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The International Writers Magazine: Middle East

The Thousand And One Fights
• Dean Borok

I work out pretty hard in my gym, and all the hard guys and the trainers show me respect. Mostly, I am lean meat except for a small bicycle inner tube of fat around my waist, the result of being overfed by my girlfriend and of determined drinking. Nevertheless, I’m not any man’s idea of a pushover.


I look like a foreigner, particularly in the summer, when I am tanned. The Russian gangsters who hang around the boardwalk in Brighton Beach approve of me. They are always talking to me in Russian and are disappointed when I bark at them, “English!” I bet if I learned the fundamentals of Russian they would offer me some enticing work in a racketeering enterprise in Brooklyn, the depletion rate for Russian gangsters being so high as a result of arrests and indictments.

In Miami, people talk openly about me in front of my face as though I were not there, the assumption being that I am some kind of Latin American eurotrash who does not speak English. It can become rather tiresome. Yesterday this trainer in my gym cornered me in the men’s toilet and demanded, “Where are you from?”

“Chicago”, I responded meekly. In fact, I have been in New York for 30 years, but I figured that if I told him that I would have to go into a whole, long song-and-dance about every place I ever lived, and all I wanted to do is try out the plumbing.

He wasn’t satisfied by that response either, which I had anticipated. He shifted up by one gear. “Well, where is your family from?” How many years do you have to live in this country before you don’t have to associate with that question anymore? The Irish arrived in this country two centuries ago, and their descendants, who don’t know Kilkenny from Kilearny, still refer to themselves as Irish. Ditto the Italians. Black Americans, who have been here for 500 years, are insisting on being referred to as Africans. Give me a break! “I’m a Jew”, I blurted out, already enervated by the whole exchange.

The trainer was a kid, and some kind of foreign accent, probably with a degree in Phys. Ed. Not exactly the sharpest tool in the box. “Does Israel have a good soccer team?”
“Not really”.
“Why not?” Now he was opening a sports polemic. What makes a good soccer team? Stiff competition. That’s why the Americans are so weak at soccer, not enough hard challenges. Israel, nobody will play. They can’t play any regional teams, and they are treated like pariahs by the rest of the world. Anywhere the Israeli team is invited, they have to be accompanied by armed guards, like war criminals, not exactly the spirit of sporting excellence envisioned by Baron de Coubertin, OK? So this lack of world class opponents certainly limits Israel’s technical development.

The one area where the Jews of Israel are getting plenty of international competition is in the art of war, like the pressure process that compresses a ton of coal into a diamond. Israel is a reverse diaspora of millions of persecuted Jews from every country who have no other place to go and who are constantly fighting off vengeful murderers from every quarter. No other people has had to survive constant threats of extermination like this, and because they have survived, they are even more grossly reviled.

People who bemoan the inequality afforded to the Palestinians by Israel conveniently forget that no Jew has been permitted to survive in any Muslim country except Morocco, at the extreme periphery of the Maghreb. Now that the Arab countries are breaking down under the weight of their own contradictions (big surprise!), Iran has emerged as the greatest threat to the Jewish state, calling it “a cancer that must be eradicated”.

This litany of abuse would be laughable, except for reliable reports that Iran is developing atomic weapons and a missile delivery system. Iran is basically an underdeveloped country with a rickety infrastructure. Its army fought an eight year war with Iraq, whom the U.S beat in one week, on two separate occasions. Basically, Iran is what is referred to in boxing as a “tomato can”.

Nevertheless, the cardinal rule in boxing is that you always have to respect your opponent. And, certainly, you can never turn your back on the guy, as Jewish boxer Dana Rosenblatt learned in a 1996 match against wild animal boxer Vinnie Pazienza, when Rosenblatt, who was a kickboxing champ who turned to boxing for the money, turned his back on Pazienza, who was down on one knee for the count. Rosenblatt, who was winning on all the judges’ cards after four rounds, turned to walk to a neutral corner, when Pazienza sprung up and landed a vicious, desperate right hand punch to Rosenblatt’s neck from behind. OK, it was a dirty punch, but Rosenblatt couldn’t continue the fight and Pazienza was awarded the decision on a TKO.

