There are similarities between the United States decision to position anti-missile missiles in Eastern Europe, and the concerns of Israelis about threats from north, south, and elsewhere.
An article in Economist ponders the wisdom of provoking the Russians with defensive missiles when there is no assurance that they will work. http://www.economist.com/world/europe/displayStory.cfm?story_id=11990200&source=features_box_main
The technical elements of the dispute are beyond us simpletons. We can read about advocates and skeptics, each claiming professional expertise, and do little more than wonder about their motives and certainties.
Likewise among Israelis who point to threats from Hamas, Hizbollah, al-Qaeda, as well as ordinary Arabs not affiliated with any organization who seize a knife or bulldozer and set forth to kill Jews.
Just this week the media highlighted a warning from a government organization concerned with combating terror. It said that Hizbollah is well advanced in plans to seize Israelis traveling abroad, but it could not identify the locations where the kidnapping might take place. It named several broadly defined areas, such as West Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and parts of Turkey, but did not rule out danger in the rest of the world.
What to do? Stay home? Perhaps under the bed and hope for the best? Should we tell recent graduates of the IDF to cancel their overseas hike? Or assume that the odds are with them, and that they are likely to be more cautious and capable than the average tourists.
How much to invest in protecting ourselves against possible harm? According to the Economist, the United States has spent $110 billion on missile defenses since Ronald Reagan launched "Star Wars" 25 years ago. The system designed for Eastern Europe is likely to cost another $10 billion per year. Israel has its own advocates of missile defense. There are competing systems claiming to defend against the kind of missiles launched from Lebanon in 2006 or those made in the workshops of Gaza and launched against nearby settlements. Skeptics note that the Israeli inventions are yet to be tested against a real attack, and are likely to cost hundred of thousands of dollars per shot against missiles that range in price from $50 to $100.
Both the United States and Israel can threaten unsustainable damage if attacked. Is that not enough, as against all the money spent on technically sophisticated defenses that might not work, or can be overwhelmed by lots of cheaper weapons?
Must the residents of Sderot remain frightened of a missile falling near them? How many soldiers should Israel be prepared to sacrifice in an invasion of Gaza that might lessen the threat of those missiles? Or how many Palestinian civilians should Israel be prepared to kill in air attacks that could bring international sanctions for violations of international law?
The threats against the United States and Israel are only potential. Both countries are enjoying a period of relative calm. Should the United States provoke adversaries by agreeing to position missiles of doubtful effectiveness in Eastern Europe? Should Israel make a pre-emptive strike against Hizbollah missiles in Lebanon that have not been used, or an even more daring raid against Iranian nuclear facilities?
Both Americans and Israelis hear frequent tales of impending doom and the proposals of politicians, soldiers, scientists, and engineers who are certain of efforts that should be made to counter the threats.
It is tempting to wait for the dangers to be more immediate, and look elsewhere for less awesome reports. Perhaps something about a politician's sexual adventures or financial scam. Yet when an Israeli looks elsewhere, the story might feature the possibility of Judaism disappearing through emigration from Israel and assimilation in the Diaspora. Americans could find yet another report about a newly diagnosed medical syndrome that demands treatment.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325