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"Resolve Seen in Israel; Resolve Needed Here"

Op-ed by Jose Cuevas, Jr., Midland Reporter-Telegram, Feb. 8, 2011

[Jose Cuevas, Jr., was a participant in JINSA's Trip to Israel for American Latino Leaders, January 2011.]

How easy would it be to spot an Israeli in Midland, or a Texan in Tel Aviv? After a weeklong trip to Israel headed by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs for a group of Hispanic American leaders, I think you would be hard pressed to see any significant differences.

I wasn’t surprised to find that, Israeli culture revolves around the same principle elements of faith, family and friends that we Americans hold dear or that Israelis are educated and very hard working no differently than Texans. What did surprise me though is how Israelis go about their lives without any hesitation or pause. They are living on the cusp of a war zone in the world’s most volatile region, but you would need to tune in to foreign media to have a sense of fear.

When Palestinian terrorists bombed restaurants, bars and buses, Israelis responded by spending a night out on the town and riding public transportation. When rockets rained down on Israeli towns from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Israelis built a warning system and hardened shelters. Kids go to school, parents go to work and families socialize on the weekend in malls and parks. Enemies committed to their annihilation may be just a few miles away, but the Israeli people soldier on. In 1941, the British government commissioned propaganda urging people to “Keep Calm and Carry On” during the London blitz; today, Israelis respond the same way. They have no other choice.

This isn’t to say Israelis don’t care about the violence. In spite of spending every moment of the past 62 years at war, the Israeli military leadership considers the dignity and inherent worth of everyone they counter in their security decisions - not just the rights of Israeli citizens but also those of Palestinians and even hardened terrorists.

It’s a calculation that plainly isn’t made by the terrorist organizations targeting innocent civilians. What our group saw when made privy to the internal workings of the Israeli security establishment was an effective and moral army and police force dedicated to protecting the people while maintaining the ethical integrity of the Jewish State.

Perhaps because of mandatory military service, this ethos permeates all aspects of society. Billboards calling for the release of Israeli POW Gilad Shalit, held captive by Hamas since a cross border kidnapping in 2006, are just as common as those for the latest movie or Coca-Cola. Living in a country the size of New Jersey with a population of just more than 7 million has its advantages, of course. Close knit communities are one of them. The impossibility of meeting someone that has gone untouched by the effects of war and terror is not.

Sadly, Israel is the free world’s canary in a coal mine. Before terrorists flew planes into buildings in New York or planted IEDs in Baghdad and Kandahar, they were trying to hijack Israeli planes and laying bombs for Israeli soldiers. And today, the Israelis face a menacing Iranian regime, growing in stature and confidence throughout the region. Hamas and Hezbollah, proxies of the Iranian regime, border Israel’s south and north and are armed, funded and trained by the Iranian regime. The mullahs in Tehran continue to pursue a nuclear weapons capability despite the demands of the international community. Many Israelis, some publicly but most privately, fear that if Iran is successful in developing nuclear weapons, the threat may be too great for them to continue normal lives.

Given that all too often history has shown the threats faced by Israel wind up on our shores soon thereafter, stopping Iran’s nuclear program must remain a top priority for U.S. national security. The consequences of an Iranian bomb will not be felt only in Tel Aviv or Europe for that matter. It would only be a matter of time before U.S. cities are within the reach of Iran’s weapons, as well.

This of course begs the question: Will Americans behave with as much resolve as Israelis if we fail to stop Iran from acquiring mankind’s deadliest weapon?

Jose Cuevas is the presiding officer of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the CEO of Midland-based JumBurrito, Inc., and JumBurrito Franchises, LLC. He met with a wide range of Israeli government officials, leading academics and journalists during a week-long visit sponsored by the Washington, DC-based Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA),

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