Beach clothes from Labor Day weekend are washed and put away, we’ve eaten the Rosh Hashanah brisket and honey cake, and school buses are again collecting kids with backpacks in our neighborhoods. A new year has begun, by whichever calendar you consult. Our rabbis and community leaders speak to us about fresh chances and new beginnings as we enter this new year. So why do I feel such a sense of deja vu?
As we begin 5774, all eyes are turned towards Syria. But if we look carefully into the smoke in Damascus, we see that the horrifying images of dead women and children are merely the tip of an iceberg. The larger danger is not a new story. It is the ticking of the same Iranian nuclear clock we have been talking about for a decade.
The Iranian regime is supplying the Syrian government with money and arms. The backing of the Islamic Republic allows Bashar al-Assad to hold on to power as he gasses his people. So we begin yet another autumn with a concerned look in the direction of Tehran and wonder if this will be the year that the centrifuges stop spinning.
After hearing the same warnings for years, we know that a nuclear armed Iran is the gravest threat facing the United States, Israel and our allies. Our community takes seriously calls for the destruction of our people. But as the years roll by and we continue to hear about this very real threat, repetition dulls our sense of urgency. We become afraid of crying wolf or fear-mongering. Let’s not allow repetition or fear to distract us from making our voices heard, loudly and urgently. We need to prevent the unstable, terrorism-supporting regime in Iran from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon and spurring a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
So what is different now? Why is this New Year unique?
• Iran is more than two decades into its nuclear weapons program. It only took the U.S. four years working on the Manhattan Project to detonate a nuclear bomb in the pre-Internet age. It is a testament to the diplomatic, economic and other efforts of the United States and Western powers that Iran has not yet been able to realize its goal. But we should not get complacent — the delays will not last forever. The Ayatollah’s regime is determined to continue its slow march towards enrichment and another year has just gone by.
• Congress is attempting to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran by enacting stricter sanctions and, we must tell them how important this issue is to Americans. Before the summer recess, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013. This comprehensive sanctions bill was designed to increase pressure on Iran, strengthen existing economic sanctions, further limit Iranian oil exports, and target human rights violators. The legislation passed in a bipartisan 400-20 vote, sending a clear message to the Islamic Republic that the U.S. is staunchly committed to preventing a nuclear armed Iran.
The next step in sending this message loud and clear is for the reconvened Senate to pass this legislation. We must let our senators know how important this is to our community and to America.
• Iranians swore in a new president last month. President Rohani has a chance to improve his country’s economy and ease international sanctions by stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The timing here is important. By ratcheting up pressure now through more effective sanctions, we can show him that the benefits of a nuclear weapons program do not outweigh the costs. We have an opportunity to convince the Iranian people that they stand to lose, not gain, if their new president continues to thumb his nose at the international community and bank on a strategy based on the “day after” he attains nuclear weapons.
• We do not know what will happen in Syria in the coming days. What we do know is that Assad did not hesitate to use the chemical weapons at his disposal in fighting his own people. What would have happened had Iran been able to supply their Syrian protege with a nuclear weapon? The impact of the Syrian turmoil on Israel will be dangerous enough without the possibility of Iranian nuclear bombs on Israel’s northern border.
Last week as I packed for my family to spend the holidays in Israel, I looked at pictures of Israelis lining up at gas mask distribution centers and thought about how to get a gas mask for my 8-month-old. I hope I never need to start a new year with that thought again. Help make this new year unique by making it the last new year we need to focus on the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons.
Urge your elected officials to put an end to the Iranian nuclear program before next year feels all too familiar.
Arielle Poleg is the director of the Israel Action Center at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington.