Do Israelis Believe Will Happen With Iran?

Several have written to ask me what Israelis are thinking about Iran. Since I have arrived here I have been asking that question of everyone I encounter. All I need to say is “Yes or No?” and everyone knows what I am talking about. Everyone is thinking and worrying about Iran, but going about their daily lives as if there is no problem at all. The cafes are full. Kids are in school. People are going to work, seeing friends, and celebrating Shabbat with their families and dear ones.

Two very plugged-in Israeli friends, each of whom is close to the leadership of the country, had opposite views. One said to me, “I think it is a 90% probability that Israel will attack Iran between March and June of this year, because Israel simply cannot allow Iran to become nuclear.” The other said the opposite. “It isn’t going to happen. There will not be a war. It’s not in anyone’s interest. Pakistan has a bomb. We’ve got the bomb. So what!?”

Part of the angst that people naturally feel both here and in America is fed by the media that reports everything related to Iran’s nuclear program. The rhetoric and saber rattling is noisy, harsh and relentless. Yes, Iran has a brutal anti-Semitic government obsessively fixated on Israel and we would be fools to ignore the threat the Iranians pose. However, conventional wisdom says that if there is talk about it, it isn’t going to happen. When the talk stops, then we should worry.

It is the thinking of many here that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have ratcheted up the rhetoric as a strategic move to pressure President Obama to push harder on sanctions and hopefully provoke protests in Iran that will lead to regime change. Sanctions are having a biting effect and anything could ignite street protests leading to an Iranian spring.

In this election year, an attack against and possible war with Iran led by the United States is remote in the view of most observers. It is the same for Netanyahu who is considering calling early elections to solidify his current popularity in a new Knesset.

If either Israel or the United States were to initiate an attack, Israel can expect missiles to fall on Tel Aviv. When Israelis are killed as a consequence of either Bibi or Obama making the first move, both can reasonably expect to suffer at the polls in their respective re-election bids.

What are Israelis thinking? Everything!

Do they believe there will be a war? Some yes – others no.

Will there be a war? Who knows?

I have also asked everyone here another question – my young ulpan teacher, senior citizens, soldiers, human rights activists, rabbis, working Israelis, everyone I talk to -“Are you an optimist or a pessimist about the future?” To a person each smiles and says, “Yes, I’m an optimist! I couldn’t live here if I didn’t feel optimistic.”

I too worry, but in the end I agree with most Israelis. Call me an idealist, a romantic, an optimist, a fool. But as I too tend to say what Israelis say, Yehiye b’seder (Everything – God willing – will be fine.)

Shalom mi’Yerushalayim.