Israel will pay short-term price for war, speakers agree

"Israel is certainly going to pay some short-term price for this war."

That's the opinion Evan Goodman, rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel-Judea in San Francisco, expressed during the first of four lectures in the North Peninsula Middle East Speakers Series.

Joining him at the Feb. 26 discussion on the Iraq conflict was Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a senior research scholar at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration.

"Saddam [Hussein] may realize that he can't do much to the U.S., but he may be able to do something devastating to Israel" if he gets desperate, Sherwood-Randall told an audience of 100 at Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City.

Nevertheless, Israel supports a war against Iraq, and it is Israel's stance that has helped to sway Goodman.

Since Israel is willing to pay the risk of a short-term price, he said, "that tips the scale a little bit for me."

Goodman drew a distinction between a pre-emptive war and one that is merely preventative. He said if the U.S. government has concluded Iraq is planning to harm this country or its allies, a first strike is justifiable as a commanded war in keeping with a Jewish history of self-defense.

Judaism does not teach passivity, he added. If, however, there is only a potential threat, then war would be unethical.

Goodman flashed back to a different world and recalled June 7, 1981 — the day Israeli bombers destroyed a budding nuclear reactor in Iraq. The move was widely criticized: The Los Angeles Times called it "state-sponsored terrorism," and the United States signed a U.N. resolution condemning the action.

Now, 21 years later, the United States is considering a similar engagement.

But Sherwood-Randall thinks it is a mistake to get tunnel vision on Iraq.

"Had I been the president of the United States I would not have made Iraq the lens through which all of our foreign policy is seen," she said.

While acknowledging that the administration has made a case against Saddam — as a friend to terrorists and developing weapons in contravention of U.N. resolutions, she thinks there are other problematic flash points in the world today.

North Korea is farther down the road to producing nuclear weapons than Iraq, she said. Then there are the nations of the former Soviet bloc, where thousands of nuclear weapons languish. Finally, she thinks President Bush has neglected ongoing Arab-Israeli tensions.

Sherwood-Randall is also disturbed by the rationale for a pre-emptive strike against a nation that has yet to attack the United States or its allies.

"The Bush administration has raised preemption to the level of doctrine," she said. "I think that sets a dangerous precedent."

One result has been an erosion of ties with decades-long allies. And that may be the most painful legacy of war, she said.

"I would argue that our alliances are in the worst shape in memory," said Sherwood-Randall, who spent time during the first Clinton administration studying U.S. relations in Russia, the Ukraine and Eurasia. "I would say we are making a huge mistake in undervaluing cooperation."

War is not inevitable, she said, but felt the coming days will be pivotal. The United States has drawn a line, and cannot allow a rogue nation to cross it, she said.

"As a parent, I liken it to dealing with my children. At a certain point you can't keep threatening. You have to follow through."