Israel and the Iranian Bomb

The September 2010 edition of The Atlantic features a story on what it represents as Israel’s plan to attack and try to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities before Iran can get to the point of producing a nuclear weapon–a prospect the Israelis argue is quite imminent, meaning the attack could come quite soon.

The article, by Jeffrey Goldberg, is titled “The Point of No Return,” and it is decidedly more sanguine about these prospects than one would assume from the normally fairly restrained Goldberg. Indeed, Goldberg seems at least receptive to, if not enthusiastic about, the purported Israeli plan, whereas his colleague Robert D. Kaplan, usually more hawkish on such matters, counsels Kissingerian restraint (deterrence) in his companion article, “Living with Nuclear Iran.”

The possibility that Israel would entertain and possibly even commit to an attack aimed at destroying the Iranian nuclear program is certainly nothing new, although it has been a prospect that most of us have set aside as sufficiently lunatic or far enough in the future to be intellectually avoidable. The Atlantic article strips away both of these veils, showing that the intent to attack permeates a great deal of the Israeli decision process (notably the top) and that the prospects are upon us. Goldberg indeed hints that he believes such an action is probably inevitable.

At the risk of distorting Goldberg’s argument, it strikes me that it has three basic parts. The first, and most familiar, is that the Iranian nuclear program represents an intolerable existential threat to Israel. In one sense, this is entirely true: Iran in control of a few deliverable nuclear weapons that the Israelis could not intercept (which may be the real meaning of the Iranian drone aircraft announced this week) could indeed destroy so much of Israel as to threaten its existence. The nature of that threat, however, needs qualification the Israelis rarely add.

First, Israel has arguably become “the state that cries existential threat” in much the same way as the little boy cried wolf. It seems that every threat the Israelis face is labeled existential, and that Israel responds militarily with actions/provocations that either make the threat worse or produce new threats. Israeli policy in Gaza is a poster child for this problem. Second, the Israelis act as if they were alone in all this. Not so. The United States and the Soviet Union/Russia have posed physical existential threats to one another since the perfection of the ICBM, and we have learned to adapt to and deflect the problem. Our mechanism (which is the Kissimgerian solution) is deterrence, an approach the Israelis reject because they Iranians are allegedly crazy, meaning they cannot be deterred. Third, the Israelis have posed an existential threat to Iran (and the rest of the Muslim Middle East) for over 40 years. The Israelis say that situation is different, because they would not attack anyone. If you were the head of an Islamic government in the area, would you accept that argument?

Second, the Israelis apparently think there is agood chance they can get away with an attack, because they have done so in the past with attacks against Iraq and Syria. Maybe so, but maybe not. Syria and Iraq were much more defenseless than Iran and were considered far less important than the Iranians. Iran is, after all, a very large, populous country with a wealth of natural resources that much of the world covets. Syria, in particular, is none of those things. Will the world sit so idly by in Iran is attacked? I, for one, do not want to find out.

Third, the Israelis are counting on American support for this endeavor–or at least that the U.S. will dampen opposition to the action. One Israeli air force officer even suggests it would be better if the U.S. did the bombing for the Israelis, since we have superior assets for such an attack. President Obama has, quite predictably, declared that no options are off the table in this situation, but a U.S. surrogate attack on the Israelis’ behalf is presumably right at the edge of the table, ready to be pushed off.

If any other country in the world proposed anything like what is discussed in this article, the international condemnation would be thunderous; even in the deeply divided partisanship of current American politics, if it was not Israel making the threat, both sides might suspend their guerrilla political war long enough to issue a condemnation. If the Israelis go ahead and make the attack (which, by the way, will almost certainly fail to destroy the Iranian program) the only places there will be rejoice will be in Jerusalem and the Republican National Committee.