After the fight Pazienza, who was a true beast (he had just survived a car crash which broke his neck) mocked Rosenblatt to the announcer. “I just gave this guy a college education in boxing”. Three years later, Rosenblatt was able to get a rematch with Pazienza and beat him on points after a twelve round slug fest. During that three year interim, Pazienza told the boxing press a lot of inflammatory insults about Rosenblatt’s boxing talent. During the first four rounds of their first fight, Rosenblatt had made a monkey out of Pazienza, openly mocking his “Rocky” theatrics. Plus which, there was a class conflict: Pazienza was hardscrabble working class from Providence while Rosenblatt, a middle class Jew from the Boston suburbs, had attended first-class martial arts academies since he was eight years old and had a college degree from a community college. That was the origin of Pazienza’s crack about administering a “college education” on him. Rosenblatt told a reporter, “I like Vinnie. He puts money in my pocket. But I wouldn’t hang out with him”.

Similarly, the Ayatollahs of Iran are blowing off on Israel, even though Iran has a very weak record going into this fight, their only record being a split decision for an eight year with Iraq, another tomato can whom the Americans dispatched in the first round on two separate occasions.

When dictatorships start to crack up, they pursue military adventures to try to shore up popular support. That’s the origin of the Falkland Islands war of 1981 and the attempted Greek coup in Cyprus in 1973, to name a couple of incidents. Both the Argentine and Greek juntas collapsed after these failures. Similarly, the Iranians, threatened more by the collapsing power structures in the Arab world than by anything from Israel, are looking for an easy sucker to knock around.

Whatever they are smoking, I’d like to purchase a couple of kilos of it for my own personal use. Iranians are tough fighters. They proved their commitment during the Iraq war, with their suicide battalions and their doggedness in trench warfare. But that’s hardly enough to confront the organizational and technological prowess of Israel and the U.S.

Historically, Iran has always been something of a paper tiger, going back as far as human history has existed. The Persian Empire was defeated by a much smaller Athenian force in 490BC and again in 480BC. In 334BC the Macedonian Alexander the Great decisively broke the Empire with an infinitely smaller army on the fields of Anatolia and Mesopotamia and assumed the mantle of Emperor of Persia. Why people feel compelled to overreach is a function of evolutionary biology and anthropology. They never learn from past mistakes. In the present case the Iranians are punching far above their weight class. The Iranian military budget for 2011 was $7 billion, against $700 billion for the U.S. and 15 billion for Israel, a country with one-sixth of its population. On paper, at least, the Iranian boasts of military potency seem delusional.

The Americans have never been better prepared to enter into a war with Iran, with armed forces hardened from ten-year campaigns against Iraq and Afghanistan to the consistency of a depleted uranium artillery shell, whereas the Iranian military has exclusively been occupied with containing that country’s civilian population. From the perspective of this writer, who is admittedly composing this text from a Manhattan apartment, where all is right with the world, Israel has never been more opportunely poised to deliver a knockout blow to its enemies, and I write this knowing full well that I am personally not within range of Iranian missiles (Iran has just put a payload of donkey manure into orbit). Now that Israel’s other sworn enemy, Syria, is inflicting upon itself all the misery that it has been promising to the Jews for several generations already, now that Egypt is a shambles, now that Iraq, heretofore another sworn enemy of the Jewish state, is totally on the ropes after ten years of American occupation, would it not be a blessing for the Jewish people to obliterate the last standing threat to its existence?

A lot of people are going to hate this hypothesis because of a residual anti-Semitism  that has been transferred from individual Jews to their established state, but if Netanyahu is able to successfully contain the Iranian menace to Israel, he will go down in history in an almost biblical sense. By the same token, this being an election year in the U.S., Obama, who has never had a day of military service, could go into the election as, simultaneously, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, the executioner of Osama bin Laden and a triumphant war president (a designation that George W. Bush, a Vietnam draft dodger, hungered after. Doesn’t it seem peculiar that none of the current Republican presidential candidates are courting his endorsement ha-ha!).

I know that this sounds curious, but with all the chaos in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and the Gulf states, Israel’s prospects for security would seem to be brighter, assuming Iran can be taken out of the picture. The way I see it, any revanchist threat to the Jewish state would come in the form of a charismatic military officer in Egypt, who could unify Arab nationalism like Gamal Abdel Nassar, but he could emerge in the blink of an eye.

© Dean Borok Feb 13th 2012

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