Fortress Masada

‘Never again Masada’

Fortress MasadaAmid momentous news from the Eurozone over the last few weeks, another news item may have slipped past un-noticed. It’s possibly the most serious news item of the year and if this storm brews to its maximum potential, it could throw the world into chaos far greater than the present troubles in Greece and Italy.
On the 9th November, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published a report that raised some alarm which seems to indicate that Iran is and not maybe on the way to developing its own nuclear weapons capability. The IAEA has been monitoring Iran among a number of countries for many years and has reported concerns about Iranian intentions before but what has raised eyebrows in this report is the level of detail the IAEA claims to have now that indicate Iranian nuclear attack capability may be closer to achievement than previously thought.   The IAEA is an international organisation head-quartered in Vienna, that is distinct from but reports to the UN.
 (Picture: Above: Fortress Masada, Dead Sea)
For years a number of countries have raised concerns about Iranian nuclear intentions, mostly in the West, but also others in the region that feel threatened: the Gulf states, Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Most concerned of all is Israel and there’s been some apocalyptic media reporting recently about the level of concern being so high in Jerusalem that Israel, frustrated by the failure of the international community to deal with the threat, may go it alone with a pre-emptive strike on suspected Iranian nuclear weapons facilities.  That really is some Doomsday scenario, isn’t it? An Israeli attack on Iran that could inflame the entire Arab world and possibly draw Russia, America and China onto a collision course with each other?  Yet why is even some of the most reserved media speaking in such terms and how likely is the possibility that we might all be thrown into such a dangerous situation?   In short, entirely possible. Why?Well you need to try and get an insight to the Israeli national psyche to understand why pressing the button on such a scenario is more and not less likely unless the international community really gets to grip with this.
If you ever go on a guided tour to Israel, as I have done many times, you will inevitably be taken to the spectacular Dead Sea desert fortress of Masada. Once you arrive at the top (preferably by cable car in the 35+ degrees heat), your Guide will sit you down in a group under a sun shade and explain to you with great solemnity the meaning of Masada to the Israeli people.  I’ve lost count of the number of different Guides I have had tell me the story of Masada but while the faces and the style of the telling changes each time I visit, one thing that doesn’t is the script. only they don’t read from a script; they speak from the heart.
Jerusalem 70AD
In 70AD, the great Jewish Revolt against the occupying Roman Empire was finally crushed with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem – the heart and soul of Jewish religion and nationhood.  The dissolution of the Roman province of Judaea began in earnest with the population being butchered, evicted or enslaved. One last bastion of resistance was a handful of zealot families encamped down by the Dead Sea at Masada.  Just under 1,000 men, women and children defied the might of the Roman 10th Legion for a couple of years in the very well watered, well provisioned fortress built by Herod the Great. But encamped all around them below, the might of Rome lay siege. Masada with its sheer cliffs was mightily strong and virtually impregnable but with iron-cast patience and determination, the Romans started to build a siege ramp on top of a spur of rock leading to the fortress some 375 feet high in total upon which to transport up the battering rams and siege towers to overcome the defences.  Facing the inevitable as the 10th Legion eventually hove their siege towers into place and the fall of the fortress was barely hours away, the men of Masada, the heads of households, met in the Synagogue under the leadership of Elazar Ben Ya’ir to face the bleakest of choices: to be put to the sword by the Romans and have their women and children raped and enslaved or to die as free people by their own hand and commit the great sins their religion and culture forbade – murder and suicide. Lots were cast to pick the 10 men who would slit the throats of their families, then those who would kill 8 of the 10 and then the one who would kill the last and then himself. So it was that the next day with the gates of Masada reduced to ashes, the 10th Legion breached the defences only to find quiet death, desolation and just a couple of women and children who chose to hide and take their chances.
Below: Masada Synagogue

