D-Day chance to decry Israel’s foes




GUEST COLUMN

D-Day chance to decry Israel’s foes

Sunday, May 31, 2009

This week, President Barack Obama travels to Cairo to deliver an important speech in an effort to seize the opportunity and inject momentum into the stalled Middle East peace process. Even more important than the speech is its symbolism of the first African-American president signaling a departure from the past by engaging the entire Muslim world from an Arab capital.

At the same time, on the very next day, the president seeks to engage and reassure the Jewish community by visiting Buchenwald Concentration Camp, a camp his great-uncle helped liberate. By making this visit, and bringing back the tragic memories of the past, the president is signaling Israel’s supporters that he understands their fears and concerns.

The president surely knows that, for Jews, those memories are at the very heart of the current impasse in the Middle East. How can they not be when the chief funder of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah is Iran – the same country that just successfully tested a new Sejil-2 surface missile with a range of 1,200 miles that can reach Europe; a country whose president denies the Holocaust, calls for the eradication of Israel and continues to defy the world by seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

However, to really understand the existential threat that Iran poses to Israel, the president and fellow world leaders gathering in France on June 6 to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day might recall a similar fear that gripped Winston Churchill in the days just prior to the launch of Operation Overlord.

Churchill was obsessed over what the Nazi response to the massive allied operation might be. On May 18, 1944, he wrote to his chief of staff, General Ismay, “I do not myself believe the Germans will use poison gas on the beaches … the reason is that we could retaliate ten fold [with poison gas] … however, the temptation to use it on the beaches might be strong enough to override prudence – it’s worth considering whether a warning should not be uttered by me and the President [Roosevelt] that if any form of gas or toxic substance is used upon us or any of our allies, we shall immediately use the full power of our forces to drench German cities and towns.”

Tragically, no such warning was ever issued on behalf of Europe’s Jews, warning Hitler if he continues to use Zyklon-B gas against the Jews in the concentration camps, then the allies will retaliate by using poison gas against his SS divisions and installations all over Europe.

By that time, the allies knew very well what was happening to the Jews. In fact, the United States State Department confirmed Hitler’s extermination program as early as November 1942. Yet clearly, the allies made the distinction between issuing a warning against the use of poison gas to protect their own soldiers, yet never willing to extend that warning to include the Jews who were gassed in the crematoria. Indeed, even after the successful landings at Normandy, those gassings continued unabated.

That is what troubles Israelis and their friends – not that the world doesn’t care but that it won’t act in time. There is little doubt on whose side the Western allies would come down if Iran ever attacked Israel – they would retaliate against Iran. But, by that time, despite all good intentions, it could again be too late to save the Jews.

Israelis cannot afford to take that chance. As a recent poll conducted by the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University showed, 23 percent of Israelis would consider leaving the country if Iran obtained a nuclear weapon. Almost 6 million Jews live in Israel today. What took Hitler five years to destroy, could take just a few hours to accomplish should Iran acquire nuclear weapons.

Israelis don’t want to bet their children’s future on potluck or the inability of an Iranian nuclear warhead to penetrate Israeli defenses. Reaching out to pariah states in an attempt to change their nuclear appetite has been an abject failure in North Korea. Last week’s testing of a nuclear device is a strong signal to [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to hold firm and run out the clock.

That is really the main message that Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu brought with him to the White House. What he was really saying was that while the WW II allies liberated the concentration camps, by the time they arrived, Hitler had already accomplished his task. Israel has no intention of allowing Ahmadinejad to have history repeat itself.

 

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

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