Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bibi Gun

I have learned much from Jeffrey Goldberg, and generally admire what he does with his contradictions; but yesterday's New York Times column on Benjamin Netanyahu is troubling on so many levels one hardly knows how deep to drill first.

Basically Goldberg is saying this: You may suspect (given Netanyahu's record, presumably) that the prime minister is an ideologue and something of a manipulator, that he is actually committed to Greater Israel, and is throwing Iranian sand in our eyes, trying to distract us from the occupation and the settlements. But this would be wrong.

Netanyahu, Goldberg continues, truly does believe that Iran is a threat to Israel's very existence, and he believes this for three reasons: strategic, Jewish, and familial. I, Goldberg, do not necessarily believe these things myself, but I have access to Netanyahu and his strategic planners, a purchase on the way Israeli Jews think, and a sympathetic grasp of his family dynamics. So I'm going to explain him to you. (Goldberg does not tell us why, if he does think Netanyahu is misguided, the prime minister's sincerity is a virtue or even worth talking about; or why Netanyahu and his aides particularly like to speak with him. But I digress.)

THE STRATEGIC POINT is the important one, and Goldberg does not so much report it as (how did Stephen Colbert put it?) write it down. He is, no doubt, accurately reflecting the views of most of the professionals currently involved in Israeli strategic planning, from Uzi Arad (Netanyahu's confidant and head of Israel's National Security Council) on down. Roughly, their scenario runs like this:

Iran may or may not be going for a nuclear bomb, but we have to assume that it is; and once Iran reaches the capacity to build one, this will change the Middle East in a way that will eventually destroy Israel. Even if mad mullahs do not just drop one on Tel-Aviv, the mere fact of a "nuclear umbrella" will embolden Hamas and Hezbollah to fire missiles. It will also turn Iraq into a client state, which will cause Kuwait and the Gulf states to fall in line behind Iran's power. Then Saudi Arabia will fall in line, or get a bomb of its own, or both; all of which will eventually bring Islamists to power in Cairo. So Israel cannot allow these dominoes to fall, which will bring its end. Even if an Israeli air strike only delays the Iranian bomb by a few years, it must hit before doomsday processes are set in motion. (Goldberg is by no means alone in reproducing this scenario. Israel's foremost Churchill wannabe--also a kind of IDF stenographer--Haaretz's Arie Shavit, has been flogging it for months; you can read Shavit's version here.)

I say currently involved in Israeli strategic planning because there are plenty of professionals, from former intelligence boss, Ephraim Halevy, to former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who think an attack would be madness, however uncomfortable it might be to live with a nuclear Iran. But how about mere civilians using their heads for a change? The fact is, every terrible domino that the existence of an Iranian bomb is supposed to topple is far more likely to be toppled by an attack on Iran.

GOLDBERG, VENTRILOQUIZED BY Netanyahi and Arad, is not convinced. "Talk of containing Iran after it acquires a nuclear capacity," he writes, "does not make the Israelis (or Iran’s Arab adversaries, for that matter) happy and, in fact, might push them closer to executing a military strike." Notice the parenthetical aside, implying as Netanyahu loves to imply, that Israel would actually be doing the work of moderate Arab states like Egypt and Jordan, and with their tacit blessing. Goldberg does not tell us that Mohamed El Baradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and an Egyptian, has called a strike "completely insane"; that it would "turn the region into one big fireball, and the Iranians would immediately start building the bomb--and they could count on the support of the entire Islamic world."

If you want to know what an Israeli attack will really mean, just read this extraordinarily trenchant summary by Reuven Pedatzur, ironically entitled, "Here's how Israel would destroy Iran's nuclear program." The piece, relying on a study by Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, blasts the Netanyahu-to-Arad-to-Goldberg thesis more thoroughly than a bunker buster.

Oh, as for missiles coming from Gaza and South Lebanon, you may remember that these have not needed an "Iranian nuclear umbrella" to be launched. You also may have noticed that Israel's nuclear umbrella did not seem to do much good against them either, or for that matter, get its neighbors to fall in line. It seems that, if you subscribe to the big swinging dick theory of diplomacy, the enlargement you can expect from a nuclear bomb is rather limited. (I have had more to say about deterring, not attacking, Iran here and here.)

