“Whoever says later may find later is too late,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said last week. His words drove Western policymakers into a tizzy. Everyone wants to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, but not everyone is willing to do what it takes to bring that about.
The recent high-level comings and goings between Jerusalem and Washington remind us of nothing so much as all those “consultations” between top-level officials of two other democratic allies 76 years ago. In 1936, everyone wanted to stop the German army from coming into the de-militarized Rhineland, but no one was willing to use force to prevent it. Hitler sensed this weak resolve in the Americans and the British. The Americans were still in the throes of isolationism in 1936. Britain wanted to talk about Hitler’s move into the Rhineland, but it did not want to use force, or even allow the threat of force.
Hitler could smell fear. He deliberately chose Saturday, March 7, 1936. He knew that British statesmen retreated to their country estates every weekend. He knew that “consultations” by telephone between the French and the British would be very hard on a weekend. Telephone communication was not the best. Then, there were language difficulties to consider.
Most of all, though, Hitler knew that the British were still haunted by the nightmare of trench warfare in World War I. Although Hitler was himself a decorated veteran of that war, he was focused on a new form of warfare: blitzkrieg. His “lightning war” would rely on planes and tanks to force events with blinding speed.
He planned his coup in the Rhineland with great care. The Versailles Treaty ending World War I had explicitly forbidden Germany from re-militarizing this historically German region. By violating this central provision of the treaty, Hitler would effectively reverse the verdict of that four-year titanic struggle. He would become the victor in Europe.
He did not send in his tanks and planes. Cleverly, he sent a small force into the Rhineland, military bands, backed up by thousands of police. He sought to make his coup look as innocuous as possible. It was a fait accompli before the democracies could react. He coupled his seizure of the Rhineland with offers of peace talks and with — that great distraction — the Berlin Olympics. The quadrennial games had been fortuitously slated for his own capital city that summer. Let the peoples of the democracies come and be distracted by sports and spectacle.
Now, consider this: Iran has been at war with the U.S. for more than 30 years. When Iran seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, that was an act of war. When the Iranians recruited terrorists to kill 241 U.S. Marines and Navy corpsmen in Beirut in 1983, that, too, was an act of war.
The Iranians are also at war with Israel. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly said he can foresee a world without the U.S. and Israel. He says Israel should be “wiped off the map,” that the Jewish state is but a “two-bomb country.” What kind of bombs would those be?