When Meretz Supports an Attack on Iran

The decision to attack Iran cannot only take into account the potential consequences of action but must also consider the danger of doing nothing at all.

I have marched with David Grossman at Peace Now demonstrations in the past, and it is likely that we will march together in the future. But our opinions differ when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program. I will start by saying that I have no idea whether, when or how the Iranian nuclear sites should be attacked. But the firmness with which Grossman rejects the attack is bad for Israel’s security and for regional peace.

Grossman warns that Benjamin Netanyahu’s historical perspective makes him predisposed to push for an attack, which could bring disaster upon the entire nation. However, Grossman forgets a number of Netanyahu’s other tendencies, stronger by far, that in my opinion will end up tipping the scales toward hesitation and rejection of an attack, which could be our downfall. Among these tendencies are the desire to maintain the status quo and the safe routine of our lives, the difficulty of taking responsibility for crucial actions, and the natural tendency to avoid risks.

Such a crucial decision cannot be based solely on the potential danger and anticipated damage that could result. It must also take into account the danger of doing nothing at all. Almost no public debate is being held about these things. They are almost out of the realm of discussion for Grossman and others who oppose military intervention in Iran. The reason is that the outcome of these dangers, however unlikely, is far worse than we can afford to imagine. That is precisely the reason why we should be afraid of not taking action.

Like Grossman, I too am not comfortable with the daily use of the metaphor of the Holocaust in Israeli public discourse. Still, the truth about Iran must be told: since World War II, we have not seen a regime with a messianic ideology (religious or nationalist) more belligerent and radical than Iran. Iran is not led by a gang of insane leaders. It is led by rational leaders caught up in an insane ideology that they want to impose on the whole world.

In addition to its desire to obtain nuclear arms, Iran has spent years arming itself with sophisticated conventional weapons. Is all this weaponry, which has put a heavy burden on Iran’s economy, just for display in the annual parade marking the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution? Are Holocaust denial, the demonization of Israel, the arming of Hezbollah, the terror attack in Bulgaria and the attempted terror attacks in Georgia and Kenya intended only as propaganda for internal consumption?

Let us say for a moment that the world accepts Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, and that Iran does not use them. Is this situation not fraught with danger as well? Would it not elevate Iran’s status enough to encourage it to use its conventional weapons against us and its other neighbors? Would such a situation not be an extremely strong incentive for dozens of other developing countries to develop nuclear weapons as an economic start-up, with no proper supervision or security technology?

In a major psychiatric study conducted several years ago, researchers compared the way mentally stable people and those suffering from clinical depression assessed the likelihood of various dangers such as illness or accidents. The assessments of the group that suffered from depression were much more exact, while the mentally healthy group deluded themselves by not taking the dangers seriously. We have an almost evolutionary tendency to minimize dangers. While this helps us to function and aids our survival, we can pay a very high price for it at times.

The debate between the right wing and the left wing is relevant on a variety of economic and political issues. Like Grossman, I believe that the Israeli government is not doing enough to move forward on an agreement with the Palestinians.

But when it comes to Iran, we must not allow our traditional positions to dictate our opinions. We must use the national intellect without bringing ideology into it, just as we do when we try to solve difficult problems in our personal lives. I will sleep much better at night if I hear Avigdor Lieberman argue against attacking Iran while Zahava Galon speaks in favor of it.

Professor Eyal Winter is the director of the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.