The story of Masada is not myth. It happened and is recorded in ancient history in the writings of Josephus and then it seems to have vanished from Jewish thinking until the 19th Century when a Jewish scholar and poet called Isaac Lamdan wrote a poetic retelling of Masada at a time Anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe and it is thought that his work more than any other inspired the Jewish revolt in Poland under the cruelty of the Nazis we know as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  Today, every Israeli schoolchild and every Israeli soldier (and remember national service in the Army is compulsory for all Israelis) is taken to Masada to hear the retelling of the story and contemplate its meanings and lessons.  As my Guides over the years have explained, the legacy of Masada is what differentiates Jews from Israeli Jews – and they in Israel are insistent upon the fact that there is a difference. The Jews of the Diaspora – those scattered around the world have a saying: “Never again”, referring to the Holocaust. Israeli Jews have that but also another deeply rooted: “Never again Masada”.   Here you have a key to understanding the psyche of modern Israel. That psyche says that if we (Israelis) are ever again found in a situation on our own soil where we are surrounded by hostile enemies baying for our blood, we will not quietly slip away and take our lives as they did on Masada but we will come out fighting or change the odds that put us in such a position in the first place.
On my recent visit to Israel in September this year I detected more than I have done from any of my previous trips that Israelis are once again feeling under siege with trouble on every side.  At the time I was out there, there was that historic moment at the United Nations when Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinians on the West Bank, addressed the UN General Assembly for state recognition of Palestine amid overwhelming international sympathy. The ‘Arab Spring’ has seen revolution in Egypt, Israel’s southern neighbour, with an explosion of anti-Israeli sentiment and the storming of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. In Jordan, Israel’s eastern neighbour, Israeli Embassy staff there too were recalled home amid fears for their safety. To the north are Syria and Lebanon. Syria is now in the grip of civil turmoil so severe that just last week the Arab League took the decision to suspend its membership. In Lebanon…Iranian-controlled Hamas hold sway over much of the country. It was their rocket fire onto the Israel’s northern towns and cities that drew Israeli fire in the last Israel-Lebanon conflict.  To the west…well there is Gaza, again Hamas controlled with their links to Iran and still firing rockets into Israel’s southern cities. Israel’s only other direct western neighbour is the sea. Looking a bit further afield, Turkey, once a close military ally of Israel, has now all but cut relations. Two things at play here – one is Turkey’s ire at the loss of Turkish lives in the Gaza Aid Convoy incident last year, but also Turkey’s seeming drive to re-assert leadership over the Mediterranian Islamic world after the fall of its previous ‘strong man’, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. 
So back to Iran, physically nowhere near Israel’s borders but now potentially with the capabilty of striking Israel with a nuclear arsenal in preparation…allegedly. Does Israel really need to be concerned about Iranian intentions? Iranian President Ahmadinajad has been widely reported in western media as believing that the state of Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’, though this has since been disputed by Iran and others as a ‘mistranslation’ of a speech Ahmadinajad made in 2005 at the ‘World without Zionism’ conference in Asia.   In the BBC’s online profile of Ahmadinajad they write of him and his stance toward Israel as follows:
Holocaust denial:Mr Ahmadinejad has also angered Western powers with his views on Israel.He has called for an end to the Israeli state and has described the Holocaust
as a myth.In October 2005, Mr Ahmadinejad made a statement in which he envisaged the replacement of Israel with a Palestinian state.He was quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, and his words were widely translated as a call for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, though this translation is disputed. That was quickly interpreted by Western news agencies as an oblique threat to Israel. Mr Ahmadinejad has since stated that his speech was exaggerated and misinterpreted.He denied that he meant military intervention and said instead that Israel’s “Zionist regime” would eventually collapse on its own. During a speech at the UN in April 2009, he commented that Israel was a state founded on racist principles, an outburst that prompted a walk-out by delegates from at least 30 countries but earned him a hero’s welcome on his return home.
