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Israel at 71: Progress Amid War Clouds

Israel is in the midst of celebrating its 71st year as an independent modern nation-state — an event well worth celebrating — to note the end of stateless exile in which Jews were at the mercy of other nations. After more than 2,000 years of persecution, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms and the Holocaust, Jews at last had a safe haven from the scourge of anti-Semitism.

Israel marked its 71st year with festive celebrations of its amazing accomplishments, including a robust democracy that sets it apart from other nations, world-class universities, advances in science and culture, and the absorption of millions of Jews from around the world. Israel also has the strongest and best-trained military in the Middle East, which, sadly, it still needs. It exists in what  remains a very volatile neighborhood. And war clouds darken some of the anniversary festivities.

Yes, Egypt and Jordan have formal peace treaties with Israel. But Iran, along with its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, remains bent on Israel’s destruction and has supplied Hezbollah with 100,000 medium-range missiles that could hit targets throughout Israel.  

Intelligence chatter that indicated hardliners in Iran were pushing for strikes against American targets in the region prompted the United States to deploy the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to the Persian Gulf along with fighter jets and B-52 bombers.

The gunboat diplomacy is designed to deter Iran, but there is always the danger of a miscalculation, as warned by former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates on the CBS Sunday talk show “Face the Nation.”   

“Conflict between the United States and Iran would have tremendous unforeseen consequences in the Middle East,” Gates said. “And I think it would be very, very dangerous.”

Iran raised the stakes by indicating it would pull out of the nuclear arms deal from which President Donald Trump withdrew with no apparent replacement strategy in place.  On Friday, Trump rather pathetically asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to “call me” — which he has not done. Instead, he has compared pressure from new U.S. sanctions to hardships faced in the wake of the Iran-Iraq war and called for anti-American unity.

Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad terrorists have sharply stepped up the number of rockets and missiles fired at Israeli targets from Gaza. Radicals in Iran and Gaza are pushing for war against Israel.  

Thus far, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted pressure from his own hardliners to deliver a knockout blow to Hamas and take over control of the volatile Gaza Strip. But it’s unclear how long he can continue to hold out.

In 1948, when Israel proclaimed its independence, there was dancing on the streets. The very next day, the infant nation was invaded by five Arab nations. Israel, with a population of just 650,000, miraculously won its War of Independence, at a cost of 6,000 lives.

Last week, Israel celebrated its independence with festivities and justifiable pride. It also mourned the loss of thousands of its brave soldiers who have lost their lives defending the Jewish State.  

So let us join with Israel in celebration of its 71st anniversary while keeping focused on what must be done to avoid calamity in Israel’s still very dangerous neighborhood.