Last Friday’s NY Times ran what I found to be a startling report of a large-scale Israeli military exercise in the Mediterranean and over Greece, apparently with that country’s cooperation, in early June. This was confirmed (among other places) in the Pan Arab Middle East Times. This exercise reportedly included over 100 Israeli fighter-bombers, rescue helicopters and refueling aircraft.
There was also a CBS evening news story under the headline, “Israel Prodding U.S. To Attack Iran.” Michael Oren, the well-known Israeli historian, is now also a CBS news consultant. He indicates:
“The Israelis have been assured by the Bush administration that the Bush administration will not allow Iran to nuclearize,” Oren said. “Israelis are uncertain about what would be the policies of the next administration vis-à-vis Iran.”
Israel’s message is simple: If you don’t, we will. …but military analysts say Israel can not do it alone.
“Keep in mind that Israel does not have strategic bombers,” Oren said. “The Israeli Air Force is not the American Air Force. Israel can not eliminate Iran’s nuclear program.”
Israel is said to be operating under the assumption that Iran can have an operational nuclear weapon by some time next year, while the US military sees such a development as several years off.
All this is scary from a number of angles, and both the prospect of Iran going nuclear and of Israel and/or the United States attacking to prevent this, appear hazardous in the extreme. The new Meretz party chair, Chaim Oron, advised caution in a conference call with Meretz USA: “The Iranian issue is serious and real, and it’s one that Israel needs to face alongside the international community. Israel is part of this community, but it shouldn’t try to handle this alone.”
I often joust in email and online with people who are hostile to Israel. The Iraq war has been unjustly blamed on Israel and the so-called “Israel Lobby.” Sadly, war with Iran would be largely about Israel, but I see this as mostly because of Iran’s religiously-inspired hatred.
The people of Israel have been repeatedly subject to the rantings of President Ahmadinejad about how the Holocaust is a “theory” and that Israel will soon disappear. At the same time, Iran is eager to develop nuclear power and has resisted international inspections that would certify what it claims is not an arms program. Moreover, Iran has long-range missiles that they boast have the capability of hitting Israel.
Israel’s fears are based upon adding two plus two. Iran can easily allay these fears by allowing international inspections and curtailing its hostile rhetoric.
Would I want to see less provocative rhetoric from Israel and the US? Of course. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz’s statement that an attack on Iran is “inevitable” didn’t help. This was posturing by a politician contending for the leadership of his Kadima party and for the job of prime minister (God help us).
But Israel is far more vulnerable than Iran (being so much smaller) and it’s Iran that started this game with its hostility.
I do not believe that Israel should attack Iran (this is not likely to destroy Iran’s nuclear program and it promises untold pain for all), but I don’t blame Israel in the least for feeling threatened. Ahmadinejad’s provocations are as clear as day.
It is argued by apologists for Ahmadinejad that he has been misquoted, that he is musing philosophically about the end of Israel’s current (“Zionist”) form of government. One such speaker of Farsi, whom I’ve dialogued with, quotes Ahmadinejad as saying: “the regime that occupies Jerusalem should be wiped clean from the pages of history.” To me this sounds exactly like advocating Israel’s destruction.
There is a ray of hope and a possible model in the deal just announced with North Korea, which is publicly dismantling facilities and the US, in return, is taking it off the State Department list of terrorist states and pledging its peaceful intent.
Iran, Israel and the US all need to cool their rhetoric. But since it’s Iran that has brought about this crisis, it needs either to go first, or to secretly engage in diplomacy in an effort to step away from the brink.