Washington DC, February 2, 2007
You know you are in trouble when it takes former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to dispel some of the gloom about the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel. But that is what happened at last month's Herzliya Conference on National Security. The annual conference has become the most prestigious venue in Israel for discussions of Israeli and global security by high-ranking political leaders, military figures and academics.
Netanyahu said: "I am optimistic, and my optimism is not baseless, because I understand our capabilities….”
His remarks (surprising coming from someone who regularly utilizes apocalyptic rhetoric about Iran) were a dose of reality in a political scene that has become increasingly dominated by gloom-and-doom fantasies replete with references to the imminence of a second Holocaust.
The fear, of course, is that Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear weapons and will, if in possession of them, use them almost immediately to destroy Israel.
Netanyahu's statement was a reminder that Israel is far from helpless. It is a strong military power and, although he would not say this in so many words, reportedly has 200 atomic weapons of its own.
A nuclear attack on Israel by anyone would be suicidal and there are few, if any, governments in the world that would be willing to sacrifice millions of its own people to eliminate its enemies. (Those who argue that Iranians or Muslims in general – unlike Westerners -- would happily see their cities destroyed and their children consumed in a nuclear jihad are talking nonsense. The Mullahs themselves are calculating and dangerous; they are not suicidal. And it is they, not Pres. Ahmadinejad, who call the shots).
Nevertheless, Israel’s powerful deterrent is continually being downplayed by those who insist that the Israeli state is essentially as vulnerable as the Jews of Europe were in 1939.
Of the dozens of articles and speeches which express that fear, one stands out. It is by Benny Morris, one of Israel's top historians who made his name by exploring the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem. He is no right-winger (although he has moved rightward lately) which makes his words especially significant.
In an essay in the "Jerusalem Post," called "This Holocaust Will Be Different," Morris offers this prediction.
"One bright morning, in five or 10 years, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran's acquisition of the Bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convene in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go-ahead.
"The orders will go out and the Shihab III and IV missiles will take off for Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, and probably some military sites, including Israel's half dozen air and (reported) nuclear missile bases….
"With a country the size and shape of Israel (an elongated 20,000 square kilometers), probably four or five hits will suffice: No more Israel. “
For Morris, this horrific denouement is the result of policy choices that have already been made. "The buildup to the second holocaust (which, incidentally, in the end, will probably claim roughly the same number of lives as the first) has seen an international community fragmented and driven by separate, selfish appetites - Russia and China obsessed with Muslim markets; France with Arab oil - and the United States driven by the debacle in Iraq into a deep isolationism. Iran has been left free to pursue its nuclear destiny and Israel and Iran to face off alone."
The most distressing part of Morris's analysis (or prophecy) is its utter fatalism. “America will do nothing. Iran will get the bomb. Iran will use it on Israel. Israel will be destroyed. It's all inevitable.”
He does not even propose ways for Israel to avert this catastrophe.
Like most of the gloom-and-doom school, Morris believes that the only thing motivating Iranian policy is the desire to eliminate Israel. But Iran’s dangerous game of nuclear brinksmanship is about much more than Israel. In fact, it is primarily about the United States. That is why many believe that negotiations would be productive. In negotiations with the United States, Iran can demand recognition and security guarantees from Washington while we can demand an end to nuclear bomb development, an end to their meddling in Iraq, an end to support of Hezbollah and endorsement of negotiations as a means to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This is why American politicians are not jumping on the war-is-the-only-option bandwagon. As former Senator John Edwards recommended in his speech at Herzliyah. "Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons." We “need to support direct engagement with the Iranians….It is a mistake strategically to avoid engagement with Iran."
Or as Sen. Hillary Clinton says: “We have to keep all options on the table, including being ready to talk directly to Iranians should the right opportunity present itself. Direct talks, if they do nothing else, lets you assess who's making the decisions -- what their stated and unstated goals might be. And willingness to talk sends two very important messages. First, to the Iranian people, that our quarrel is with their leaders, not with them; and second, to the international community, that we are pursuing every available peaceful avenue to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.”
But the gloom and doomers disagree. Moderate Israeli writers Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael B. Oren wrote, in a story in last week’s New Republic that “negotiations between the West and Iran….would be the worst of all options.” Why? Because the timing is wrong. “The time to have negotiated with Iran…was immediately after the initial U.S. triumph in Iraq, not now, when the United States is losing the war. Under these circumstances, negotiations would only buy the regime time to continue its nuclear program.”
For me, the most offensive aspect of the gloom-and-doom scenario is how antithetical that analysis is to the fundamental tenets of Zionism. The purpose of Zionism was to establish a strong sanctuary for Jews in the historic homeland. That sanctuary exists. Israel is, according to the analysts, the 4th strongest military power in the world and it is a nuclear power.
Pretending that Israel's situation in 2007 is like that of the Jews of Europe in 1939 is absurd and a desecration of the memory of the Six Million. Would anyone argue that the Holocaust would have taken place if Polish Jews had both nuclear weapons and a way to deliver them to Berlin? Of course not.
It was Jewish powerlessness that made the Holocaust possible, powerlessness that ended following Israel's establishment, the advent of the Israel Defense Forces and the development of Israel's nuclear deterrent.
If the existence of a militarily strong nuclear Israel, a nation 6 million strong, with an army second to none, has left Jews in as precarious a situation as 60 years ago, then Zionism was a failure and the existence of Israel is fundamentally worthless.
As a lifelong Zionist, I obviously do not accept that premise. Having come of age following the Six Day War, I simply cannot buy into the idea that Israel cannot accomplish what it needs to in order to secure its survival. Those who argue otherwise have either given up on Israel or are trying to scare either the fellow Israelis or Americans into a military strike at Iran before all other options have been tried.
Enough is enough. If we have learned anything from the Iraq war or the summer war on Israel’s northern border, it should be that wars, no matter what the intention of their architects, have unintended consequences and sometimes unimaginable ones.
Those who hold out the terrifying image of Israel reduced to dust by Iran as a means to produce a willy-nilly rush to war could, perversely, be setting the scene for the catastrophe they most fear. The gift of prophecy can be a wonderful thing if it helps avert disaster. However, the ritualistic invoking of the Holocaust, the suggestion that Israel is militarily helpless, and self-fulfilling prophecies of doom, are deeply offensive -- except of course to one Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Can’t you just see him as he reads Benny Morris, the Herzliyah transcripts, and the New Republic cover story? I can. And he’s laughing.
MJ Rosenberg is the Director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center. If you have colleagues or friends who would appreciate receiving this weekly letter, or you would like to unsubscribe, send an e-mail to: email@example.com
M.J. Rosenberg works in Washington supporting US efforts to advance an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Previously, he worked on Capitol Hill for various Democratic members of the House and Senate for 15 years. He was also a Clinton political appointee at USAID. In the early 1980s, he was editor of AIPACs weekly newsletter Near East Report. After the signing of the Oslo Accords, Rosenberg broke with the AIPAC position and became a strong advocate of the "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Editor's note: The "two-state solution" will no longer work, therefore will never happen. Israel has changed the reality on the ground with the Wall, making the two-state solution physically unworkable. One state, Jews and Arabs together, is the only viable solution and Israel is not about to let that ever happen.
The U.S. is saying it is working to advance an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, when it is clearly not.