In Israel, the Iran Threat Hits Home

In Israel, the Iran Threat Hits Home

MOSHAV HANIEL, Israel -- On a Friday night in Israel, somewhere along the portion of the country that measures just eight miles across between the West Bank and the sea, an Israeli family gathered to celebrate. In a home a few hundred yards from the Palestinian town of Tulkarm -- from where many suicide bombers have made their way into the heart of Israel -- three generations sat under the stars, toasting a 12-year-old girl's coming of age, her Bat Mitzvah. As the girl's relatives reminisced of her transformation into a sweet, wise teenager, one of her aunts leaned into my ear and told me, "The next war they will drop a nuclear bomb in Israel."

I have traveled in the Middle East for decades and have always found Israelis living full lives, with a thriving cultural scene, ebullient political discourse, and an almost compulsive need to enjoy themselves. Still, I always sensed in them a state of low-grade national anxiety, perhaps unavoidable considering the daily headlines in a country whose enemies perennially vow to destroy it. And yet, something is different this time. The threat of doomsday feels more palpable. I have heard it from highly educated, jaded Israelis, one of whom casually said during lunch, "This country won't be here twenty years from now," from conservatives and liberals, from the left and from the right.

The source of Israel's national middle-of-the-night cold sweat, of course, is Iran and its nuclear program. While the rest of the world sees Iran and its revolutionary regime's nuclear ambitions as a political, diplomatic even an academic problem, Israelis of all stripes sense the bull's eye on their backs. In the United States and Europe many dismiss the crisis, viewing it through today's political lens, as one perhaps manufactured by a George Bush they don't trust. Israelis, however, know from experience that when a nation's leader says they should be destroyed, his words cannot be ignored. Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," dreams of a "world without Israel," just as a man named Adolph dreamed of a world without Jews. Here, Ahmadinejad's words have a 1930s German accent.

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