Whatever the rantings of Ahmadinejad, the real rulers of the country, the clerics, conduct a cautious and sober policy, and have never attacked another country. They have many important interests, and Israel is not among them. The idea that they would sacrifice their own glorious homeland in order to destroy Israel is ludicrous.
::::::::"HOLD ME back!" is a part of
Israeli folklore. It reminds us of our childhood.
When a boy has a scuffle with a bigger and stronger
boy, he pretends that he is going to attack him any moment and shouts to
the spectators: "Hold me back, or I am going to kill him!"
Israel is now in such a situation. We pretend that we are going to
attack Iran at any moment and shout to the entire world: "Hold us back
And the world does indeed hold us back.
IT IS dangerous to prophesy in such matters, especially when we are
dealing with people not all of whom are wise and not all of whom are
sane. Yet I am ready to maintain: there is no possibility whatsoever
that the government of Israel will send the air force to attack Iran.
I am not going to enter into military matters. Is our air force
really capable of executing such an operation? Are circumstances similar
to those that prevailed 28 years ago, when the Iraqi reactor was
successfully destroyed? Is it at all possible for us to eliminate the
Iranian nuclear effort, whose installations are dispersed throughout the
large country and buried far below the surface?
I want to focus on another aspect: is it politically feasible? What
would be the consequences?
FIRST OF ALL, a basic rule of Israeli reality: the State of Israel
cannot start any large-scale military operation without American
Israel depends on the US in almost every respect, but in no sphere is
it more dependent than in the military one.
The aircraft that must execute the mission were supplied to us by the
US. Their efficacy depends on a steady flow of American spare parts. At
that range, refueling from US-built tanker aircraft would be necessary.
The same is true for almost all other war material of our army, as
well as for the money needed for their acquisition. Everything comes
In 1956, Israel went to war without American consent. Ben-Gurion
thought that his collusion with the UK and France was enough. He was
vastly mistaken. One hundred hours after telling us that the "Third
Kingdom of Israel" had come into being, he announced with a broken voice
that he was going to evacuate all the territories just conquered.
President Dwight Eisenhower, together with his Soviet colleague, had
submitted an ultimatum, and that was the end of the adventure.
Since then, Israel has not started a single war without securing the
agreement of Washington. On the eve of the Six-day War, a special
emissary was sent to the US to make sure that there was indeed American
agreement. When he returned with an affirmative answer, the order for
the attack was issued.
On the eve of Lebanon War I, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon rushed to
Washington to obtain American consent. He met with Secretary of State
Alexander Haig, who agreed but only on condition that there would be a
clear provocation. A few days later there just happened to be an
attempt on the life of the Israeli ambassador in London, and the war was
The Israeli army's offensives against Hezbollah ("Lebanon War II")
and Hamas ("Cast Lead") were possible because they were cast as part of
the American campaign against "Radical Islam".
Ostensibly, that is also true for an attack on Iran. But no.
BECAUSE AN Israeli attack on Iran would cause a military, political
and economic disaster for the United States of America.
Since the Iranians, too, realize that Israel could not attack without
American consent, they would react accordingly.
As I have written here before, a cursory glance at the map suffices
to indicate what would be the immediate reaction. The narrow Hormuz
Strait at the entrance of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, through which a
huge part of the world's oil flows, would be sealed at once. The
results would shake the international economy, from the US and Europe to
China and Japan. Prices would soar to the skies. The countries that had
just begun to recover from the world economic crisis would sink to the
depths of misery and unemployment, riots and bankruptcies.
The Strait could be opened only by a military operation on the
ground. The US simply has no troops to spare for this even if the
American public were ready for another war, one much more difficult than
even those of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is even doubtful whether the US
could help Israel to defend itself against the inevitable counter-stroke
by Iranian missiles.
The Israeli attack on a central Islamic country would unite the
entire Islamic world, including the entire Arab world. The US, which has
spent the last few years laboring mightily to form a coalition of
"moderate" Arab states (meaning: countries governed by dictators kept by
the US) against the "radical" states. This pack would immediately
become unstuck. No Arab leader would be able to stand aside while the
masses of his people were gathering in tumultuous demonstrations in the
All this is clear to any knowledgeable person, and even more so to
the American military and civilian leaders. Secretaries, generals and
admirals have been sent to Israel to make this clear to our leaders in a
language that even kindergarten kids can understand: No! Lo! La! Nyet!
IF SO, why has the military option not been removed from the table?
Because the US and Israel like it lying there.
