Dangerous Safe Haven

Israel needs to ensure its long-term survival, even if it means risking the lives of Jews elsewhere.

Let us entertain the purely theoretical hypothesis that despite its denials, Israel is behind the killing of Hezbollah's chief operations officer, Imad Mughniyah.

In that case, one would presume that some of the highest ranking decision-makers held a meeting - if not a series of meetings - to discuss the implications of the assassination.

Did anyone think twice when the forum finished discussing the near-certainty that Hezbollah would avenge the death by striking Jewish targets abroad rather than inside Israel? Was the advent of a murderous attack on Diaspora Jews part of the considerations that guided the Israeli leadership in deciding to okay the hit? Should it have been part of those considerations?

Like it or not, Jews all over the world are automatically identified with the State of Israel. The attack on the building of the Jewish community in Buenos Aires in 1994 and the bombings in synagogues in Istanbul over the past couple of years have proven that the Diaspora is Israel's soft underbelly.

The level of security in Jewish communities around the world varies. In countries like Turkey, which has experienced a recent terrorist surge, and Germany, with its unique and historic trauma, entering a synagogue or a Jewish school is like entering a submarine.

In such places, the Jewish community's structures are situated inside fortified military compounds, guarded by a significant police presence. In other countries, like the United States, for example, security is lax to nonexistent. In any case, potential targets are not in short supply.

From a security perspective, Israel's ability to provide security to Jews around the world is limited. After all, they reside in sovereign countries as the subjects of governments whose job it is to provide security for their citizens.

This, therefore, presents a very difficult dilemma. Israel was founded, first and foremost, to be a safe haven for all Jews. In that respect, actions that are meant to contribute to Israel's security should in fact contribute to the security of Jews living outside Israel. Except those Jews are at once exposed to grave physical danger in the form of reprisals for Israel's said actions.

The explosion in the AMIA building in Buenos Aires killed more Jews than all the anti-Semitic incidents around the world that have since occurred. Shouldn't these figures bind the prime minister to consider them before okaying the next hit? Shouldn't our moral debt to our brethren in the Diaspora - who helped with their money and efforts to augment Israel's military and political strength - be part of our scheme of considerations? Or have we covered these debts by forming a safe haven for all Jews?

Despite their better interest, world Jewry is a part of Israel's ongoing war against Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. But it's difficult to see how Israel can take their concerns into account each time it plans to inflict a significant blow on one of these organizations.

This is not about ineptitude on the part of government bodies. Expanding and upgrading the authority enjoyed by bodies handling the connection with the Diaspora Jews would not alter the fatal equation.

Israel needs to ensure its long-term survival, even if it means risking the lives of Jews elsewhere. This system of considerations, which this article oversimplifies to some degree, can be presented in more concrete terms. It can be focused around a single fateful decision which would have immediate repercussions for Jews living in the Diaspora.

The 25,000 Jews living in Iran are direct hostages vis-a-vis any decision Israel and the U.S. make about the Iranian nuclear issue. One can assume that in case Iran is attacked, the Iranian regime would retaliate by striking Jewish targets abroad.

How important a factor is the fate of the Jews of Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz when considering whether to strike or not? Iranian Jews are not held captive today. They are able to emigrate. The main impediment is financial, since they would have to leave most of their assets behind.

Only several hundred took the opportunity and left Iran in 2007. Those who stayed are aware of the risks to the survival of this age-old community, but they opt to remain.

One could argue, it appears, that Israel is directly responsible for their fate in the same way it is responsible for the fate of other Jews in the Diaspora: Their security needs to be a component in the risk-assessment process, when these risks are weighed against the potential gains.

But it cannot be the supreme consideration, when measured against a clear Israeli security interest.