When Anwar Sadat responded to the peace feelers put out by Menachem Begin, it was common belief that one of the reasons he did so was the tough image of the Likud leader and the group of ministers with whom he surrounded himself.
Begin headed a cabinet of renowned retired chiefs of staff and generals, among them Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman, Meir Amit and Ariel Sharon. Each of them had made a name as a daring and aggressive military leader who, during his service, had taught a lesson to the Arab enemy. Begin himself was reputed to be a hard man, zealous for his ideas, who believed that the Arabs understood only the language of force. Whether because Begin felt insecure managing matters of state on his own, or whether because he wanted his cabinet to exude a hard-line image in negotiating for peace, the fact is that he made a special effort, including a fierce debate with members of his family and with some of his senior colleagues in the Likud, to have Dayan and Sharon in his cabinet and thus complete the ring of generals around him.
Images play key roles in the international arena, and just as 28 years ago the impression the Begin government made carried significant weight in the decision by the Egyptian president to sign a peace treaty, the nuclear image that Israel has had for more than 40 years has decisive impact globally and on Israel's relations with Middle Eastern countries. This image projects a message of a giant who it is better not to trifle with - in any case not to think about in terms of a doomsday confrontation.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad has now come and cracked this shield: he proposes the option of dealing with Israel's purported nuclear capability, and calls on the Muslim world to adopt this option. In the name of Islam, Ahmadinejad calls for Israel's destruction, labels it a stain on the map of the world and delegitimizes its right to exist. Along with this, he also denies the Holocaust. This is a deep ideological view, systematic and fluent, which creates a theoretical and conceptual platform for a political worldview, and perhaps later for a plan of action in the direction of Israel's annihilation.
There is no other country in the world whose right to exist is challenged by another country. Moreover, the Iranian approach does not stem from a dispute over borders, a concrete historical argument, competition for natural resources, or the residue of national affront. Ahmadinejad's statements indicate that he is calling for Israel's destruction for religious reasons - the Jews are not worthy of independent existence, certainly not in the Islamic world.
There are two schools of thought as to how Israel should respond to the Islamic outlook. One recommends not getting worked up, and the other calls for taking the most serious view of the matter. The first places Ahmadinejad's position in the context of his verbal culture in other contexts. This view sees his inflammatory tone as typical of other Iranian discourse, internal and international. The Iranian president is a novice; he does not necessarily represent the opinions of the Iranian people; internal developments should be awaited that will one day produce a different leadership.
The opposite school of thought proposes not taking lightly the opinions expressed by the Iranian leadership, contesting them in the international arena and even making practical preparations in light of them.
Israel should take into account the pessimistic scenario and see the position expressed by Ahmadinejad as a real threat. Practical conclusions should also be drawn - to focus on this threat and as soon as possible to solve the Palestinian and Syrian conflicts, because the very capability of the Iranians to create a balance of nuclear terror with Israel changes for the worse its image and status in the eyes of its neighbors.
In the world of images, Israel, free from the burden of occupation, challenging Iran's intent to wipe it out, is once again David standing up to Goliath.
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