Commentary Magazine


Sorry, but Israelis Have Good Reason to Be Fearful

Max finds it incomprehensible that many Israelis are fearful, even unhappy, over the changes sweeping our region. So as an Israeli, let me explain.

Over the past two decades, Israelis have lived through numerous regional changes, each of which, we were confidently assured — by both our own leaders and the West — would benefit us greatly. And in every single case, the change only made things worse.

We were told that the 1993 Oslo Accords would bring us peace and international legitimacy. Instead, it brought our international position to an unprecedented low and terrorism to an unprecedented high: the first four years of the second intifada alone produced more Israeli victims of terror than the entire preceding 53 years.

We were told that withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 would eliminate Beirut’s casus belli and hence bring us peace and international legitimacy. Instead, it allowed Hezbollah to take over southern Lebanon, build an arsenal far superior to anything it had before Israel left Lebanon, and launch cross-border attacks. One of those sparked the Second Lebanon War, which caused unprecedented destruction to northern Israel, more casualties than Israel averaged in six years pre-withdrawal, and massive international condemnation — of Israel, naturally.

We were told leaving Gaza in 2005 would bring peace and international legitimacy. Instead, it brought a Hamas takeover and incessant rocket fire on southern Israel. And when Israel finally struck back, in December 2008, international condemnation hit new heights, culminating in the infamous Goldstone report.

We were told Saddam Hussein’s ouster would make Israel safer. And while I fully agree with Max that nobody could lament Saddam’s demise from a moral standpoint, from a security standpoint it’s far from clear that Israel is safer with Iran as the uncontested regional power than it was with Iran and Iraq containing each other. With Iran racing toward nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map, it’s a bit naïve to expect Israel to deem Iran’s new status as regional superpower unimportant in the broader scheme of things.

We were told Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution would benefit Israel — and indeed, most Israelis cheered as Lebanese demonstrators drove Syria from their country. Like today’s demonstrators in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere, they seemed like an Israeli dream come true: people more interested in building their own country than in destroying ours. But it took Hezbollah only a few years to seize power. And now, instead of a peaceful, democratic Lebanon on our northern border, we have an Iranian-backed terrorist state.

Yet because the signs look “pretty positive” a mere two months into the current revolutions, Max thinks Israelis shouldn’t worry that Islamists won’t ultimately succeed in pulling a Hezbollah-style takeover? When Islamists are the best-organized opposition in all these countries, and, as Bret Stephens noted, there’s a leadership vacuum among the democratic forces? And when one of the countries in play is Egypt — the one country whose shift from cold peace to war would devastate Israel’s security?

I’ve written elsewhere that Arab democracy is Israel’s only hope for long-term peace. And if the current revolutions indeed succeed in producing it, most Israelis will cheer. But our experience is that, in this region, change can always be for the worse, and usually is. Right now, nobody can promise that this particular change won’t be the same.