In recent weeks, the ugly side of Israeli public life has been on display, with irresponsible politicians, supported by the sensationalist media, engaging in cheap demagoguery over the Iranian nuclear threat.
Simultaneously, in the course of one week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that “Israel is a malignant cancer” and that “the black stain of Zionism must be removed,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that “Israel will disappear from the map,” and a prominent Iranian general proclaimed that “Israel must be destroyed forever.” In light of such incitement, to deny that a nuclear Iran represents an existential threat to Israel is to deny reality.
Mutually assured deterrence, which prevented a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is inapplicable today. A messianic Islamic leadership convinced that by “nuking” Israel it will expedite the coming of the Mahdi and obtain heavenly rewards for its adherents is unlikely to be deterred by a fear that its people would also be incinerated.
While Israel is certainly the one on the front lines, this is far from an exclusively Israeli problem. A nuclear Iran would alter the balance of power in the Middle East, with potentially disastrous implications for global stability, and, as U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned, would pose an enormous threat to the U.S. and to the rest of the world.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign against a nuclear Iran has certainly prompted the U.S. and other Western countries to confront the nightmare that would ensue should Iran emerge as the dominant regional nuclear power. But I do not believe that he is bluffing about an independent Israeli strike.
So far, although U.S. sanctions have had some impact on the Iranian economy, with China, India and Japan continuing to trade, the Iranians seem determined to press on. I will avoid adopting a public position on how I believe Israel should respond because I lack access to the intelligence necessary to evaluate Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s “zone of immunity” or assess the odds of a successful solo Israeli military offensive to destroy or delay the Iranian bomb.
The decision on the timing or whether or not to take military action will not be determined by Netanyahu alone, but by a majority of the Political-Security Cabinet, which comprises a cross-section of responsible leaders reflecting a broad political mainstream. I have confidence in their integrity to make a rational decision on what they consider will best serve the interests of the nation. It is absurd to suggest that such policies should be determined by engaging the public.
We all recognize that a military operation spearheaded by the U.S. would be far more effective than if Israel was to go it alone. Many of us wish we could rely on U.S. President Barack Obama’s vague declarations that the U.S. will ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear power. However, if we take into account the track record of third parties who pledged to stand by us in times of need, it would be a somewhat daunting gamble to rely exclusively on broad U.S. undertakings on such a crucial issue for our future.
Besides, the U.S. hardly has a great success rate when it comes to preventing rogue states like North Korea from developing weapons of mass destruction. That applies especially to Obama, who is not renowned for taking tough global military decisions and who continues to defer to the dysfunctional Islamic and rogue-state-dominated U.N. This also applies to Mitt Romney, for that matter, who, if elected, may also hesitate to inaugurate his term with a major military confrontation that may have severe, negative ramifications on the global economy.
While the negative statements issued by U.S. spokesmen in recent weeks could be highly sophisticated examples of disinformation, it is more likely that they reflect the reality that nothing has yet been resolved. Of course, when Obama meets Netanyahu in the fall, he could persuade him to suspend independent action by convincing him that a U.S. military option is credible and committed to a timeline for acting in the absence of any diplomatic breakthrough with the mullahs.
Failing any progress, our government is now preparing the Israeli public for the possibility that Israel will be obliged to act independently.
Yet, unlike previous occasions when there was little public debate prior to Israel taking unilateral military action, today we have a surfeit of politicians afflicted with flapping gums, babbling away, creating confusion and undermining unity and confidence on the homefront.
The most recent outburst was from President Shimon Peres who until now had appeared to have set aside his days as a politician and committed himself to acting as a responsible president. Now, the man who sought to undermine former Prime Minister Menachem Begin for taking out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor, who predicted a “new Middle East” after the Oslo Accords and supported the disastrous 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, is demanding that Israel not “attack Iran alone.” Such a statement, which contradicts government policy, is totally beyond the jurisdiction of an Israeli president.
The hysterical personal attacks on Netanyahu issued by Opposition Chairman Shaul Mofaz were simply mind-boggling. He ranted that the prime minister was “playing a dangerous and irresponsible game with the future of the entire nation.” He accused Netanyahu of promoting war to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections, asking, “Why are you putting your hands deep in the American ballot boxes?” and “endangering the future of our children?” So much for a responsible opposition.
In a similar vein, discredited former prime minister Ehud Olmert, the architect of the failed Second Lebanon War, insisted that “Iran is far from the point of no return in terms of its nuclear project” and expressed “alarm” at the “great public damage” Netanyahu’s warlike policies were inflicting on Israel, which “disgusted us.”
Aside from Israel Hayom, the Hebrew media also went overboard. Haaretz, and even more so Yedioth Ahronoth and the major TV stations, assailed Netanyahu’s “irresponsibility” and even accused him of seeking to go to war with Iran to divert attention from social issues. The journalists are not privy to intelligence or inside information, yet they print frightening headlines and attempt to create panic. Haaretz even published an op-ed headlined, “Mr. Netanyahu, before you bomb Iran, say goodbye to everyone you know.”
The hysteria has extended all the way to retired Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff and former intelligence heads who have also joined the fray, hinting that the prime minister would be accountable to a commission of inquiry if military operations failed.
There have been bizarre demonstrations against military action. Renowned actress Gila Almagor and internationally recognized singer Achinoam Nini promoted anti-war petitions. There was even a seditious petition from 400 academics, including a former head of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Law, calling on Israel Air Force pilots to refuse orders to bomb Iran.
Despite this hysteria, Israelis remain calm. Some are refreshing their gas mask kits and checking their bomb shelters, but overall life goes on and there is no panic. Because Israelis today are reasonably confident that our leaders will decide what is best for the nation and recognize that, if necessary, we must confront those who seek our demise.
This post first appeared in Israel Hayom.