Benny Morris shocks us on Iran

Benny Morris shocks us on Iran

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.

By | 2008-07-23T04:25:00-04:00 July 23rd, 2008|Blog|6 Comments


  1. Anonymous July 23, 2008 at 9:20 am - Reply

    For a more encouraging view of the situation read Aluf Ben In Haaretz. Ben suggests that the US has changed tack and is not pursuing a war strategy. It means that Israel has to toe the line. Good news for all of us opposed to war.

    Sol Salbe
    Melbourne Australia

  2. Anonymous July 24, 2008 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    Morris’ support for nuking Iran would seem to be a surprise only to you. I think that you need to accept that Benny is a right-wing idealogue with deep prejudices against and even hatred for Arabs and Muslims and and an apologist for ethnic cleansing (Israel’s policies in 1948) and now even genocide (nuke Iran). Morris’ historical representations of events in 1947-1948 need to be understood in that light.

    So as you defend Morris’ depiction of events in 1947-1948 and attack the views put forward by Palestinian and Israeli historians who are to his “left” (that is, left of supporting ethnic cleaning and genocide), please consider who and what you are defending.


  3. Anonymous July 24, 2008 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    It’s important to distinguish (as this post does) between the pioneering work of Benny Morris as a historian and the opinions he expresses as a private citizen. It’s also important for the world to take note of the terrible fear that Israelis quite rationally feel toward Iran’s ongoing hostility, coupled as it is with its headlong insistence on going nuclear, without an appropriate international monitoring role.

  4. Anonymous July 24, 2008 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    Hi Folks,

    Can someone explain how Benny is somehow different as a historian vs. as “a private citizen?” Because I for one think the idea that there is a distinction makes absolutely no sense. Does Benny turn on and off different parts of his brain when he is one vs. the other? Or perhaps his heart (Does he have one?)? Or is Benny sworn to obey his commanding historian?


  5. Ralph Seliger July 25, 2008 at 4:17 am - Reply

    Since we don’t know Morris personally, Ted’s guess is as good as anybody else’s. He almost does seem to be two people.

    It appears that when he operates as an historian in his books, writing in accord with rules of research and data, he is more cautious in rendering his conclusions than as a private person prognosticating on current events.

    But he is reflective of a wide fear in the Israeli population. Having already experienced a genocide within living memory, Jews are understandably more keenly sensitive to threats than most other people are. That’s why the hostile rhetoric of Iranian leaders, in conjunction with their thumbing their noses at international concerns about its nuclear program, is leading to a dangerous crisis.

  6. Werner Cohn July 29, 2008 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    I don’t know enough to either endorse or condemn the whole of the Morris op-ed piece. But there is one point that he makes to which we must pay close attention: the fanatical, murderous (and self-destructive) nature of the Shiite leadership of Iran. They are not old-style rascals with whom one can strike a deal, any more than Hitler (pace Chamberlain) was open to deal-making. In retrospect, Churchill was right and Chamberlain was wrong. Now whether this applies easily to the present situation in Iran, I am not smart enough to know.

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