Nuclear Iran wouldn't pose existential threat to Israel
The public should not allow itself to be dragged into supporting a destructive military operation.
There is no need to hear the repeated declarations by Benjamin Netanyahu, his political allies, his aides (particularly Uzi Arad) and senior officers to know that the state of the Iranian regime and the perception of the looming Iranian nuclear threat has become a political tool for them.
They repeat the same mantras that the current Iranian regime will continue to rule, that it will become even more extreme, that Iran will attain a nuclear military capability, that it will not hesitate to use it directly or through terrorist intermediaries, and that it would set off reactionary nuclear armament in other Middle Eastern countries which, in their view, would cause a disaster.
Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and other politicians and generals in the West and Middle East have voiced more restrained fears. Most observers say that if the major powers do not take significant steps to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, even if the regime there changes in character, its nuclearization is irreversible. In addition, more liberal leaders in Iran would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons against anyone they hate for political and religious reasons. At the top of the list, of course, are the United States and its allies, particularly Israel.
These individuals offer a variety of possible actions, beginning with the vital, immediate need to use force against Iran, which would compel it to stop developing the atomic bomb; to continue with the need to combine diplomatic pressure with harsh sanctions; and to hold direct and indirect diplomatic contacts in order to persuade the Iranian regime to stop developing nuclear weapons. In the background, preparations are being made for military operations against various nuclear installations in Iran.
Undoubtably, it is important to force Iran - like any other state irrespective of the regime in place - to stop its nuclear program that will lead to it attaining the atomic bomb. Yet even if there are no diplomatic contacts, which the United States and other countries would like to have in order to stop Iran's nuclear program; even if the sanctions are instituted, if indeed they are enforced effectively they will not have an influence on Iran; and even if the threat of military action does not leave an impression on the religious leadership and politicians there, the most basic question must be asked: Does Iran indeed pose a real existential threat rather than an imagined existential threat against those states that are threatened by it, particularly Israel?
The answer is that there are three basic reservations regarding these much-talked-about concerns over Iran.
First, like other small states, Iran seeks to attain nuclear weapons in order to deter other nuclear-armed states from attacking it. So if Iran is not attacked, it will not attack.
Second, Iran's goal is primarily to boost its influence in the Muslim world.
Third, and most important, with the exception of two atomic bombs that were needlessly used by none other than the democratic and liberal United States - since Japan was very near surrender - no other country possessing nuclear weapons has used them.
The other reasons for not using nuclear weapons are numerous. The main reason is these states' fears, including Iran's, of a response by other nuclear-armed countries. Even if any country, including Israel, were to be attacked by an Iranian nuclear weapon, other countries would respond with force. This is not because of the damage that would be caused to the attacked country, but particularly due to the fear that they too would be harmed.
Other reasons for refraining from using nuclear weapons include moral considerations, fear of mistakenly striking allies in the region, concern over widespread destabilization and other related factors.
The conclusion is that even if Iran attains nuclear weapons, it does not pose a real existential threat to other countries, Israel included. It would behoove Israeli politicians and defense officials to take these considerations into account and cease disseminating statements about the existence of this threat and military operations against Iran.
Even if the Iranian threat is not completely imagined, it is completely weak and the Israeli public should understand this rather than allow itself to be dragged into supporting a destructive military operation.
The writer is a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.