Six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Six million Jews live in Israel today, where the threat of another Holocaust grows greater by the day. But the world tells them to wait and trust.
As Iran grows closer to creating viable nuclear weapons, Israel has been criticized for suggesting that it might launch preemptive strikes on Iranian weapons facilities. We can't know whether such strikes would prevent the nuclear empowerment of one of the world's most dangerous countries. But we need to understand why the Israelis might take this step, and why we should hope they succeed if they do.
"Never again": This was the vow that Jews have been determined to uphold since the Holocaust. A centuries-old culture of bookish passivity -- of meekness, of not making waves -- was murdered by the Nazis along with the six million. In 1948, when the nation of Israel rose from the ashes of the European slaughter, it did so with a new understanding of self-defense as a matter of life and death.
The medieval theocrats who run Iran do not see the Nazi legacy the same way. In 2006, Tehran hosted a conference for Holocaust revisionists and deniers; Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently referred to the Nazi genocide as a "big lie." But Ahmadinejad seems determined to make Jewish extermination a reality in our time, openly calling for the "eradication" of Jewish Israelis. "The Zionist regime is a center of microbes, a cancer cell," he said last summer. "If it exists in one iota of Palestine it will mobilize again and hurt everyone." These sentiments were echoed in February by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called Israel a "cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut."
It is impossible not to hear echoes of Hitler's Final Solution in such threats. After Auschwitz, the Jews cannot afford not to take them seriously. It cannot gamble with its very existence.
Yet the world expects Israel to hold its fire as Iran build nuclear warheads -- the most aggressive potential radiation treatment for the Zionist "cancer" that any anti-Semite could wish for. Huge destructive power in the hands of retrograde religious zealots: The danger of decimation is clear and present. But instead of bombing Iran, the editorialists say, Israel should wait for the international community to intervene through diplomacy and sanctions.
The problem with this is twofold. First, we do not know how far Iran is from reaching its goals, and the window for action may be closing. And second: If there is anything the Jews have learned, it is that the international community cannot be trusted to protect them. The Holocaust, after all, happened just 70 years ago; Germany, until that time, had been one of the most hospitable places for Jews in the world
Europe has not been a reliable friend since then, either. In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israel faced the most serious threat in its history as Arab armies -- led by Egypt and Syria -- massed at its borders to invade on the holiest day of the Jewish year. The United States insisted that Israel not launch a preemptive strike, promising to send weapons and supplies if Israel was invaded. But when the Arab armies attacked, America's rescue mission was nearly choked off when its European allies -- worried by the threat of an oil embargo -- refused to let American planes land to refuel in their countries, or even fly through their airspace.
Thousands of Israeli men and women were killed in the Yom Kippur War, and Israel has not forgotten Europe's betrayal. It has every right to be skeptical about Europe's commitment to its safety. And the irony is that Israel often ends up doing the Western world's dirty work in taking bold action against rogue states. In 1981, when Israel bombed a nuclear reactor near Baghdad, it was condemned around the world -- but many analysts later credited the action for crippling Saddam Hussein's nuclear aspirations. In 2007, Israel again overstepped its boundaries by destroying a nuclear reactor in Syria. Does anyone today think the world would be safer if Bashar al-Assad had the Bomb?
In the end, this is not just a question of Israeli national security or even of Israeli survival. It is part of a larger struggle between world ideologies. For more than three decades, Iran has been ruled by radical fundamentalists bent on exporting their backward version of Islam; by funding and arming of terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, it has become a leader in the worldwide movement to reject "decadent" Western values in favor of systematic misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and religious bigotry. To use just one standard of measurement: Israel is a country that prohibits anti-gay discrimination, permits gay adoption and military service, and honors gay marriages; in Iran, same-sex relations are punishable by corporal punishment, imprisonment or death.
A nuclear Iran would change the balance of power in the Middle East and the world in potentially devastating ways. Whether Israel should proceed with a strike is a complicated question that Israel's leaders will have to decide for themselves. It is their decision to make -- not Iran's, not Europe's and not America's -- because it is their blood on the line. The Jews have trusted the world to defend them in the past, and they have been betrayed. They must never make that mistake again. Never again.