Thus Shall It Be Done Unto the Man

Like Sharon's statements then, Mofaz's recent statements have caused people to question their rightness and their wisdom.

Thus spake Shaul Mofaz at the Herzliya Conference on Saturday evening, in his appeal to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "You would be advised to learn from history to see what became of tyrants like you who tried to annihilate the Jewish people. They only brought destruction upon their own people."

Addressing the Iranian people directly, Mofaz said, "Ahmadinejad, his hallucinatory statements, his criminal actions and his extreme views will bring disaster upon you. Do what you know to be right in order to prevent this."

Sound familiar?

In the Book of Esther, Haman's wife Zeresh warns her husband: "If Mordechai, before whom thou hast begun to fall, be of the seed of the Jews, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him." (Esther 6:13)

Since Mofaz thought it appropriate to mention his own Iranian background ("a native of the city in which I was born") in his appeal to Ahmadinejad, it is legitimate to point out the connection - at least the associative one - between the warnings that he sent to the Iranian people and the fate of the oppressors of the Jews in Persia as inscribed in Jewish tradition.

The blunt threat of the defense minister recalls another incident. In October 2001 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made his "Czechoslovakia speech," in which he announced to the world that Israel would not play the role of victim that Czechoslovakia played in the West's abortive effort to appease Hitler. The speech was surprisingly sharp. George Bush took offense, because Sharon was interpreted as comparing the American president to Neville Chamberlain.

Like Sharon's statements then, Mofaz's recent statements have caused people to question their rightness and their wisdom. Sharon used the Holocaust card to argue against the growing trend in the American administration to frame a diplomatic program to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without making Jerusalem privy to the details.

One aspect of this was the White House's effort to build a coalition to support its plans to attack Afghanistan in response to September 11. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states demanded in return that Bush upgrade relations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. State Department officials drafted a programmatic speech for Secretary of State Colin Powell to deliver, sketching out a new diplomatic path for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Sharon sensed that a new American position that did not take into consideration his demand to define Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organization was being molded behind his back.

The "Czechoslovakia speech" caused unnecessary tension between Jerusalem and Washington, and Sharon was forced to issue a clarification to propitiate Bush. According to people in Sharon's circle, the speech achieved its goal in that Powell's response speech included conditions convenient for Israel. Other observers believed Sharon's speech was hasty and intemperate, reminiscent of Israel's Holocaust consciousness and the militant spirit it engenders in the context of a run-of-the-mill diplomatic disagreement.

Mofaz's 2006 speech, like Sharon's 2001 speech, was not a case of shooting from the hip. A team of consultants vetted its themes and a series of meetings preceded it. The final wording was that of the defense minister.

Just as Sharon's words caused people to question their wisdom, so did Mofaz's: What is achieved by Israel explicitly threatening to destroy Iran? What is Israel's ability to influence the Iranian people to change their leadership? What are the chances of diverting Iran from its nuclear plans with a public submission?

One can assume that the real target audience of the speech are the Western leaders, to demonstrate the depth of Israel's concern about Iran's nuclearization and dissatisfaction with the West's inability to stop it, and to signal to these countries that Jerusalem might just go nuts in the event of an existential threat to Israel. If that is the intent, then isn't Mofaz using a hundred-pound hammer to hurt a fly?