This whole idea is ludicrous beyond description, and needs to be treated as such. If the United States government has not already done so, it should issue a private warning to the Israelis that they are strictly on their own and that their action will be condemned by Washington as quickly and as resolutely as was the joint British-French-Israeli invasion of Suez in 1956. If Israel unleashes these dogs of war, let it deal with the consequences alone. We have and should continue to support and protect Israel; we should not suborn Israeli aggression.

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One Response to “Israel and the Iranian Bomb”

  1. William Bilek, M.D. Says:

    The internet is awash with blogs, and bloggers, making all sorts of ludicrous claims and comments, especially on the Middle East conflict, most of which are easily dismissed as the rantings of ill-informed and/or ill-willed pseudo-intellectuals. That is why the comments on this particular blog, written by an educated, experienced Professor Emeritus, are particularly disturbing, and cannot be simply ignored.

    Yet “ignore” is exactly what the writer has done in formulating his comments. Having just returned from Israel, I can attest to the FACT that the general population of the country, not just its government, or its leadership, including almost the entire spectrum of political parties, strongly believe that:

    1) The current government of Iran fully intends to act on its threat to vaporize the Jewish state and its people, regardless of the cost to itself.

    2) The country of Israel, and its people cannot, and will not, sit idly by, waiting for that event to happen.

    Whether or not that belief is well-based and reasonable is in the eye of the distant beholder, and can be discussed from afar. None of that changes the facts on the ground, where perception is reality.

    The author of this blog, ensconced comfortably in Hilton Head, can smugly write of Israel “crying wolf” at its self – perceived, continuously threatened existence. As the only Jewish-majority state on earth, with a 20% minority Arab population becoming increasingly emboldened by Iranian support, and increasingly radicalized, in a territory, and with a population, roughly the size of greater Atlanta, never having known a single day of unthreatened peace in the 60+ years of its existence, the “wolf” is still, certainly, at the door. Its enemies include 100 million immediate Arab neighbors; many in the 1.2 billion -strong Muslim world population; the usual suspects including Europe’s historic cache of Christian anti-Semites. Simply sustaining a continuous position of self-defense, with a significant portion of its population out of the economic loop serving in the IDF, and the defense expenses involved in assuring its survival, pose a daily “existential threat.” The grinding anxiety of daily life under the gun in Israel is an “existential threat”, for its population has a choice; mass emigration to escape perceived threat will just as surely bring an end to the re-established Jewish state as will the explosion of a nuclear device over Tel Aviv. “Deterrence” between 2 superpowers such as the U.S. and Russia is no comparison to the situation between Israel and a nuclear armed Islamic world, especially those in the mullahcrocy of Iran. It is easy to dismiss Israel’s allegations of Islamic irrationality when one is not directly under the gun, and in the bullseye of Ahmadinejad’s repeated threats.

    The author’s mindset becomes clear when he writes “Israel responds militarily with actions/provocations that either make the threat worse or produce new threats. Israeli policy in Gaza is a poster child for this problem. ” “Responds militarily” to what? To 14,000 rockets fired at its civilians over 6 years, from a Palestinian territory totally devoid of any Jews, with the world sitting by in accepting, paralyzed silence? In the face of this, Israel’s response in finally deciding to defend the citizens of Sderot is labelled a “provocation”? Nonsense!!!

    “If any other country in the world proposed anything like what is discussed in this article, the international condemnation would be thunderous;” Is this not EXACTLY what Iran has repeatedly “proposed” – the extermination of a member state of the U.N., and its population, without so much as a dissenting voice? Is that not what Iran’s proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah vocally threaten daily, without consequence? What blind gall!!!

    “This whole idea is ludicrous beyond description.” Except that in the face of a complacent if not outrightly hostile world, including the current U.S. Administration, with full support by those such as the author of this blog, who see Israeli survival as Israeli aggression; who seem prepared to accept a second Holocaust of the Jews in 100 years, Israel and Israelis see no alternative. Israel’s purported nuclear “deterrent” will not, cannot, save it from extermination. It simply is a doomsday device with which Israel assures that its enemies, and the world that enables them, will pay a painful price in bringing about its demise.

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