How Israelis Stopped Worrying About Iran's Bomb

Here in Israel, we aren't as scared of a nuclear Iran as people might think.

It has very recently come to my attention that many people, especially outside of Israel, are extremely worried that there might be a war. A real war, because Iran might build a nuclear bomb, or wants to, or is trying to, or must be prevented from, or they just might be crazy enough to use it, or have missiles that can reach Israel, or they'll give a "dirty bomb" to Hezbollah, or they'll threaten to use it, bully Saudi Arabia, or provide our enemies a "nuclear umbrella" or raincoat or parka or something like that.

The worry is big out there. A friend of mine was recently forced to field an offer from his mother to come to Israel and fly the children out of harm's way in the event of war. Then, after some aspect of her worry was communicated to the children, he was forced to answer the far more difficult question from his eight-year-old: “Abba (Dad), what happens if there's a war and we all die?”

Motti Milrod

This worry has expanded to such an extent that my usually gruff and uncommunicative father saw fit to forward me an article about a family friend who is directly involved in an international financial organization cutting off Iran from its essential relationship to the financial world, in the hope of forestalling war. Then he saw fit to call me and ask about the article!

The odd thing is: we're not worried here in Israel, not like that. My friend isn't scared of dying, nor is he mounting up all his resources to pressure the world to stop Iran. My community is struggling with mundane and parochial issues, some familiar to anywhere else, some unique to here - a pedophilia scandal, gentrification, income inequality, taxes, gender segregated buses, modesty standards. Unemployment is at an all-time low. We're celebrating the abundance of the rainiest winter in many years as it pours through our roofs. It's impossible to communicate to an outsider the visceral gratitude Israelis feel for the green outbursts of fecundity of a bountiful rainy season, whether it stems from the Zionist pioneer mentality, or from the ancient religious traditions of prayer for rain, or both.

I do worry—about the creeping delegitimization of Israel, the Orwellian decline in language and morality in the West, in academia and media and various world bodies. I observe with horrified fascination the bizarre spectacle of the United Nations gradually impaling itself and its pretense of morality, legitimacy or relevance on the one nation-state that the UN itself created. And yet, I'm not worried about Iran.

I don't mean to minimize the reality of the danger. I fancy myself to be relatively well informed. I'm a historian, I read a lot, I have friends and family in government or security studies here and in the U.S. I have no illusions that we can "live with" a nuclear Iran, even if it's 98% certain that the mullahs "didn't really mean it" when they speculated on the feasibility of sacrificing 20 million Muslim lives in order to destroy Israel.

And so it is finally sinking in, the sheer difference. The universe really does look different from here.

Maybe it's because Israelis have a peculiar faith in our own survival skills. That through the determination of our plausibly deniable secret agent assassins, the unparalleled skill of our air force, or divine intervention against a genocidal Persian potentate, we'll prevail.

We might have hoped that the Shia theocracy's insane anti-Semitism extended to abhorring the "Jewish science" of nuclear physics. More's the pity. And it may be too late to hope for Heisenberg's real principle - that no nuclear scientist would empower genocidal-minded leaders to have the bomb.

But in the end, I think that this incongruous calm shows that collective Israel has become almost Taoist. As the I Ching says, sometimes there is no right answer. Then, one should simply wait - however excruciating that may be - till a way out presents itself. In certain situations trying to change anything, to force a solution, is premature, and thus, almost guaranteed to make things worse. I think that has become the de facto attitude about the Gordian Knot of our relationship with the Palestinians as well: that no matter how much we might wish to "solve" the situation, it's simply not possible yet, however it looks from the outside.

So we're remarkably less worried than you might think, and we wish you would either chill out and stop talking about our demise or dismemberment - especially if you're an Iranian theocrat - or help in constructive and not backseat-driver ways. Maybe it is the end of the world as we know it - but we feel fine.


Matthew Mausner is the founder of the New Jerusalem Talmud project. He is a Yale and Bar Ilan- trained historian who lives and learns at Yeshivat Sulam Yaakov in Nachlaot in Jerusalem.