When It Come to Iran Israel Is on the Threshold of Casus Belli

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Iranian Army troops participate in a military drill
Iranian Army troops participate in a military drillCredit: Iranian Army / AP
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

Ever since Iran started seeking nuclear weapons, Israel obviously made itself the most prominent player in opposing this aspiration. According to foreign reports, it did so in various ways, including by attacking nuclear scientists and sabotaging nuclear facilities. Nevertheless, it focused most of its efforts on a diplomatic campaign – mobilizing the world against the Iran.

After three decades of nonstop activity, it’s clear that both these efforts were partially successful – very partially. Effectively, according to (almost) all the experts, Iran today is a nuclear threshold state.

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But wonder of wonders, this situation hasn’t spurred the countries now participating in the nuclear talks with Iran to take forceful, decisive steps that would leave it no choice but to capitulate – and they do have the power to take such steps. Instead, and quite unsurprisingly, what’s happening now in Vienna broadcasts indolence.

Even if Iran agrees (which it won’t) to comply with the weak American and European demands, doing so will only slightly delay the pace of its nuclear development; it won’t stop it from completing the process. In other words, Iran’s ability to make use, when it chooses, of the abilities that nuclear weapons impart to those who possess them will remain unchanged.

Anyone not burying their head in the sand must therefore assume that if Iran is a threshold state, then we are a country on the threshold of a casus belli. It is not in my hands to decide how to translate the conclusions of this into the language of action. I do know, though, that the people of Israel, who are only starting their physical and spiritual recovery following the worst period in their history, must take whatever action derives from the oath we swore less than eight decades ago – “never again.”

In theory, and certainly from the standpoint of its capabilities, the people of Israel could thwart the Iranian threat, or any other existential threat, in a creative manner. But in practice, based on successive governments’ behavior in recent decades, doubts creep in. Nevertheless, I want to believe (even though I don’t really believe) that today’s leaders are more trustworthy – and above all, smarter – than their predecessors, the ones who, because they were unfit to cope with this historic challenge, brought this evil down upon us.

From the outset, do the requisite steps deriving from “never again” have to entail military action? Not necessarily. When Iran began its nuclear project, Israel had the military and diplomatic ability to successfully adopt a policy of going to the brink, just like the United States did in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. But vocal public arguments, and especially the irresponsible leaks from high-level officers in the army and intelligence services (coupled with an American policy, especially under former President Barack Obama, that bordered on appeasement), resulted in our losing the ability to conduct a policy of going to the brink.

Israel thereby lost its ability to overcome the Iranian threat without war, apparently irreversibly. As was true in many historical precedents, those who wanted to prevent war increased the enemy’s motivation to stick to its goals and hasten its preparations.

Because going to the brink is no longer credible, Israel’s latest threats, even if they are substantiated this time, will fall on deaf ears. The Iranians think, and rightly so, that if our loud threats against Hamas and Hezbollah proved to be empty then such threats will prove all the more empty when aimed at Iran.

As the Talmud says in Tractate Sanhedrin, “this is the punishment of the liar, that even if he speaks the truth, others do not listen to him.”

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