Self-Defeating Scare Tactics Hurt More Than They Help



You know you are in trouble when it takes former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to dispel some of the gloom about the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel. But that's what happened at last month's Herzliya Conference on National Security.

Netanyahu said: "I am optimistic, and my optimism is not baseless because I understand our capabilities."

His remarks (surprising coming from someone who regularly utilizes apocalyptic rhetoric about Iran) were a dose of reality in a political scene that has become increasingly dominated by gloom-and-doom fantasies replete with references to the imminence of a second Holocaust.

The fear, of course, is that Iran is on the verge of producing nuclear weapons and will, if in possession of them, use them immediately to destroy Israel.

Netanyahu's statement was a reminder that Israel's far from helpless. It is a strong military power and, although he would not say so, reportedly has 200 atomic weapons of its own.

A nuclear attack on Israel by anyone would be suicidal, and there are few, if any, governments in the world that would be willing to sacrifice millions of its own people to eliminate its enemies. Those who argue that Iranians or Muslims in general — unlike Westerners — would happily see their cities destroyed and their children consumed in a nuclear jihad are talking nonsense. The mullahs themselves are calculating and dangerous; they are not suicidal. And it is they, not President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who call the shots.

Nevertheless, Israel's powerful deterrent is continually being downplayed by those who insist that the Israeli state is essentially as vulnerable as the Jews of Europe were in 1939.

Of the dozens of articles and speeches which express that fear, one stands out. It is by Benny Morris, one of Israel's top historians, who made his name by exploring the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem. He is no right-winger, which makes his words especially significant.

In an essay, Morris predicts the destruction of Israel by Iranian nuclear weapons. The most distressing part of his analysis (or prophecy) is its utter fatalism. The idea that America will do nothing. Iran will get the bomb. Iran will use it on Israel. Israel will be destroyed. It's all inevitable. He does not even propose ways for Israel to avert this catastrophe.

Like most of the gloom-and-doom school, Morris believes that the only thing motivating Iranian policy is the desire to eliminate Israel. But Iran's dangerous game of nuclear brinksmanship is about much more than Israel. In fact, it is primarily about the United States. That is why many believe that negotiations would be productive. In negotiations with the United States, Iran can demand recognition and security guarantees from Washington while we can demand an end to nuclear bomb development, an end to their meddling in Iraq, an end to support of Hezbollah and endorsement of negotiations as a means to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Pretending that Israel's situation in 2007 is like that of the Jews of Europe in 1939 is absurd and a desecration of the memory of the Six Million. It was Jewish powerlessness that made the Holocaust possible, powerlessness that ended following Israel's establishment, the advent of the Israel Defense Force and the development of Israel's nuclear deterrent.

If the existence of a militarily strong nuclear Israel, a nation 7 million strong, with an army second to none, has left Jews in as precarious a situation as 60 years ago, then Zionism was a failure, and the existence of Israel is fundamentally worthless.

As a lifelong Zionist, I obviously do not accept that premise. I simply cannot buy into the idea that Israel cannot accomplish what it needs to in order to secure its survival. Those who argue otherwise have either given up on Israel, or are trying to scare either their fellow Israelis or Americans into a military strike at Iran before all other options have been tried.

Those who hold out the terrifying image of Israel reduced to dust by Iran as a means to produce a willy-nilly rush to war could, perversely, be setting the scene for the catastrophe they most fear.

The gift of prophecy can be a wonderful thing if it helps avert disaster. However, the ritualistic invoking of the Holocaust and the suggestion that Israel is militarily helpless remain deeply offensive — except, of course, to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

M.J. Rosenberg is the director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center.



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