Benjamin Netanyahu - GPO - 22/5/2012
Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in Jerusalem, May 22, 2012. Photo by GPO
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Here's a possible scenario: Israel attacks Iran despite the strenuous opposition of President Barack Obama, who is practically pleading that Israel leave the work to the United States. Why? Because Benjamin Netanyahu has a historical mind-set and a historical outlook under which, basically, Israel is "the eternal nation" and the United States, with all due respect, is just the Assyria or the Babylonia, the Greece or the Rome, of our age. Meaning: We are everlasting, we are an eternal people, and they, despite all their strength and power, are merely temporary and ephemeral.

They have narrow and immediate political and economic concerns: They are worried about the impact an attack will have on oil prices and the election, while we exist, always, in the realm of Eternal Israel. We carry within us a historical memory dotted with flashes of miracles and triumphant salvations that transcend logic and reality. Their president is a bleeding heart who believes that his enemies use the same rational thinking that he does, while we have spent the last 4,000 years in a bitter struggle with the darkest Stygian forces in history and the darkest human impulses, and know full well what is required to survive in these twilight zones.

Some would surely find this portrayal anxiety-inducing, but the prime minister would probably consider it a fitting description; he would even take it as a bit of a compliment. As things stand, the prime minister enjoys the support of a broad coalition and is not pestered by a solid opposition. In a sense, he is functioning as an autocrat - King Bibi, as Time Magazine called him. Meaning that when fateful decisions have to be made, the Israeli people's future and destiny will be subject, above all, to the judgment of Netanyahu's extreme, rigid and unbending worldview.

In other words, even the many Israelis from all over the political map who do not want Israel to attack Iran - along with certain security chiefs - are now trapped, in the most fateful way, within the prime minister's hermetic worldview.

Yet Netanyahu has loyal partners in the government, people who are meant to share in the outlook and decision-making. Their advantage over the average citizen supposedly lies in their "superior knowledge," as they have been presented with "all the facts and considerations." True, this is how a democratic government works, but Israelis have learned from hard experience that their leaders are not immune to serious mistakes, and that, like anyone else - and perhaps even a drop more - they are vulnerable to self-deception and getting carried away with hawkish euphoria.

Therefore, since such a fateful matter is at stake, we are entitled and obliged to ask again and again, or at least to demand that the decision-makers ask themselves, and answer honestly: Do the "knowledgeable" ones really know all they need to know? Is anyone really capable of making such a decision? Is anyone really capable of weighing and calculating "all the facts and considerations" entailed in such an act?

Are they absolutely certain they are not overestimating the Israel Defense Forces' ability to solve the problem of the Iranian nuclear bomb once and for all, and are they not underestimating the Iranians' capabilities? Are they absolutely sure that if Israel strikes, the Iranians will not be able to obtain a nuclear bomb, and that if they do get a bomb, they will use it against Israel?

In other words, is their "knowledge" based exclusively on facts, or is it biased and fueled by anxieties, wishful thinking and echoes of past traumas, which the prime minister is the unrivaled expert at building up? And most importantly: Do they fully understand that the decision to attack a superpower like Iran, and in defiance of America at that, could turn out to be the biggest mistake ever by an Israeli government?

Advocates of an attack see a single axis whose ends are labeled "bomb or be bombed," with a sign hanging overhead: "Forever shall the sword devour you." Israel's leaders are so captive to this way of thinking that it seems a heavenly decree, or a law of nature, nearly always sentences Israel, at every dilemma or security crossroads, to choose one path: "Bomb or be bombed" - between attacking and being attacked.

Certainly, an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is a real danger, not just a paranoid figment of the Israeli government's imagination. But even in the present situation there are other avenues, other possibilities for action or nonaction, and of course there is also the unequivocal American assurance that Iran will not become a nuclear power. But Israel already appears to be affected by familiar, almost mystical, forces beyond its control, forces fed by that same historical mind-set cited above, which almost invariably sees all its anxieties come true and seems drawn like a magnet to existential danger.

Therefore, the question must be asked with greater urgency: Why aren't ministers and defense officials, people who are serving here and now, not those who have completed their terms, standing up and speaking their minds? These are people who in private express opposition to an attack; who believe that an Israeli attack will only defer Iran's nuclearization for a very short time. They fear the profound consequences such an attack would have for Israel's situation, for its very survival. Why aren't they standing up right now, when it is still possible, and saying: We will not be a party to this megalomaniacal vision, to this messianic-catastrophic worldview?

Is loyalty to the system more important than loyalty to the things they have devoted their lives to - Israel's security and future? An act that resonates like this would be the most meaningful thing they could do for Israel, for its security and its future.

And what about us, the Israeli people, who are suddenly mute amid the gathering gloom, who clam up in fatalistic resignation with eyes wide shut against what seems to grow more threatening every day? How will we face ourselves and our children when we are asked why we kept silent? Why we didn't take to the streets in masses to demonstrate against the possibility of another war launched by us? Why we didn't set up a single symbolic protest tent in front of the Prime Minister's Residence to warn against the potential disaster heading our way? For, as the poet Bialik said in another context, it is we who will pay the price of the blaze with our blood and marrow.