What are the motives driving calls for Israel to ‘take the win’ against Iran?

David BercusonOn Sunday night, April 14, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Iran fired some 300 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and suicide drones at Israel. Israel’s own air defences, combined with help from the United States, Britain, France, Jordan and Saudi Arabia destroyed almost every one. A little girl in the Negev desert in southern Israel was badly hurt from falling shrapnel, but that was the extent of the casualties.

In the wake of the attack, the U.S., the Secretary General of the United Nations, and other leaders strongly urged Israel not to hit back at Iran. The obvious precedent was during the 1991 Gulf War when a coalition of nations led by the U.S. attacked Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, who decided to fire some 40 rockets at Israel in an obvious effort to draw Israel into the conflict so as to make matters very uncomfortable for the Arab states who joined the anti-Saddam coalition.

Israel did not respond.

Today, most of the Arab states that might have quit the coalition 33 years ago now have relations with Israel.

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So, what is the main reason why Israel is being urged not to retaliate? One is certainly to avoid ramping up the conflict with Iran – possibly leading to a full-scale war and maybe even drawing in Russia and the U.S.

But there is a major problem here. For the first time in history, the rabidly anti-Israeli Mullahs who run the Islamic Republic attacked Israel directly. Looking at it from another point of view, it was as if Canada or Mexico had unleashed more than 11,000 weapons on the U.S. Can anyone imagine the U.S. not hitting back?

Silly to even contemplate. The same goes for France, Britain, Russia, or any nation.

Why, then, is Israel being urged to ‘take the win’ as some have put it (the win that their air defences pulled off an astonishing feat with help from other nations)?

Israel, whatever else it is, is a state that, at bottom, exists to protect Jews, a people who have been ravaged by rape, murder, and genocide for over 2,000 years. To not hit back is to show the kind of weakness that in the past has led to expulsion, oppression, and even the slaughter of millions of Jews.

Israel was founded to reverse that history.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure these issues out. So what reason can there be to tell Israel to “take one for the team”?

Is the root of the matter antisemitism? This is hard to believe when it comes to Western capitals. In cases such as the madly anti-Jewish state of Malaysia, that is undoubtedly true. But the U.S.? With a strongly pro-Israel congress and a President who gave his ironclad guarantee to help Israel fend off the Iranian attack? Not true. And it’s not true for either Britain or France.

The explanation lies in a simple but universal principle: large and powerful nations live by their own rules, and everybody else is expected to live by the rules that the large nations lay down. Some people decry the breaking of the “rules-based international order” supposedly laid down after the end of the Second World War. But in reality, there is no such set of rules.

Israel may be a very powerful nation for its size, but it is still a country of less than 10 million people: three million more than Denmark. The fact that Israel has had to become a mini-superpower to cope with 75 years of hostilities does not take away from the fact that, in the pantheon of nations, it is a very small player. And small players are not supposed to upset the apple cart.

Russia’s killed tens of thousands of Ukrainians. Who is stopping it? Every major empire killed and despoiled peoples and nations in their vast imperialism of another day. The U.S. fighting wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan killed hundreds of thousands of innocents – all “collateral damage” – but the U.S. still remains a “beacon of liberty” for much of the world.

So, chalk it up to the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of international relations and let’s not pretend to be offended by that notion. Every nation looks out for its own interests. And, as a small player ourselves, it is in our best interest as Canadians to learn from Israel’s experience.

Professor David Bercuson is a Senior Fellow at the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy and Director Emeritus of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

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