BUT STRATEGY IS not enough, apparently. To really get Netanyahu we must also understand how "Amalek" (the biblical people that mercilessly attacked the rear of the camp when the children of Israel were leaving Egypt) rattles around in the minds of Israeli planners--also how hard it is to be the son of the Jabotinsky movement's favorite historian of Jew-hatred, and the younger brother of a military icon, to boot. Amalek, Amalek. The ultimate enemy, the metaphor for every anti-Semite, Nazi, and terrorist.

Goldberg might be forgiven for going all squishy here about Jewish fears, though Netanyahu is not the only person to have a difficult father or lose a loved one to terror. But as long as we are onto Amalek, Goldberg might also have noticed that there are two times that biblical Israelites themselves commit genocide. The first, in Prophets, when Samuel commands King Saul to attack Amalek for what their forebearers did. They were to kill every child, lamb, and calf. The second time was after Haman, the Amalekite prime minister in the "comic" Book of Esther, planned to annihilate all of the Persian King's Jewish subjects. The Jews responded preemptively, and with the King's permission, to "destroy, massacre, and exterminate" all of Haman's "sons," and the killing became a bloodbath against Jewish foes that--so the story goes--took over 75,000 lives.

Such Jewish stories, and whether Israelis are to regard them as heroic or tragic, raise the question of what Netanyahu means when he insists on Palestinians recognizing Israel as a "Jewish state." But that's another story.


Richard said...

"I, Goldberg, do not necessarily believe these things myself..."

I think you're being entirely too kind to Goldberg. He never actually explicits (or even implicitly) states he doesn't believe these things, which is but one of the reasons this Goldberg piece is even more a piece of dreck than his usual.

It is sad to see such a gifted writer turned into a mere stenographer for a second-rate huckster Israeli pol.

Potter said...

Embracing of the concept of Amalek ( not necessarily taken as merely a metaphor) is very alarming when it surfaces. This is taught to the young too. "Palestinians are Amelakites" I heard my niece say.

First the labeling and then the need to destroy those designated as Amalek not only ironically mimics what Jews themselves have suffered but going forward ( as you indicate) may very well actually bring Israel's self-destruction which would be a "cosmic irony", Greek tragedy.

After Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2008-9 Israel may be to fear ( as alternatively Iran is seen by Israel) being lead by mad dogs, willing to go it alone, not containable and inspired by scripture. Iran can make this case and the need to protect herself ( and the region).

It's time to get nukes out of the region, including getting Israel to come clean and join the NPT. Iran might follow.

Anonymous said...

I have read Mr. Goldberg story in New Times. I dod not understand co-orelation between his story and this blog. Maybe I understand something different or maybe writer of this blog had pre-set opinion. Mr. Goldberg is basically a bafoon, throwing names around and then shooting them down to show how "important" he is. . I used to do it when I was teeneger (long time ego). As a jewish "Joe the plumber" and also talking to Iranian "Joe the plumbers" I see the problem in very simple terms. Jewish "elite" ethnocracy-theocracy is grand standing with Iranian "elite" islamic theocracy, and vice versa. Same applies to Palestinians. Originally the Zionists were people like me, then the Zionism was hijacted by articulate talking heads and religius nobodies. Of course after the average jewish Joe put their life on line in 1948.
Sorry, This is Ibn Verga, I am not able to sign in and have to use

Sam Abady said...

Avishai raises the unassailable point – albeit obvious – that any strategic analysis must account for the possible consequences of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and measure those consequences against Iran’s having nuclear bombs. That is the starting and ending point of my analysis.

A preliminary matter. Whether or not Jeff Goldberg has access to Bibi’s strategic thinkers, speaks with authority in understanding Bibi’s psychology, his sincerity, etc. is a side show and irrelevant.

If history is precedent, then Avishai’s supposition fails. Saddam did not retaliate when Israel destroyed Osirak, built by the French, and Baschar did not retaliate when Israel destroyed the Syrian reactor at al-Kibar built by the North Koreans and financed by Iran. Plus, who cares what El-Barradi says, he does not speak for Hosni Mubarak and never has.

Avishai’s unstated premise is that Iran can be deterred. To the contrary, statements by Iranian leaders lead to the opposite conclusion. They have been crystal clear that Iran cannot be deterred because Iran is not nationalist, it is Islamist. The Iranian regime exists to serve the ummah, not the Iranian nation. That is why it is an apocalyptic regime – Ahmadinejad thinks he is the mahdi -- and that is what makes it so dangerous. Hence, Iran will unleash nuclear holocaust on Israel as soon as it acquires the capability to do so. Iran’s fajar and shahab missiles can deliver bombs to all of Israel, and Iran is prepared to sacrifice millions from Israel’s counterstrike.

