Is Israel overly preoccupied with Iran’s nuclear goals?

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–An American friend, who some time ago showed his disappointment with Israel, has sent another note that includes:

“I scan three Israeli newspapers every day (well, actually, their web sites, in English). It’s less like visiting a foreign country than like visiting a foreign planet. The obsession with Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons development is incessant – as if the Iranians were going to drop the big one on Tel Aviv any day now.”

Should one also wonder that Americans are concerned with health care?

Must Israelis justify their concern with Iran? Not only is the Persian president continuing his denial of the Holocaust and asserting that Israel has no right to exist. He is arming the Hezbollah of Lebanon and getting some weapons to Gaza despite Israeli and Egyptian blockades. And the trendy lefties of the world are singing in the chorus that he leads.

Barack Obama is a nice man who is not singing in Ahmadinejad’s chorus, but he has expressed his belief in fairies. Or the functional equivalent of them, which he believes can be brought forth by what he calls engagement.

So what should Israel do, in the presence of an Iranian leader who gives evidence of severe animosity, and leads even the Egyptian outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency to conclude that Iran may be intent on producing nuclear weapons? There are also Iranian tests of its missiles, which international headlines link with the nuclear program and say could reach anywhere in Israel.

Whenever the Obama led international coalition has sought to offer the Iranians a face saving alternative to amassing materials for nuclear weapons, the Iranians have responded by saying “Maybe, but not quite good enough,” and the deadline for deciding on sanctions is pushed further ahead. Although the Russians and Chinese have given signs that they will support sanctions, no one should expect the sanctions agreed upon to the kinds that really bite.

Those fairies conceived in the White House are not doing their job. The world is in danger, and the Iranian finger is pointed at Israel.

So what should Israelis do, when few of us believe in fairies?

The arguments against an Israeli pre-emptive strike are well known. Unlike my friend, I do not perceive desperation in the Israeli public or among its policymakers. On the other hand, I am not surprised that Israeli media give considerable attention to the issue. And although I do not expect it, I would not be surprised one day to hear that Israel has acted. Neither would I be especially disappointed, although I would prefer to rely on Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). That worked between the United States and the Soviet Union, it has worked between Pakistan and India, and with respect to North Korea. While I also sense that the Israeli leadership is willing to rely on its own counter threats and its several means of delivery, I am not certain. One can parse the comments of ranking political and military figures as threats, hints, or intentions.

Insofar as the fairies perceived in the White House have not appeared in Jerusalem, we are at one of those tense moments in Israeli history. It is a moment where Israeli action–if it comes–will be costly not only for Israel, but for others as well.

To my American friend, I urge greater attention to American health care. Israelis will make the decisions that concern them, even if critics will fail to understand their concerns.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

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