Given the real danger of a new ugly war as a result of Iran’s threats toward Israel and of Israel’s counter-threats, I am ashamed of The New York Times for publishing an incendiary op-ed article by Benny Morris. Its only positive impact is to provide a window into the depth of anxiety in Israel regarding Iran, a purpose that would have been much better served in a news article. That most Israelis understandably feel so threatened requires that the international community deal effectively with Iran on the nuclear issue.
Prof. Morris is a great historian because he is ordinarily so careful about marshaling facts and evidence in relation to conclusions. Consequently, my shock was complete at reading his jump to the harshest of judgments regarding the absolute “need” for Israel and/or the US to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the “inevitability” of nuclear war if such an attack fails or doesn’t occur, prior to Iran going nuclear.
There is a very scary assumption that Morris makes, that Iran’s ruling Islamist elite is so crazed by religious extremism that they would look forward to a nuclear exchange with Israel, which some actually believe that Iran would “win” while the much smaller Israel is effectively destroyed. Apparently, there have been some statements by prominent Iranians that lend credence to such a view. But it’s not the wisest course to act upon the worst possible interpretations about Iran– which even Morris knows would mean war, even as he knows that Israel’s prospects for success in destroying Iran’s nuclear potential are small.
I’ve spent many unhappy hours over the years in dialogue and diatribe with leftist critics and enemies of Israel. One, who knows Farsi (the Persian language of Iran), has made a big deal of the notion that Iran’s Pres. Ahmadinejad did not literally call for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” This is how that person translates Ahmadinejad on Israel: “The Imam [Khomenei] said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.”
Reassuring, right? Even the notion that Israel is referred to as the “regime occupying Jerusalem,” is an extremely hostile statement. Yet I had to tangle with this translator even on the fact that (West) Jerusalem is Israel’s capital – leaving aside my understanding that East Jerusalem is legitimately regarded by most of the world as occupied.
My argument with Morris is not that his concern is wrong, but that his “remedy” guarantees a bad result.