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We’ve Managed With Missiles, but Did Someone Say Sanctions?

yossi klein
Yossi Klein
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People walk past a currency exchange office in central Moscow on Monday.
People walk past a currency exchange office in central Moscow on Monday.Credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV - AFP
yossi klein
Yossi Klein

At the beginning of this week, TV studio pundits were wondering where the decisive iron fist was. Where were the missiles landing on Moscow? Commentators were blue in the face with anger and the government was terrified into silence. TV panels were furious and the internet was abuzz. Analysts scorned American pussyfooting, mocking their flaccidity. Everyone agreed that sanctions cannot replace planes and missiles. Long-retired generals drew maps and moved divisions to show what they’d do if anyone asked them.

They viewed the Americans as inferior, showing pity for their exhausted president, bemoaning the loss of deterrence, asking where were the determination and show of power. They wanted to see missiles flying, not to listen to explanations about the SWIFT payments system. It would be nice, they may have been thinking, if the Americans were to send a few soldiers to die in defense of democracy, showing that they weren’t remaining on the sidelines.

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Sanctions definitely don’t sound like they fit the bill. Analysts heard the word “sanctions” and went apoplectic. Their aging bones groaned in protest. They wanted to see blood, action, a knockout broadcast live. They didn’t want to listen to tiresome talk about blocking bank accounts. Sanctions, for them, evoked one big yawn. One could understand them. Sanctions mean paperwork by clerks, not tanks and combatants advancing.

We’ve been educated to believe in power, not in diagrams. Arabs understand only force, that was our mantra. The concept of “negotiations” was not part of our lexicon. The mention of “peace talks” gives us a rash. We continue to persuade ourselves that “there is no one to talk to and nothing to talk about.” The preposterous demand to increase billions to the defense budget since “the global order has been undermined” was received with understanding.

The myth that only force works was born with the victory of 1967. We’ve been eating the toxic fruit of that victory to this day. Gaza? Annihilate it. Tehran? Bomb it. We’ve been smitten with gross amnesia. We’ve forgotten our dependence on the United States, the billions we’ve received and still get from them, and we’ve forgotten that we’re the neighborhood bully, not the global one. We’ve forgotten that we can bomb in Syria only if Putin agrees, and in Iran only if Biden consents. This is a classic case of unfounded megalomania.

We’ve invented a baseless reality. We’ve played at being independent, at being hard to get. We’ve forgotten that it wasn’t only the IDF that saved us in 1973 but also an American airlift. We can talk at length about the IDF’s power, but we know it’s limited to our deranged neighborhood. We’ve flexed our muscles and declared that we trust them, but quietly, in a muted voice and with downcast eyes, we took America to one side and asked: So tell us, when we’re attacked, will you help us or will you stand on the sidelines?

Standing on the sidelines drove internet users crazy. We wanted to believe that the U.S. wouldn’t step aside when we needed it. The test for us was Ukraine. The U.S. failed the test. It didn’t send its soldiers there, and it won’t send them here either. Recognizing that American soldiers will not do the job for us and that we won’t manage to do it on our own will force us to search for other tools needed for our survival. This week we learned, with Putin, that missiles are not all there is.

Instead of missiles they opted for sanctions. Facing our TVs, we ask what this war has to do with us, how are we connected to sanctions? But then you see the Ukrainian refugees who, in a very disconcerting way, resemble us. Chilling thoughts of what could happen appear in our imagination. We’ve managed with missiles, but sanctions? (Cold sweat dripping down our bodies.) Why? The possibility that the world will suddenly go mad and impose sanctions on any occupying country is something we shake off, as if it were only a nightmare.

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