Special to WorldTribune.com
By Ed Koch
On Sept. 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 BC and later by his son, King Solomon in approximately 967 BC 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 world.
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 eventuality.”
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 Sept. 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 post-Iraq syndrome.”
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 Hizbullah, 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 avoidable catastrophe.
Edward I. Koch, who served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, is a partner in the law firm of Bryan Cave.