Israel and Iran : A Countdown to Tragedy?

During Iranian street demonstrations this summer a protester displays a photo of Mohammed Mossadegh, deposed by the Americans and the British in 1953 and replaced with the much-hated Shah Reza Pahlavi. Photo posted on Daily Kos, June 19, 2009.

Who is the existential threat?
Israel and Iran: Countdown to tragedy

By Steve Weissman / The Rag Blog / November 11, 2009

The countdown to open conflict between Israel and Iran has the feel of classic tragedy. Everyone will lose, no one will win. The only question is how many will needlessly die before the final curtain falls.

The Iranian leaders see the story through the prism of their own history. They are heirs of an ancient civilization, humiliated in 1953 when the Americans and British overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh and imposed the rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi. Only with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 did the people of Iran regain control of their land, and only now are they taking their rightful place as a world player and regional power.

With this view of the world, the Iranians sometimes appear to outsiders to have a chip on their shoulder, always demanding to be treated as equals, as if certain they will be treated otherwise. Too often American officials like Hillary Clinton fulfill Iranian expectations, talking of them in the media as if they were school children.

No one on the outside yet knows if the Iranians stopped trying to develop nuclear weapons in the fall of 2003, as the U.S. U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) reported two years ago. But even if they did stop, their lack of transparency often makes others fear the worst.

Are the Iranians simply channeling the Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein, who lost his country and his life because he never dared let his Iranian foes know that he did not have weapons of mass destruction or any ongoing program to build them?

Jews, whether in Israel or beyond, have our own historical chip on the shoulder. Every year, religious Jews observe a fast day called Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, as well as subsequent tragedies like the expulsion of Jews from Catholic Spain in 1492 and the European Holocaust.

At home, my family ate the meat and potatoes before we had the soup. The tradition came from Russia and the Ukraine, where terrified Jews wanted to have something solid in their stomachs in case they had to flee from attacking Cossacks.

Living and reliving this tragic history leaves its mark. As the American writer Henry Miller observed in his Tropic of Cancer,

For the Jew, the world is a cage filled with wild beasts. The door is locked and he is there without whip or revolver. His courage is so great that he does not even smell the dung in the corner. The spectators applaud but he does not hear. The drama, he thinks, is going on inside the cage. The cage, he thinks, is the world.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and many other Israelis remain trapped in the cage, sincerely believing that a nuclear Iran would threaten their very existence. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has escaped the cage. As he told the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth, “I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel.”

“Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem ” (1867). Painting by Francesco Hayez. Observed yearly by religious Jews on the fast day called Tisha B’Av.

“Israel is strong,” he added. “I don’t see anyone who could pose an existential threat.”

A highly decorated military office and former head of the Israeli Defense Forces, Barak is absolutely right. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Israel has a nuclear arsenal of anywhere from 70 to 400 nuclear weapons. Iran currently has none.

The Iranians could conceivably quit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Israel has steadfastly refused to join. They could refuse inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as Israel refuses to do. Iran could then produce highly enriched weapons-grade uranium and reprocess plutonium from spent fuel rods from whatever nuclear reactors they have in operation.

But even if the Iranians did all this, they could not produce more than a small handful of weapons during the next five to ten years. During that time, the Israelis would have created new weapons and acquired new and more sophisticated aircraft, missiles, and submarines.

This enormous advantage would give the Israelis a powerful incentive to stage a preemptive first strike that would keep Iran from striking back. So, by the numbers, the Israelis pose an existential threat to Iran, not the other way around.

Even if Iran had nukes, they would pose far less of a threat to Israel or anyone else than Soviet missiles posed to the United States and Europe during the Cold War. At the time, Gen. Thomas Power and others talked of removing this truly existential threat with a surprise first strike. Happily, cooler heads prevailed.

Today, too many American leaders are thoughtlessly repeating talk of Iran’s existential threat to Israel and the need for a preemptive military strike on Iran, only “as a last resort,” of course.

As Senator Lindsay Graham told Fox News, “if we use military action against Iran, we should not only go after their nuclear facilities, we should destroy their ability to make conventional war. They should have no planes that can fly and no ships that can float.”

Such reckless talk only opens the door to another no-win tragedy.

[A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. A former senior editor at Truthout, he now lives and works in France.]

The Rag Blog

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9 Responses to Israel and Iran : A Countdown to Tragedy?

  1. Fed Up says:

    The fantasy world in which Mr. Lindsay Graham et al. lives evidently excludes assymetrical warfare — because even if they did to Iraq what this “nice Christian man” wants there would be, at least, assymetrical war.

    When Mr. Graham and his Republicans invaded Iraq, they excluded that possiblity. They put Bush on an aircraft carrier, declared mission accomplished, and made a little doll for the nice kind mommies and daddies who just love those Arabs to give to their kiddies!

