Israel raises nuke threat to Iran By IRA CHERNUS
Posted by alanmirs on June 5, 2010
Israel raises nuke threat to Iran
By IRA CHERNUS
Published: Jun 5, 2010 00:01
Updated: Jun 5, 2010 00:01
In CommonDreams.org. Ira Chernus writes about Israel’s ability to
spin out excuses for their violences, each more imaginative, with the latest
explanation to the Israeli people on the assault on the ‘Freedom Flotilla’
bordering on the absurd.
You’ve got to give Israel’s leaders credit for creativity, if for nothing
else. They never run out of new excuses for their violence, each more
imaginative (and imaginary) than the last. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
just gave his official explanation to the Israeli people for the deaths on the
Mavi Marmara. And guess whose fault it was. (Are you ready for this?) Iran!
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, since Netanyahu and most of Israel have been
obsessed with Iran as the source of all evil for years now. But how did he make
such far-fetched connection? Simple: "Iran is continuing to smuggle weapons into
Gaza. It is our obligation to prevent these weapons from being brought in by
land and sea. … If the blockade had been broken, dozens and hundreds more
ships carrying weapons could have come."
From chocolate for kids to missiles for terrorists, just like that. It’s an
easy leap for minds trapped in a sense of powerlessness and victimhood that "is
nothing less than pathological." That’s how Henry Siegman, former head of the
American Jewish Congress, described the twisted logic of Netanyahu, whose
message is always "that the whole world is against Israel and that Israelis are
at risk of another Holocaust" — especially if Iran gets even one nuclear weapon,
Israel’s PM insists at every opportunity.
Yet this is a particularly infelicitous time for Netanyahu to be raising the
imaginary specter of an Iranian nuclear weapon — which doesn’t exist and may
very well never exist — for two reasons.
First, the world is starting to pay much more attention to Israel’s nuclear
weapons, which certainly do exist, in great quantity. (The best estimates often
run as high as 200.) Press coverage of the recent Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty conference, even in the US mass media, highlighted the issue. At the
conference, all NPT members called for a 2012 meeting to begin turning the
Middle East, including Israel, into a nuclear-free zone. That would mean
inspecting Israel’s nuclear arsenal and making sure it is dismantled. Even the
US agreed to the call, hoping to gain wider support for stopping Iran’s
supposedly menacing nuclear program.
But who should really be afraid of nuclear attack? That brings us to the
second reason Netanyahu might want to keep the spotlight off Iran and the
nuclear issue. Three Israeli submarines are heading to the Persian Gulf, where
they will be stationed permanently, just off the coast of Iran. They can stay
at sea for about 50 days and stay submerged for at least a week. They’re
equipped with cruise missiles that can reach any target in Iran. And some of
those cruise missiles are equipped with the most advanced nuclear warheads in
the Israeli arsenal.
Though that story was reported by The Times of London and several Israeli
newspapers, it got little if any notice in the US mass media. And now that all
eyes are on the terrible attack at sea, it’s not likely to get any notice.
Perhaps that’s why Netanyahu could risk giving Iran such a central role in his
concocted version of the Mavi Marmara tragedy.
No one is paying attention to the central fact: Even if Iranian missiles were
being smuggled into Gaza, they would be mere firecrackers compared to the
nuclear missiles that Israel plans to keep permanently in range of Tehran and
every other city in Iran.
What does the Israeli justification of the attack on the Mavi Marmara tell
the Iranians? It was self-defense, Netanyahu insisted; Israel has the right to
use any violence necessary to stop ships from coming into Gaza harbor. His
defense minister, Ehud Barak, agreed, telling the commandos who carried out the
attack that "we live in the Middle East, in a place where there is no mercy for
the weak." And a top Israeli Navy commander warned that Israel will use even
more aggressive force to prevent future ships, like the MV Rachel Corrie, from
breaking the blockade.
If I were an Iranian military planner, I would be listening to all this very
closely. It’s all about self-defense, right? Well Iran is in infinitely more
danger than Israel. Barak himself recently said publicly: "Right now, Iran does
not pose an existential threat to Israel." But three submarine loaded with
nuclear-armed missiles certainly pose an existential threat to Iran. And
according to Barak, Middle Eastern nations should show no mercy to the weak.
If I were that Iranian planner, my conclusion would be obvious. I would do
everything I could to find those subs and find a way to attack them. I would
destroy them if I could. I’d play by Israel’s rules and show no mercy.
Doesn’t that make perfect sense, you might ask Barak or Netanyahu. Aren’t you
just asking for it? Do you expect the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to throw up
his hands and say "I surrender"? Of course not. You know that you are throwing
more fuel on an already incendiary conflict. You know that Iranian leaders are
bound to make some new threatening gestures in return. And indeed the London
Times story reported this response from an Iranian admiral: "Anyone who wishes
to do an evil act in the Persian Gulf will receive a forceful response from
No, no, the Israeli leaders would reply. You don’t get it. We can’t do an
evil act. We are the good guys — by definition. When we say Middle Easterners
show no mercy, we’re talking about our enemies. They are out to destroy us — by
definition. So they’ll pounce on us as soon as we show any sign of weakness.
That’s why we have to keep on ratcheting up our show of strength, even if it’s
bound to ratchet up the conflict and criticism against us too. We’re terrified
(they’d say, if they were honest) of appearing weak.
That’s the pathology Henry Siegman was talking about. Israel has immensely
more military power than anyone else in the Middle East. Yet in their
imaginations, most Israeli Jews — and many Jews in other nations — still picture
the Jewish state as a powerless victim, the most threatened people in the
In fact the London Times story, written by an Israeli reporter in Tel Aviv,
ended with this telling punch line: "Tel Aviv, Israel’s business and defense
center, remains the most threatened city in the world, said one expert. ‘There
are more missiles per square foot targeting Tel Aviv than any other city,’ he
said." What? The Israelis can now drop as many nukes as they want on Tehran or
any other Iranian city. But it’s Tel Aviv that is "the most threatened city in
the world"? Give me a break.
Yet as long as our most well-respected mass media continue to present the
pathological story of Israeli weakness as if it were fact, they’ll also give
headlines to Netanyahu’s "self-defense" story, as if that should be taken
seriously. Meanwhile they’ll ignore Israeli nuclear submarines stationed
permanently off the coast of Iran. It would all be funny if it were not so
The Israelis seem to be trapped in their pathological fear of weakness. That
in no way justifies or excuses their egregious violence. But it does go far to
explain why they seem so incapable of taking even the smallest steps toward
The only force strong enough to move them is the government of the United
States. I know how frustrating it is to try to change US policy. Believe me, I
know. I’ve been working at it for nearly four decades. But now every terrible
act by the Israeli government gets much more scrutiny that it used to. Now is
not the time to stop pushing.
It is time to heed Henry Siegman’s conclusion: "The conflict continues
because US presidents — and to a far greater extent, members of the US Congress,
who depend every two years on electoral contributions — have accommodated a
pathology that can only be cured by its defiance."
It is time to defy the Israeli government, and put pressure on the US
government, by explaining to everyone, everywhere, the difference between
genuine threat — the kind of threat posed by submarines carrying nuclear
missiles — and the pathological stories spun by the likes of Barak and
— Ira Chernus is professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado
at Boulder. Read more of his writing on Israel, Pal
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