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 in relation to the Iranian nuclear threat.
Yet simultaneously, in the course of one week, Iranian President Ahmadinejad announced that “Israel is a malignant cancer” and that “the black stain of Zionism must be removed”, Ayatollah Khomeini stated that “Israel will disappear from the map” and a prominent Iranian general proclaimed that “Israel must be destroyed forever”. In the light of such incitement, to deny that a nuclear Iran represents an existential threat to Israel is to deny reality.
Mutual assured deterrence (MAD), 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 out of fear that its people would also be incinerated.
Whilst being on the frontlines, this is far from being an exclusively Israeli problem. A nuclear Iran will 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 the rest of the world.
Netanyahu’s campaign has certainly obliged the United States and 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 simply bluffing about an independent Israeli strike.
So far, although U.S. sanctions have impacted on the Iranian economy, with China, India and Japan continuing to trade, the Iranians seem determined to press on. I avoid adopting a public position on how I believe Israel should respond because I lack access to the intelligence to enable an evaluation of 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 Prime Minister Netanyahu alone but by a majority of the security cabinet which comprises a cross-section of responsible leaders reflecting the 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 public opinion.
We all recognize that a military operation spearheaded by the US would be far more effective than Israel going it alone. Many of us wish we could rely on President Obama’s vague undertakings that the U.S. will ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear power. However, when we review 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 US undertakings in relation to such a crucial issue impinging on our future.
Besides, the U.S. hardly has a great success rate of 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 continues to defer to the dysfunctional Islamic and rogue dominated UN. Nor for that matter to Mitt Romney who if elected, may also hesitate to inaugurate his term with a major military confrontation which may result in severe negative ramifications on the global economy.
Whilst 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 US 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 home front.
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 to acting as a responsible President. Now, the man who sought to undermine 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 contradicting government policy is totally beyond the jurisdiction of a president.
The hysterical personal attacks on Netanyahu by Opposition Leader Shaul Mofaz were simply mind-boggling. He ranted that the PM was “playing a dangerous and irresponsible game with the future of the entire nation.” He accused Netanyahu of promoting war in order 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 PM 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. Ha’aretz and even more so Yediot and the major TV stations assailed Netanyahu’s “irresponsibility” and even accused him of seeking to go to war with Iran in order to divert attention from social issues. The journalists are not privy to intelligence or inside information, yet they run scare stories on the home front and attempt to create panic. Ha’aretz even published an article headlined “Mr. Netanyahu, before you bomb Iran, say goodbye to everyone you know”.
The hysteria has extended with retired IDF chiefs of staff and former intelligence heads joining the fray, hinting that the PM would be accountable to a Commission of Inquiry if military operations failed.
There were bizarre demonstrations against military action. Artists Gila Almagor and 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 pilots to refuse to obey orders to bomb Iran.
Yet notwithstanding this hysteria, Israelis remain calm. Some update their gas masks and check their 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 column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom.
Isi Leibler is a veteran international Jewish leader with a distinguished record of contributions to the Jewish world and the cause of human rights. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife Naomi who is World President of Emunah. Mr. Leibler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.