There was a fascinating moment on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning when Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, answered a question honestly because he thought he was off the air. That was enough to cause a craven BBC (dictionary definition of craven – “cowardly”) to apologize for the fact that one its presenters had caught him off-guard. So what did he say?
He had just completed his on-air (live) contribution to the programme’s two-minute Thought for Today slot. He spoke in support of the BBC’s annual Children In Need appeal which, as he said, is focused on “the right of every child to be safe and secure and reach their own potential.” Given that Israel’s leaders have no qualms about impoverishing and killing Palestinian children, I would have been impressed if he had said “every child includes Palestinian children.” But he didn’t make any reference to them.
When the daily speaker comes to the end of his or her two-minutes, that’s it. The presenter says “Thank you” and you hear no more from the speaker. But not this morning. Evan Davis, one of this morning’s two presenters said, “Jonathan, before you go, any thoughts on what’s going on in Israel and Gaza at the moment?”
After an audible sigh, the Chief Rabbi replied, “I think it has got to do with Iran, actually.”
Co-presenter Sarah Montague was clearly alarmed that he didn’t know his remarks were still being broadcast and she whispered, “We’re live.”
The Chief Rabbi then put himself back into broadcasting mode and said the crisis demanded “a continued prayer for peace, not only in Gaza but for the whole region.”
The question his off-guard comment triggered in my mind was this: In what way could Israel’s latest war (in all but name) on the Gaza Strip be “to do with Iran”, at least in part?
There are, it seems to me, three possible answers.
One can be deduced from an IDF statement yesterday that claimed Hamas had turned the Gaza Strip into a “front line base for Iran.” That could indicate an IDF perception that this base needed to be taken out. (The idea that Israel’s current offensive was spontaneous is ludicrous. It would have taken weeks for Israel’s intelligence gathering networks to assemble all the necessary target information to enable the air force to bomb with the precision now being demonstrated. The precision is essential to limit the number of Palestinian civilians killed. That’s not because Israel’s political and military leaders care about the number of injuries and deaths they cause. The point is that they know very large numbers of the peoples of the world, not their governments, do care).
Another possible answer is that Netanyahu authorized Israel’s air and naval bombardment to demonstrate that he is a man of action as well as words (verbal threats). The point here is that having talked up the need for an attack on Iran and then being seen to be backing off because many of his own military and intelligence chiefs (past and present) effectively joined with President Obama in saying “Don’t do it”, he needed to prove that he was prepared to continue the Zionist tradition of teaching the Arabs lessons by the application of brute force. “We Israelis are still the masters.”
A third possible answer is that it is still in his mind to attack Iran at some point but he knows that before doing so he must protect Israel’s rear by putting all who would strike at Israel from within the Gaza Strip out of action.
The bigger question waiting for an answer is whether or not Greater Israel will be more or less secure when the current war (in all but name) is over. If it ends up being less secure than it was before the assassination of Hamas’s military chief, there might be some reason to hope that enough Israelis will want to say goodbye to Netanyahu and deny him another term in office.