    Does anyone else recall how incredibly arrogant and self-assured they were, like the rooster in our chicken yard on the farm, crow, bristle, bare those spurs!

    Either they have a very hidden agenda, or they were remarkably and putridly MISTAKEN.

  2. I agree that Israel gains nothing with a military strike. They cant destroy the Iranians capacity to produce nuclear weapons, even if they delay it for a while. All they do is provide a justification for the Iranians to produce WMD’s. Israel is the 800 lb gorilla in the middle east so they should stop acting like a scared school boy.

    As for Fed Up, what can I say .. wrong again. When Mr. Graham and his Republicans invaded Iraq …. The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 passed the house on a vote of 296-133 with 82 Democrats. In the Senate 29 of 50 Democrats voted for it.

    Either they have a very hidden agenda, or they were remarkably and putridly MISTAKEN Given the status of Afghanistan, Iran, exploding deficits and the state of the US economy, those words seem to aptly describe our current white house resident and his administration.

  3. Fed Up says:

    So am I to understand from Extremist that the fact that a lot of House Democrats (not one from my district) voted with Bush to invade Iraq means they took the lead in the Bush invasions, occupations etc.? The Democrats are in your mind responsible for Bush’s invasions, the Bush Doctrine, etc.? My goodness, I’m astonished! No wonder Ms. Palin did not know what the Bush Doctrine was!

    That Republican comedy person, Dennis Miller, repeatedly said, “Don’t let facts get in the way of what you know is right”. I take it you are a devotee of this doctrine (please note he was not very funny and no longer has a show, which I am sure he will blame on some “liberal” conspiracy)?

    So, now, you may have a point that the current President and the Democrats are taking this war as their own…but that is not yet clear.

    Either way, they will all have to contend with resistance to invasion and occupation … and with the reality of assymetrical warfare. Conventional warfare is clearly not the only kind there is, and anyone who thinks so is an idiot.

    Does the concept of a barking dog who catches the truck have any meaning to you?

  4. Fed Up. You do jump to a lot of conclusions dont you? I simply pointed out that it wasnt just Bush and the Republicans that entered the war as you claimed. It was bush and 3/4 of the House and Senate including over half the democrats. A point you seem to have forgotten.

    And I do admit that i have no idea about barking dogs catching trucks. What do they use to catch them?

  5. Anonymous says:

    “I simply pointed out that it wasnt just Bush and the Republicans that entered the war as you claimed. It was bush and 3/4 of the House and Senate including over half the democrats.”

    My gosh, how can you ever deal with the blood, the screams, the unholy terror imposed on that secular Islamic nation when the bombings began. How can you see right and wrong in terms of what the “house and senate” decided.
    I’ve always thought we were one people under God.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I also doubt very much that the Iranian people would agree that they are better off under this Islamic regime than they were under the Shaw! Why dont the people that agree with the current Iranian administration go live there and make room for freedom loving Iranians over here?

  7. Anonymous says:

    oh yeah we wont be free much longer will we? We will go to jail if we dont purchase the govt run healthcare and in 2013 it will be against the law to purchase insurance from an independent insurance company. I love the way the left is now saying “People are dying!” What a lie! If they dont have insurance we treat them and put them on the state insurance for people with low incomes. I know many that get paid under the table so they can stay on the states low income plan. Wait unitl the czars get ahold of the Internet as the new neutrality law has 3 purposes one is to control content for the revolution! Oh yeah enjoy your freedom while you can as it is short lived. I notice how many posts on this blog are about right wingers but not one about left loonies why is that? Freedom of speech only applies if you agree with the left doesnt it?

  8. Just a note to thank Thorne for allowing me to post on this blog site. (I am sure a lot of his readers weren’t too thrilled!) I wanted to express some alternate views and I have done so.

    I have learned some things about Progressive viewpoints. I have also come to appreciate that progressives want to create a better world for all its citizens, we just disagree on what that world looks like and how to get there.

    I will continue to read the blogs from time to time but wont post as often. While I disagree with many of the positions that the writers and comments make, I have had my chance to clearly articulate my views. Continuing to do so doesn’t serve any further purpose. Good manners dictate that I let everyone get back to normal while I observe quietly.

    Best Regards … Your favorite Extremist 🙂

  9. Much of what everyone posts here is speculation, what we think will happen. Over time, we learn what actually does happen. What time has taught us today, is that the author is dangerously wrong.

    on 18-Feb, the IAEA issued a draft report which in summary says that Iran either never stopped in 2003, or has since restarted their efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

    Coupled with their very public missle development efforts, some analysts suspect Iran will be able to deliver a nuclear warhead with two years at the outside.

    The Geneva talks were nothing but a tactic to stall sanctions and buy the Iranians more time. It succeeded and Obama looks weaker still for it.

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