I wrote an opinion piece published in Montana newspapers nearly nine years ago about a visit I had just returned from to Israel. The topic of that piece is more timely now than it was then.
I was in Israel in 2005 with a delegation invited by the American Israel Friendship League. Our guide was a retired colonel in the Israeli Army with degrees in history and archeology from Hebrew University. We called him Ron. He had performed a similar function a few weeks before for former President Bill Clinton.
We saw into Syria from the Golan Heights and could practically hear the guns and smell the gun smoke as Ron dramatically recreated the massive attack of Russian-built tanks that were miraculously held off at the crest of the ridge by a handful of superior American tanks commanded by the now legendary Israeli hero, Major Victor Kahalani. In the backdrop of the Golan Heights, and hanging in the balance of the outcome of the battle, is the heart shaped religiously and strategically significant Sea of Galilee, place of Biblical miracles and Israel’s vital source of fresh water.
The day before we departed, a terrorist bomb killed several teenagers in a popular Tel Aviv nightspot. I broke the rules a little bit, and on foot found the location. I literally smelled the smoke still arising from the ruins, surrounded by emergency vehicles. Nearby was a sad and sobbing huddle I assumed was composed of grieving family members.
That evening, following a farewell talk by U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer, I had an after-dinner conversation with two gentlemen that remains the most significant lesson I learned in Israel. One was a member of the Israeli Knesset, the other a retired major general in the Israeli army. They were of opposite political parties, and I had greatly enjoyed listening to their banter over dinner. There was one issue on which they definitely did not differ, however. With the politician in animated agreement, the general said that America had allowed itself to get needlessly bogged down in Iraq. He said the important enemy of stability in the Middle East was not Iraq or Afghanistan. The real nuclear threat was the larger, more technically advanced and more fanatical country of Iran.
The Iranians are believers in their historical greatness, and it was preposterous to believe that they were developing a nuclear capability for nonmilitary purposes. He told me although the United States has been Israel’s indispensable ally, during World War II we didn’t bomb the railroads we knew were carrying Jews to death camps. In our 2005 visit he thought the Iranians were closer to the bomb than they actually were, but with directness he told me that a nuclear-armed Iran would again threaten annihilation of the Jewish people, and that his country wouldn’t wait for the U.S. to ride to the rescue. Israel would unhesitatingly attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Now, with the world’s attention concentrated on the Ukraine, Iran is ever closer to nuclear capability. Israel may be closer than ever to not letting that happen.
Bob Brown is a former Montana secretary of state and state Senate president.
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