On September 27, 2012, Prime Minister
Bibi Netanyahu of Israel delivered a speech to the United Nations. That speech
is well worth reading, if someone is interested in world events and, in
particular, a discussion of why it is a matter of life and death whether Iran
is able to develop nuclear bombs. For Israel, it is an existential matter,
since Iran's leaders have regularly threatened to destroy Israel. The president
of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has on a number of occasions denied there is any
connection between the Jewish people and the land he refers to as Palestine.
And he is a Holocaust denier as well.
Jerusalem was the capital of the
kingdom ruled by King David in approximately 1010 to 970 B.C.E. and later by
his son, King Solomon in approximately 967 B.C.E. It is in the location of the
Temple Mount where Solomon built the First Temple and where a later King,
Herod, built the Second Temple and where the Western Wall, the remnant of one
of the retaining walls to the Temple Mount stands today. To this sacred wall
Jews and others come to pray every day. For 19 years from 1948 to 1967 when the
Kingdom of Jordan ruled the old city of Jerusalem, that Muslim state refused to
allow Jews entry into the old city to pray at the Western Wall, expelled all
Jews living in the old city, destroyed much of its Jewish Quarter, including
its synagogues, and desecrated an ancient Jewish cemetery on the nearby Mount
of Olives. In 1967, the State of Israel repelled an invasion by Egypt, Syria
and Jordan, and was able to wrest control of its ancient capital from Jordan.
In contrast to Jordan's actions while it controlled the old city of Jerusalem,
Israel has worked hard to safeguard the holy places in Jerusalem's old city so
that Muslims, Christians and Jews may worship freely. Israel has protected the
two mosques that had been built over the centuries since the destruction of the
Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, and has allowed the Muslims access to the
mosques and given a Muslim organization, the Islamic WAQF, responsibility for
the care and upkeep of those mosques.
The Muslim tradition in many
countries has been one of triumphalism — after a war, taking a church and
converting it to a mosque, the most famous example being the cathedral Sancta
Sophia in Istanbul, capital of Turkey, now known as Hagia Sophia.
It would have been doable, but
unthinkable, to change the two mosques on the Temple Mount to synagogues or
build a Third Temple on the hallowed ground where the Temples once stood and
where now the Al-Aqsa mosque exists, and the Al-Askari mosque with its golden
dome. The Islamists have an enormous desire to destroy the heritage of other
religions. We saw what the Taliban did in Afghanistan when in 2001 they blew up
the two ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan carved out of a mountain, shocking the
Prime Minister Netanyahu in his
speech said, "They [radical Islamists] seek supremacy over all Muslims.
They are bent on world conquest. They want to destroy Israel, Europe, America.
They want to extinguish freedom. They want to end the modern world."
Their goal is the destruction of
Western civilization which they both envy and hate. They envy our economic
success and our belief that life in the West with its personal freedoms are far
better than Islamist Sharia and terror. They also hate us because in their own
countries, so many Muslims seek a more Western lifestyle, including political
freedom which, if achieved, would end the enormous power of the mullahs,
ayatollahs and other religious leaders who view us as infidels to be murdered
if we do not recognize the supremacy of Islam.
Islamic fundamentalists have no
compunction about killing other Muslims they view as heretical. Thus, we are
witness to regular bloodletting between and among Sunni, Shia and Alawites. The
relationship between the Sunni state of Saudi Arabia and the Shia state of Iran
is such that the king of Saudi Arabia urged the U.S. to cut off the head of the
snake, referring to Iran. Syrian families seeking to cross into Iraq, largely
Shia, to save themselves from the bloodbath in Syria [where 30,000, primarily
civilians, have already been killed in the ongoing civil war] are stopped at
the border, according to The New York Times, with Sunni men prohibited from
accompanying their families into Iraq.
Can you imagine what the Islamist
fanatics, were they able to defeat Israel in battle, would do to Jews on the
streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, if they had the power to impose their will?
Most of us, I believe, are surprised to learn of the physical size of Iran,
bigger than France and Germany put together. Prime Minister Netanyahu in his
speech at the U.N. quoted one of the perceived moderate former leaders of Iran
who said, "[t]he use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy
everything, however, it would only harm the Islamic world." That
individual added, "It is not irrational to contemplate such an
Yes, major nations in the world led
by President Obama and the U.S. have engaged in a series of economic sanctions
against Iran to secure its agreement to stop its development of the nuclear
bomb. Fanatics are not deterred by economic hardship. Those sanctions are seen
as a badge of courage and thus far have not achieved their goals.
So, what to do? I agree with Prime
Minister Netanyahu that red lines should be drawn and announced by the U.S.
that if violated by Iran, would automatically elicit a U.S. military response.
The military response should not include the sending of boots on the ground,
but rather the use of ballistic missiles, drones, planes, our Navy and special
forces where appropriate. In addition, I urge President Obama to make the kind
of statement issued by Jack Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. He should
warn Iran that a nuclear attack upon Israel would be deemed an attack upon the
U.S. and that we would respond with military force immediately. I urge Mitt
Romney to state he would support President Obama doing that.
Prime Minister Netanyahu referred in
his U.N. speech to those who would allow Iran to develop and possess nuclear
bombs. One of those is Bill Keller, former executive editor of The New York
Times, who in a September 9th op-ed said: "At the end of this theoretical
exercise [options], we have two awful choices with unpredictable consequences.
After immersing myself in the expert thinking on both sides, I think that,
forced to choose, I would swallow hard and take the risks of a nuclear Iran
over the gamble of a pre-emptive war. My view may be colored by a bit of
Allowing Iran to possess the nuclear
bomb would allow it to use it against Israel to virtually extinguish that small
country, which is about the size of New Jersey. A nuclear Iran could equip its
surrogates, Hamas and Hezbollah, with nuclear weapons. Iran could also use a nuclear
arsenal to terrorize the Middle East and the rest of the world. That, in turn,
will likely set off a nuclear arms race first and foremost in an already highly
unstable Middle East. This could have disastrous consequences for all of us.
You can be sure Israel will not go
gently into the night but will take all measures available to prevent a
nuclear-armed Iran. Israel will not allow itself to become Czechoslovakia of
1938 because other nations declined their responsibility to prevent an
I will be participating in a program
entitled "Park Views: Writers on Their Love Affair with Central Park"
at the 92nd Street Y-Tribeca (200 Hudson Street) in Manhattan on Wednesday,
10/3, at noon. For more information, you can visit www.92y.org/Tribeca/Event/Park-Views.aspx
The Honorable Edward
Irving Koch served as a member of Congress from New York State from 1969
through 1977, and New York City as its 105thMayor from 1978 to 1989.