So today we have an Israel now feeling increasingly besieged by insecurity, hostility resentment now on every border. Erstwhile ‘friends’ in the region – Turkey, Egypt and Jordan – have all but cut ties and are increasingly moving toward greater Islamisation.  And it would seem that other so-called friends and major allies outside of the region are also less enamored with Israel than they once were as the recent ‘off the record’ exchange between the French and American Presidents at the G20 revealed.  Israel isolated and threatened and now with the looming potential nuclear menace of Iran on the horizon.
Pictured: President Ahmadinajad
Is all this enough to trigger an Israeli strike on Iran?   We need to remember that if it is…and they do…it will not be for the first time they have. On the 7th June 1981 Israel bombed a French-built nuclear reactor in Iraq, ruled then by Saddam Hussein, which it believed was designed to build nuclear weapons capable of striking Israel. This was the first ever military strike against  a nuclear installation the world had seen.  Reporting on the Israeli explanation for the attack at the time, the BBC posted the following on its website:
“The atomic bombs which that reactor was capable of producing whether from
enriched uranium or from plutonium, would be of the Hiroshima size. Thus a
mortal danger to the people of Israel progressively arose.” (Israeli Govt)It (Israel) acted now because it believed the reactor would be completed shortly –
either at the beginning of July or the beginning of September 1981.
The world was a much different place in 1981.  America was prosperous and the undisputed global superpower. Russia did not exist as a sovereign nation with that name but was part of the Soviet Union. India, China and Brazil were considered little above the ‘Third World’ nations.  Europe was wealthy, flush with cash and forging ahead with the ‘European Project’ and the Arab world was in deep winter under the thumbs of Saddam Hussein, Muarmur Ghadaffi, Hafez al-Assad, the Saudi royal family and the new kid on the block – Hosni Mubarak.  Israel got away unscathed with its sortee out of the mind set of Masada then because the pieces on the world’s giant chess board were arrayed so vastly differently than they are today.   In our less prosperous, more volatile,  more insecure 21st Century world where all the known balances of power are undergoing seismic changes before our very eyes, an Israeli strike on Iran today could have cataclysmic consequences if the world does not wake up to the very real prospect.
This post is not about the rights and wrongs of the politics and policies of Israel and the Middle East that has left Israel in such a place of isolation today. It was simply to address the question raised in the media in recent weeks ‘is an Israeli pre-emptive strike on nuclear installations in Iran a distinct possibility?’
Yes, my friends.   It is.
Thursday 17th November: Reuters reports developments at the IAEA led by the USA, Russia, China, UK, France and Germany to increase pressure on Iran to address global nuclear fears.
Friday 18th November: Iran remains defiant after IAEA censure.    USA to impose sanctions on Iranian petrochemical industry.
Saturday 26th November: Iran says it is capable of attacking NATO installations in Turkey
Saturday 26th November: Iran says will strike Turkey if Israel/US attack
Monday 28th November:  #Isfahan starts trending on Twitter after Israeli meda Ha’ Aretz reports ‘huge explosion’ heard in the Iranian city where nuclear and missile installations are located.  Iranian media at first report the incident then deny it.   Incident alsp reported by BBC, the Telegraph and Reuters…
30th November: British Embassy in Iran stormed over EU imposed sanctions on Iran following the IAEA Report.  UK targeted because of the banking sanctions imposed by London. British, American and Israeli flags burned in the streets. UK evacuated diplomatic staff, closes Embassy in Tehran and gives 48 hours notice for all Iranian diplomatic staff to leave UK. Iranian Embassy to London forced to close…
1st December: EU imposes tougher sanctions on Iran as a result of storming of British Embassy…
1st December: “Iran is a rabid rogue state that could tip the world into a new Dark Age” – UK media reports…
1st December: US media reports: ‘Israeli Defence Chief says Israel not seeking to attack Iran but may have no choice’…
2nd December: Israeli media organisation, Ha’aretz, reveals turmoil in Israeli government over 1 year window to deal with Iran…
2nd December: ‘The War Against Iran’s Nuclear Program has already begun’ – Israeli media reports
5th December: “Cold war hots up across Mideast” – Reuters
