Many members of the Jewish community regard Israel as a special place – a homeland for the Jewish people and a critical part of their Jewish identity. As such, Israel’s security is also a high priority.
Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has faced existential threats. Surrounded by hostile neighbors, Israel has fought war after war. Even in times of relative peace, Israel must deal with threats and attacks.
Thanks to the Israel Defense Forces, Israel has survived and grown strong. The American organization Friends of the IDF, wants to be sure it stays strong, so they undertake a variety of activities to provide support for Israel’s soldiers.
Jewish Community of Louisville Board Chair Jay Klempner was introduced to FIDF two and a half years ago and participated in one of the group’s missions so he could see exactly what they do. Impressed with their work, he became an FIDF supporter and was eager to offer the group a forum in Louisville when the group’s Atlanta, GA, office expanded throughout the southeastern region of the United States.
On Tuesday, March 29, FIDF Southeast Regional Director Seth Baron came to Louisville to introduce the community to FIDF. He was accompanied by Middle East expert Dr. Jonathan Adelman, a professor at the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, who provided an analysis of today’s threats to Israel, and Jamie Perry, FIDF’s director of development.
What Does the FIDF Do?
Baron provided an overview of FIDF’s work, from support of lone soldiers – young men and women who travel to Israel without their families to join the IDF to educating IDF officers about the Nazi death camps in Poland.
FIDF connects lone soldiers with families in Israel so they have a place to go for Shabbat for a home cooked meal, a shower and a place to do laundry. They are providing holiday gift cards for Passover and they do for other holidays as well. The agency also provides tickets to enable the soldiers to visit their families wherever they live in the world one time during their years of service.
At the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge during the 2014 conflict in Gaza, FIDF made sure that the approximately 1,800 lone soldiers “got additional flights home to be reconnected with their families,” Baron said. That effort cost about $2 million.
FIDF also provides financial relief for soldiers in need and $4,000 a year scholarships for veterans to attend any of the more than 90 colleges and universities in Israel. A $4,000 scholarship in Israel is a full tuition scholarship. The veterans who take advantage of this opportunity are also required to give 130 volunteer hours back to the State of Israel.
Baron described the program as a way to help the soldiers “transition into life that financially they would not have otherwise been able to afford” that enables them to “become positive citizens of the State of Israel” instead of burdens on society.
FIDF also provides support to those wounded in their service.
The Southeast Regional office has adopted the Combat Intelligence Brigade and directs most of their efforts to that group. “Their job is to look after Israel,” he said, “ours is to look after them.”
Threats to Israel
To transition into an analysis of the current threats to Israel, Dr. Adelman said Baron’s presentation made him wonder if there were no organization like IDF, what would have been the fate of the Jewish people. When the Romans conquered Jerusalem in the year 70, they destroyed the Second Temple and either killed or expelled the rest.
“At that time, there were by one study, 7 million Jews in the world,” Adelman said. “According to the demographer, if nothing bad had happened to the Jewish people, just by virtue of the number of children that they typically have had and a number of other factors, there should be in the world today, they decided, about 100 million Jews. That means that 87 percent of them were either killed, forcibly converted or other terrible things happened.”
When Israel was founded in 1948, it was a weak third world country and there were a number of times through the years whether this haven for Jews everywhere would survive as a nation was in question. Today, Israel is a strong, capable first world nation that excels in agriculture, water development, high tech and more. Still, there are still challenges to Israel’s security, and Adelman put them into three categories: existential threats, threats that would inflict great damage but not destroy the state and minimal dangers.
Iran, Adelman said, is the only “country in the Middle East today that wants to thoroughly destroy the State of Israel.” Just a few weeks ago, Iran test fired missiles that reiterated their intent to annihilate Israel.
The agreement that is supposed to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is problematic, according to Adelman. It leaves Iran just three to 12 months from acquiring the ability to destroy Israel.
Things have changed a great deal since the Cold War, he pointed out. At that time, rockets used liquid fuel and it took hours to prepare for launch, and if the Soviet Union had launched a rocket, it would take hours to cover the 6,000 miles to reach its target. In addition, the United States is so large. 3.5 million square miles, that even with a volley of nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union would have been able to destroy the United States. It would not even have been able to eliminate all its nuclear weapons.
Fast forward to today. It takes only minutes to prepare a missile to launch. Israel is barely 600 miles from Iran, so it would take a missile just 11 minutes to reach Israel. In addition, Israel is only 8,000 square miles in size and its population is concentrated in 42 percent of the land.
One Israeli study, Adelman stated, estimates that a nuclear first strike on Israel would kill 800,000 people. A volley would destroy the country and 11 minutes from launch to strike would not give Israel time to protect its population.
In addition, Iran’s proxies in Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces and the Shiite militias it supports are only a couple of dozen miles away.
“The core issue for Israel,” he said, “is to develop the capacity to be able to deal with the kind of threat that the United States did not have to face during the Cold War.”
In the intermediate level, “enemies capable of inflicting significant destruction on the State of Israel, but … not capable of destroying the country,” Adelman points to Hezbollah and Hamas.
Hezbollah has amassed an arsenal of 150,000 rockets, Adelman claimed. If they were launched in salvos of 100 or 200, Iron Dome, Israel’s defense weapon that intercepts rockets, would be unable to keep up and there would be significant loss of life and damage.
There is good news, too, Adelman said. In addition to its financial and technologic success, the alignment of countries in the Middle East is changing. Iran is a threat not only to Israel, but also to many of its neighbors.
Recently the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei’s chief of staff was asked what Iran’s ultimate goal is. Adelman said, “He said our grand goal is simple. We want to resurrect the Persian Empire in the Middle East and move our capitol to Baghdad.”
“For the first time,” he said, “we see Sunni Arab states that want to line up with Israel in public.” Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is working with Israel against terrorist organizations in the Sinai.
An advisor to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman “came out in public and said it’s time to stop looking at Israel as the enemy. Israel is a country we need on our side.”
Jordan has long been friendly with Israel. An Israeli paper even reported that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets monthly with King Abdullah to coordinate action. In addition, Adelman said it was reported that Netanyahu told the Jordanians, “Don’t worry. If ISIS comes too close to the border, we’ll stop them.”
Adelman also discounts Syria. He believes it will never again be a unified state, but will reemerge as three, four or five separate parts.
Another sea change is Israel’s acceptance in the world. In the late 40’s and early 50’s, he explained, Israel was recognized by about 30 countries. By 1988, that number had climbed to 80. Today, 162 countries recognize Israel and it is succeeding in establishing ties with countries like Russia, China and India for the first time.
In addition, Israel’s ties with the United States remain strong and its connection to the American Jewish community is viewed as critical.
The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness and support for FIDF in Louisville. For more information about the organization, go to www.fidf.org.