The Suspense Over Iran Is (Not Yet) Killing Me

During years of ongoing tension between the USSR and the West, people were pretty resilient but leaders went berserk. Why does that ring a bell?

For quite some time I've been following the same routine each morning. I wake up, switch on the laptop, go online and check if all is still quiet on the eastern front. To reassure myself, I also tune in to the morning news on TV, and to be completely on the safe side, I peek outside through the shutters. Only then - at least until this writing - do I conclude that we have not bombed Iran during the night, or if we have, that they have not retaliated yet.

So I get up, somewhat relieved. But by the time I've finished brushing my teeth, it dawns on me that the bombing or retaliation - whichever comes first - may yet happen during the day that started so promisingly, or maybe the following night. And so on and so forth, ad nauseam.

Living with constant nausea can be a bit, well, sickening, so I try to calm myself down. First of all, I remind myself that Ecclesiastes said: "That which hath been is that which shall be, and that which hath been done is that which shall be done; and there is nothing new under the sun" (1:9 ). But after recalling this, my uneasy brain also recalls the first account in book form (in German in 1956, in English in 1958 ) of both the Manhattan Project and Germany's nuclear effort, written by the Austrian Robert Jungk and entitled "Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists" - and my mind is aquiver again.

Relax, I say to myself. People just like you, all over the world, East and West, survived and remained of sound mind through all the years of the Cold War, with its constant threats of planes with A- and H-bombs flying in one direction and crossing the path of missiles carrying nuclear warheads in the other.

I was a child growing up in Poland back then, in the 1950s, and I remember a ditty written and sung then by young, Soviet-hating, sardonic and desperate Poles - saying: "Truman, Truman, drop that bomb, life here anyway is like in a tomb." They say a sense of humor can help you get through tough times.

Anyway, indeed, we Jews are supposed to excel in gallows' humor.

Recollection of the Cold War years evokes several other memories. For instance, during a plenary session of the UN General Assembly in October 1960, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev furiously banged (or brandished ) a shoe (or loafer; there is no photographic evidence and much conflicting evidence ) on his desk when the USSR was criticized by a delegate. Ah, the good old days of the Cold War. The people who lived back then were pretty resilient, it seems to me, while the leaders were going berserk. Why does that ring a bell?

But why go back that far in time, to seek solace in the world's geopolitical arena? I remember seeing a short play entitled "Citizen Neuman" just nine years ago, here in Israel, written by Ofer Knispel. The details of the plot are immaterial (it has to do with a sick president, a concerned citizen, and various political and cloak-and-dagger intrigues ), but it got more and more twisted and tangled with every passing minute. When it got to the point where it seemed impossible to follow or unravel the events, the lead actor (Moshe Ferster, who is today, rather ironically, one of the participants in the "Survival" reality TV show ) came downstage and told the audience: "You remember that at the beginning we told you that the Iranians are going to have a nuclear bomb in three years? Well, their schedule has been pushed up. They have one already. That is, they had one. They have dropped it already ..." A visual of a nuclear mushroom cloud was then projected on a screen and was followed by a blackout.

Which just goes to show that we have been living with the Iranian nuke as our nightmare-not-of-choice for some time now. The thing is, recently it has begun to seem less like a night (mare ) and more like a morning after. Not a day goes by without one of our leaders saying that we have to do something, or else. For instance, one "decision maker," who was "wearing light summer clothes and black sandals ... [and had ] a black grand piano behind him" (I wonder who that might have been ), told Haaretz's Ari Shavit that "the sword hanging over our neck today is a lot sharper than the sword that hung over our neck before the Six-Day War" ("A grave warning on Iran from 'the decision maker'"; August 10 ).

I'm confused now. Hasn't Prime Minister Netanyahu said - again and again - that Iran striving to go nuclear is like 1938 or 1939 happening all over again?

While there are voices here who say Israel should not bomb Iran, there are also those who say Israel should, can and will. I'm just a concerned citizen who feels a measure of anxiety. I read in some self-help manual that occupying oneself with details and practicalities helps alleviate anxieties. So, I've started calculating my chances of survival, in case Israel does what its leaders feel it should do and Tehran responds in kind. About a year ago Defense Minister Ehud Barak downplayed the threat of a war with Iran, saying that predictions of thousands or tens of thousands of dead civilians were "hysterical" and groundless. His estimate was that in a war against Iran, "far fewer than 500 [Israeli civilians] would die." On August 2 in these pages, Amos Harel wrote a piece entitled "Defense Ministry experts predict 300 Israeli fatalities in war with Iran, Syria."

I've checked with an expert statistician and it looks like my chances of becoming a casualty in the looming war have indeed diminished. What worries me now is the doubt over whether the Iranian missile en route to Tel Aviv will be aware of that statistical fact in time and smart enough not to seek me out, because anyway its chances of hitting a bull's eye are close to nil.

As you can see, the whole discourse of "should we" or "shouldn't we" and "would they" or "could they" makes me rather tense. But for fear of tempting fate, I would have written that the suspense is killing me.

It all reminds of the story about the guy who made a habit of returning home late at night, drunk and singing at the top of his voice. Upon entering his apartment, he'd climb up to the top level of his bunk bed and would drop his workman's shoes on the floor, with a heavy thud, one after the other. One day a neighbor in the building stopped him on his way out, and said the other tenants didn't mind the singing, but would appreciate him giving up the bit with the shoes. Our guy promised to mend his ways, and that night, upon returning under the influence as usual, he dropped one shoe, but its thud sobered him up a bit. He put the other under his pillow and drifted off to sleep. Fifteen minutes later he was awakened with a banging on the wall and a male voice screaming "Will you drop the other shoe already!"

That gives you an inkling about the way I feel these days. Unless, of course, all this talk about Israel bombing in Iran is just one big subterfuge, or a "spin," as they call it here: a way of countering the menace of WMDe (weapons of mass destruction ) with some sort of WMDi (weapons of mass distraction ). But we'll be able to say for sure that it was not spin only when our planes are on their way back - possibly with enemy missiles in hot pursuit. In that case, I'd rather not know if it was a spin or not. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

These words were written yesterday. In the event that Israel bombed Iran last night, you most probably are not reading them.

"We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when."