Look at the evidence. In the words of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who ruled Iran from 1979 to 1989: "We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world."

Ahmadinejad invokes Khomeni’s words above relentlessly. For those who diminish Ahmadinejad’s importance, look at the words of Iran’s “pragmatic conservative,” Ayatollah Rafsanjani: "If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has … use of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world. In other words, Israel would be destroyed in a nuclear exchange, but Iran would survive."

Iran is not deterred by national self-interest as the Soviets were. As Bernard Lewis points out: "MAD, mutual assured destruction, [was effective] right through the cold war. Both sides had nuclear weapons. Neither side used them, because both sides knew the other would retaliate in kind. This will not work with a religious fanatic. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that [Iran’s leaders] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights."

Avishai is crtiical what he characterizes as an invalid importation to the Middle East of the failed Cold War domino theory. We don’t need to label the paradigm to understand that, should Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, the Muslim world will be Finlandized. In Europe today, with its growing and restive Muslim populations, this process is already underway, except we don’t call it Finlandization but Islamization.

Again, look at the empirical evidence. Iran captured fifteen British sailors and marines in a naked act of military aggression and held them hostage, forcing a female hostage to shed her British uniform and parade before the cameras in a chador. Did the Royal Navy immediately retaliate? Did it even threaten retaliation? No. Indeed, the European Union turned down Britain’s request to freeze Iranian imports, or even to threaten a freeze of imports. And what did the U.N. do? The Security Council expressed “grave concern” about this act of military aggression against Britain.

As former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, noted, the Iranians were testing the British by this act of war, and the British balked. Ahmadinejad then reaped the additional benefit of presenting himself as a powerful benefactor by releasing the hostages, even as Iran fomented more attacks against British forces in Basra.

Just imagine the kowtowing to Ahmadinejad when he has a nuclear arsenal behind him. Remember, Shahab 3 missiles can reach Europe. Iran already has the largest missile force in the Middle East. And as we saw at al-Kibar, Iran is working cheek by jowl with North Korea, the world’s chief offensive missile proliferator. Iran’s Shahab 4 missiles, once completed, will be able to reach the U.S. It need not bomb our cities. One 100 kiloton bomb detonated in the upper atmosphere can unleash an electromagnetic pulse that would cripple the U.S. and Canada.

Hence, I disagree with Avishai’s essentially cavalier attitude toward Iranian nuclear blackmail. Iran, the chief state sponsor of terrorism, is only too willing to give nuclear weapons to terror groups it now supplies with rockets and IEDs. Ahmadinejad doesn’t need Shahab 4s to unleash nuclear terror against us. Iran will do as it has done historically, act through proxies – even Sunni proxies like Hamas – and engage in taqqiyah by brazenly denying ties to the terrorists on its payroll and trained just outside Tehran.

Even Obama, criticized for his naïveté in engaging the Iranian leadership without preconditions, stressed that “under no circumstances can Iran ever be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.”

One fact above all others trumps Avishai’s analysis: Rafsanjani is right. Israel cannot survive a nuclear strike, even if it can counterstrike with nuclear-tipped Jericho missiles and inflict monumental damage on Iran.

Therefore, Netanyahu and Obama are correct and Avishai is incorrect. Everything must be done to stop Iran from manufacturing or acquiring nuclear weapons because the consequences are far worse than the possible consequences of a successful attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

Samuel A. Abady, J.D.
Bronxville, New York

May 19, 2009 11:02 PM

Potter said...

MAD would work with a US-Israel treaty.

Mr. Abady- I hope you get the lengthy answer of which I am not capable. I think your cherry-picked narrative is at least as dangerous as anything coming out of Iran. You don't distinguish between bravado, words of threat, and plain reality. On both sides this is very dangerous as fear takes over emotions. (Fear itself is what to fear-as per FDR) Even if your narrative were correct, the remedy proposed, a military strike, would, after possibly forestalling, increase the likelihood of your apocalyptic scene as per your analysis.
Certainly, like pruning the limb of a tree, new growth would emerge full force. There is evidence for this too.

Please get a grip.

Amanda Crowe said...

In the current issue of the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg argues that their common enmity for Iran ought to bring about an alliance between Israel and the Sunni Muslim states in our region.

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