Just The Facts

Ari Shavit is back to the subject of Iran this morning:

First fact: Neither the West nor Israel can accept a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran would make the Middle East nuclear, threaten Western sources of energy, paralyze Israel with fear, cause Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to go nuclear and the world order to collapse. A nuclear Iran would make our lives hell.

Second fact: Neither the West nor Israel has to act militarily at present against Iranian nuclearization. A military attack against Iran would incite a disastrous regional war, which would cost the lives of thousands of Israelis. A military attack against Iran would turn it into a great vengeful power that would sanctify eternal war against the Jewish State. A military attack against Iran would cause a world financial crisis and isolate Israel from the family of nations.

Shavit's "sophisticated" conclusion ("sophisticated" is his favorite adjective after "mature") is that Israel must be perceived to be fanatic. "Israel must not behave like an insane country. Rather, it must create the fear that if it is pushed into a corner it will behave insanely. To ensure that Israel is not forced to bomb Iran, it must maintain the impression that it is about to bomb Iran."

And just why is Shavit reviving this "madman" strategy, of all times, now? Because he thinks he must chastise former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin for dissociating themselves from Netanyahu's rhetoric, you know, that thing about options and tables.

IN FACT, THE  "first fact" is an intentionally grim thought experiment, the kind of worst case you pay intelligence officers to imagine, work through and plan for, but then expect statesmen to step back from, as Ashkenazi, Dagan, and Diskin clearly have. Our "first fact" suggests that if Iran has a nuclear bomb its clerical leaders would use it (or, unprovoked, credibly threaten to use it) against Israel and the Gulf states, i.e., "Western sources of energy," and to what end, exactly? Spread Shi'a Islam with a radioactive cloud? You would have to assume, that is, that Iran would attack without considering the prospect of nuclear retaliation from Israel and the US, or that Turkey (a member of NATO, remember) Saudi Arabia, etc., would not feel safe without nukes of its own.

But even if an Iranian bomb would touch off some regional nuclear arms race, why would this be "hell" in a way that total regional war would not? I mean the catastrophic war described in Shavit's "second fact," which precludes an Israeli attack in the first place. Indeed, if Israel is savvy enough to understand the awful effects of such a war, shall we assume Iran (which lost a generation fighting Iraq in the 1980s) does not? Shall we not at least assume that Iran sees how Israel can see this fact--that it knows Israel knows a preemptive attack on Iran would invite catastrophe for Israel--all of which makes the madman theory a little contradictory if not more than a little daffy?

Ashkenazi, Dagan, and Diskin, now that they are civilians, are simply doing what citizens must: calling on their leaders to speak sanely, constructively, and map out a foreign policy and security strategy that appeals to common sense. This includes, they say (something Shavit cannot quite get his mind around), getting on with the challenge of reconciling with Palestine's growing international power and making the most of the Arab League peace initiative while it is still on the table.

American neocons fancy themselves, as Irving Kristol put it, "liberals who've been mugged by reality." Shavit has come to the precocious conclusion (which he thinks less sophisticated and mature Israeli liberals resist) that our neighbors can be very dangerous. Someday, no doubt, he will graduate to the idea that we all can be.