The US likes to pose as if it can hardly hold back the ferocious
Israeli Rottweiler on its leash. This puts pressure on the other powers
to agree to the imposition of sanctions on Iran. If you don't agree, the
murderous dog could leap out of control. Think about the consequences!
What sanctions? For some time now, this terrifying word "sanctions"
has been bedeviling everybody on the international stage. They are
going to be imposed "within weeks". But when one inquires what it is all
about, one realizes that there is a lot of smoke and very little fire.
Some commanders of the Revolutionary Guards may be hurt, some marginal
damage inflicted on the Iranian economy. The "paralyzing sanctions" have
disappeared, because there was no chance that Russia and China would
agree. Both do very good business with Iran.
Also, there is very little chance that these sanctions would stop the
production of the bomb, or even slow it down. From the point of view of
the Ayatollahs, this effort is the prime imperative of national defense
only a country with nuclear arms is immune from American attack.
Faced with the repeated threats by American spokesmen to overthrow their
regime, no Iranian government could act differently. The more so since
during the last century, the Americans and the British have repeatedly
done exactly that. Iranian denials are perfunctory. According to all
reports, even the most extreme Iranian opponents of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
support the acquisition of the bomb and would rally behind him if
In this respect, the Israeli leadership is right: nothing will stop
Iran's endeavor to obtain a nuclear bomb except the massive employment
of military power. The "sanctions" are childish games. The American
administration is talking about them in glowing terms in order to cover
up the fact that even mighty America is unable to stop the Iranian bomb.
WHEN NETANYAHU & Co. criticize the inability of the American
leaders to act against Iran, they answer in the same coin: you, too, are
And indeed, how serious are our leaders about this? They have
convinced the Israeli public that it is a matter of life and death. Iran
is led by a madman, a new Hitler, a sick anti-Semite, an obsessive
Holocaust-denier. If he got his hands on a nuclear bomb, he would not
hesitate for a moment to drop it on Tel Aviv and Dimona. With this sword
hanging over our heads, this is no time for trivial matters, such as
the Palestinian problem and the occupation. Everyone who raises the
Palestinian question in a meeting with our leaders is immediately
interrupted: Forget this nonsense, let's talk about the Iranian bomb!!
But Obama and his people turn the argument around: if this is an
existential danger, they say, please draw the conclusions. If this
matter endangers the very existence of Israel, sacrifice the West Bank
settlements on this altar. Accept the Arab League peace offer, make
peace with the Palestinians as quickly as possible. That will ease our
situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and free our forces. Also, Iran would
have no more pretext for war with Israel. The masses of the Arab world
would not support it anymore.
And the conclusion: If a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem is
more important to you than the Iranian bomb, the matter is clearly not
really so critical for you. And that, with all due modesty, is my
THE DAY before yesterday a correspondent of Israel's popular Channel 2
called me and asked, in a shocked voice: "Is it true that you have
given an interview to the Iranian news agency?
"That's true," I told her. The agency mailed me some questions about
the political situation, and I answered.
"Why did you do this?" she asked/accused.
"Why not?" I replied. That was the end of the conversation.
And indeed, why not? True, Ahmadinejad is a repulsive leader. I hope
that the Iranians will get rid of him, and assume that this will happen
sooner or later. But our relations with Iran do not depend on one single
person, whoever he may be. They go back to ancient times and were
always friendly from the time of Cyrus until the time of Khomeini
(whom we provided with arms to fight the Iraqis.)
In Israel, the portrayal of Iran nowadays is a caricature: a
primitive, crazy country, with nothing on its mind but the destruction
of the Zionist state. But it suffices to read a few good books about
Iran (I would recommend William Polk's "Understanding Iran") which
describe one of the oldest civilized countries in the world, which has
given birth to several great empires and made a remarkable contribution
to human culture. It has an old and proud tradition. Some scholars
believe that the Jewish religion was profoundly influenced by the
ethical teachings of Zoroaster (Zarathustra).
Whatever the rantings of Ahmadinejad, the real rulers of the country,
the clerics, conduct a cautious and sober policy, and have never
attacked another country. They have many important interests, and Israel
is not among them. The idea that they would sacrifice their own
glorious homeland in order to destroy Israel is ludicrous.
The simple truth is that there is no way to prevent the Iranians from
acquiring a nuclear bomb. Better to think seriously about the situation
that would be created: a balance of terror like the one between India
and Pakistan, the elevation of Iran to the rank of a regional power, the
need to start a sober dialogue with it.
But the main conclusion is: to make peace with the Palestinian people
and the entire Arab world, in order to draw the rug from under any
Iranian posture of defending them from us.
Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the Israeli Parliament (Knesset), and is the founder of Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc). Visit his Website.