Israel’s Existential Threat

All nations have cause for pause as rogue Iran reaches ever closer toward the capability to produce and deliver a nuclear device. No nation has more reason for concern than Israel. This country has more to worry about because of Iran’s expressed hostility to the Jewish state and proximity to Iran. Of greatest significance, the compactness of Israeli geography means that the detonation of even a single device could not only inflict great casualties, but threaten the very existence of the nation.

Israel has been here before. There are at least two prior events that threatened the very existence of the Jewish state. In one case, the Israelis of the time successfully fended off the aggressor. In the other, the result was total loss with the resulting disappearance of a Jewish homeland for nearly two millennia. The reasons for success in one case and failure in the other are instructive.

In 701 BC, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Palestine and laid siege to the capitol city ofJerusalem. Recognizing the threat, King Hezekiah of Judah diverted the springs of the city’s water source by means of a massive underground tunnel (pictured above) to contain the vital water source within the city’s walls and away from the Assyrian enemy. Despite the taunts of the Assyrians outside the walls intended to intimidate those inside the city, the Israelis held firm.

With the help of a prophet named Isaiah, the Jewish king prayed to God for deliverance. In this case, divine intervention results in the mysterious overnight death of the 185,000 strong Assyrian military force. Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah were spared for another century.

A different fate befell Jerusalem and the Jewish state in the first century AD. This time the city and nation were no longer in God’s favor. A new rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, forecast the destruction of the holy temple and city about four decades before the actual event. Three decades later (in 62 AD), James the brother of Jesus, known as the “Bulwark of the People,” was killed as the result of an illegally convened meeting of the Jewish ruling body known as the Sanhedrin.

The controversial Jewish historian Josephus records that this execution was protested to the new Roman procurator by some of the “more equitable of the citizens.” As a result, the offending high priest was removed from office. But the death of James would set in motion a series of events leading to Jewish insurrection and the subsequent Roman destruction of Jerusalem 8 years later in 70 AD.

Unlike nearly 800 years earlier, when Jewish resistance held firm and united against the besieging enemy, dissension within the walls contributed to the eventual collapse of the city and resulting leveling of the temple and city by the angered Roman legions. The resistance in the city essentially split between three factions including rural Zealots and urban Sicarii terrorists.

And others including the long-time Jewish leadership became expendable. Josephus records that these factions also set fire to each other’s corn supplies and other provisions creating famine and starvation “as if they had, on purpose, done it to serve the Romans, by destroying what the city had laid up against the siege, and by thus cutting off the nerves of their own power.”

What are we to learn from this? If there is a God, it is that Israel’s survival has and will continue to rest on human preparedness combined with divine providence. When Israelis prepare and God is supportive, the nation survives. Conversely, when the people are in disarray and God looks away, the results are grim. Survival is by no means assured.

As in times past, Israel’s continued existence depends on human will to survive together with divine favor.

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3 responses to “Israel’s Existential Threat

  1. History does not always repeat. Israel may have gone it alone before but this time doesn’t really have that option. If Israel takes pre-emptive action on its own, the medicine may be worse than the disease. Iran’s nuclear program may be slowed down but will be further inflamed if not more widely supported by its Arab neigbors if Israel strikes first. Diplomacy may be slow, but this time it’s the only way to go. The planet can not afford a unilateral solution.

    • Diplomacy works only if it is a 2-way street. And history suggests this is not easily achieved. Seven centuries before the time of Christ, King Hezekiah first tried what might be called diplomacy as a means to save Israel. He first looked to an alliance with Egypt as a means to fend off to fend off the aggressian of Assyria. As told in 2 Kings 18, he basically agreed to pay tribute to King Sennacherib of Assyria in an attempt to prevent the destruction of Jerusalem – even to the point where Hezekiah “sripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord,” sending this gold to the Assyrian ruler. None of this worked; the Assyrians invaded anyway. In the end, Hezekiah prevailed by acting in his own defense together with reliance on his God.
      A different tale is told with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD. Josephus (who would become an historian) is the commander of the anti-Roman Jewish forces in Galilee but is defeated. He is then encouraged by Titus as the Roman commander to try diplomacy, urging the residents of Jerusalem to surrender peacefully and avoid slaughter. Josephus argues that surrender represents an act of repentance to God as well as Rome, saying that “there is a place for your preservation, if you be willing to accept of it, and God is easily reconciled to those that confess their faults, and repent of them. O hardhearted wretches as you are, cast away your arms…”
      The leaders of the rebellion inside the city would have none of this plea, instead firing on Josephus with their arrows. In the end, the result was the total destruction of the City, a repayment by Rome for continued resistance with untold bloodhed on both sides — but with Israel essentially losing its homeland for nearly two millenia.
      This is not to say there is never a place for diplomacy. But it works only when both sides are fully motivated toward peace, and where there is complete, verifiable transparency to assure no double-dealing. And from Israel’s perspective, always aim to negotiate from a position of strength — with a willingness to go it alone if and when necessary.

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