At that point, the audience at Yeshiva University interrupted Adelson with applause.
The obvious problem with this kind of blackmail threat, of course, is that it requires the extortionist to follow through if the other side doesn't capitulate. To be credible, you have to back up the warning -- "you want to be wiped out?" -- by actually wiping the other side out.
If Adelson were simply an eccentric old billionaire spouting threats of genocide at some university forum in New York City, that would be bad enough. But Adelson is an important behind-the-scenes figure in the Republican Party.
Nearly singlehandedly, Adelson kept afloat the 2012 presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and then threw his vast financial resources behind the Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who accompanied Adelson on a high-profile trip to Israel that was designed to highlight tensions between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Romney's warm reception in Israel was seen as effectively an endorsement of his candidacy by Netanyahu, who has rattled many of his own military sabers at Iran. While in Israel, Romney delivered a belligerent speech suggesting that he, as U.S. president, would happily support an Israeli war against Iran.
Romney told an audience of Israelis and some wealthy pro-Israel Americans that he is prepared to employ "any and all measures" to stop Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons "capability," a vague concept that arguably already exists.
Romney's speech in Jerusalem was accompanied by a comment from his top foreign policy adviser Dan Senor seeming to endorse an Israeli unilateral strike against Iran. "If Israel has to take action on its own," Senor said, "the governor would respect that decision."
Romney said, "today, the regime in Iran is five years closer to developing nuclear weapons capability. Preventing that outcome must be our highest national security priority. ... We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability.
"We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded."
By elevating Iran's achievement of a nuclear weapons "capability" to America's "highest national security priority" and vowing to "employ any and all measures" to prevent that eventuality, Romney was essentially threatening war against Iran under the current circumstances. In that, he went beyond the vague language used by President Obama, who himself has sounded belligerent with his phrasing about "all options on the table" to stop Iran if it moves to build a nuclear weapon.
However, the nuance was significant, since U.S. intelligence agencies -- and even their Israeli counterparts -- have concluded that Iran has not decided to build a nuclear weapon even as it makes progress in a nuclear program that Iranian leaders say is for peaceful purposes only. Still, those lessons from a peaceful nuclear program arguably can give a country a nuclear weapons "capability." [See Consortiumnews.com's "US/Israel: Iran NOT Building Nukes."]
Though Romney lost the 2012 election, his point of view is common among pro-Israel hawks in Congress and throughout Official Washington's think-tank and media communities. Adelson also wields real influence because he, along with his wife Miriam, has poured a fortune into the U.S. political process, calculated at $92.8 million to outside political groups during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
And, it is his kind of crazy talk, not uncommon among extreme Zionists, that makes any political settlement of the Middle East disputes next to impossible.