5th December: ‘Paris and London to press EU for Iran oil ban’ – Financial Times
9th December: Iran complains to UN over US drone incursion – Tehran Times
11th December: Hamas sets up rocket production line in Sinai – Jerusalem Post
13th December: Iran says US should apologise for drone ‘invasion’ – Fox News
13th December: Iran indicts 15 ‘spies’ for US and Israel – The Telegraph
26th December: Iran Defence Minister: Israeli Strike would be a Suicide Mission – Ha’Aretz
27th December: Iran to block Gulf oil if sanctions proceed – Al Jazeera
28th December: US warns Iran over threat to block oil route – BBC
1st January: Iran defiant as US unleashes new sanctions – AFP
2nd January: Iran tests West’s patience with show of might in missile launch – The Independent
8th January: Iran uranium enrichment site operational soon – Reuters
8th January: Iran to launch nuclear work bunker in “near future” – Reuters
9th January: IAEA confirms Iran has begun enriching uranium – BBC
10th January: The Times published an exclusive double-page spread on Israel and Iran with the headline ‘Israel expects Iran to test a nuclear bomb within a year’.  Unable to provide the link without paying a year’s subscription for the previlege.
11th January: Iranian University Lecturer and Nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan killed in targeted car bomb atack in Teheran.  Speculation mounts that Israeli secret service Mossad was involved – BBC
23rd January: US Warships enter Straits of Hormuz – Financial Times
23rd January:  EU bans imports of Iranian oil – Reuters
24th January: ‘To avoid war, Iran must stop playing games’ – Daily Mail
29th January: Is Israel using the Iran situation to side-step peace talks? – Ha’
29th January: UN inspectors visit Iran as nuclear tensions rise – BBC
3rd February: ‘Israel to strike Iran in April, May or June’ – Russia Today
3rd February: ‘Iran Threatens to Strike Back Against Sanctions, Attack’ – Voice of America
4th February: Iran will cut oil exports to some European countries – Reuters
4th February: Iran begins naval exercises near Gulf strait – Associated Press/NPR
5th February: Israel’s Netanyahu to visit US as concerns grow over possible Iran attack – Voice of America
5th February:’Obama: Israel has not made decision on Iran attack’ – Reuters
10th February: ‘Why Netanyahu won’t attack Iran’ – Ha’ Aretz
11th February: ‘Iran vows to back Palestinian resistance against Israel’ – Jerusalem Post
11th February: ‘Iran must attack Israel by 2014’ – Jerusalem Post
11th February: ‘Hamas will never recognise Israel’ – Ha’Aretz
11th February: Iran to announce ‘very important’ nuclear developments – Daily Telegraph
12th February: Germany warns Israel against attack on Iran – PressTV
18th February: Hague fears Iran could start ‘new Cold War’ – BBC
18th February: Iran’s pre-emptive measure proves inefficiency of Western sactions – FARS News Agency
18th February: Israel seeks tighter sanctions against Iran – AFP
19th February: William Hagues warns Israel over Iran military action – The Telegraph
19th February: ‘Israel – don’t strike Iran’ – CNN
19th February: ‘Iran may boost nuclear programme’ diplomat warns – BBC
19th February: US, Britain urge Israel not to attack Iran – Ha’aretz
19th February: Iran warships enter Mediterranean as tensions with Israel grow – The Telegraph
21st February: Iran raises tension by threatening pre-emptive action – The Guardian
21st February: Iran threatens premptive action – CNN
22nd February: UN watchdog ‘denied access to key Iran site’ – Al Jazeera 
22nd February: UN nuke expert: no ‘way forward’ with Iran – Associated Press
22nd February: Iran supreme leader denies Iran seeking nuclear weapons – The Guardian
23rd February: Oil prices spiral up as Iran cuts sales to EU – PressTV
23rd February: Fear of Iran is inflating gas prices – CNN
23rd February: Iran set to expand nuclear activity in underground facility – Ha’Aretz
29th February: US sees Iran attacks as likely if Israel strikes – New York Times







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3 thoughts on “‘Never again Masada’

  1. Sharon Harriott

    So. The key to understanding the psyche of modern Israel has been eloquently laid out here. Honestly, this has made me more than a little nervous.

    What makes me shift a little more in my seat though, is not the fact that all eyes are on Iran… but the fact that while all eyes are on Iran, Britain’s nuclear spending is up while at the same time vast cutbacks are being made to our defense???

    Someone can’t play chess…

  2. Ian-Luke Penwald Post author

    Thanks Shazbot! Yep, it’s all a bit of a concern but as someone who has been watching these things for many years, all of this is no surprise. “He who has ears to hear….let him hear.” 🙂


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