Perhaps the worst thing about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's crusade to scare the world into believing that Israel is about to attack Iran is that he has no scruples about panicking the Israeli people as well. (The government has even sent out notices to the public urging that people make sure they have enough gas masks for the whole family).
Fortunately, press reports like today's excellent piece in the New York Times by Jodi Rudoren indicate that Israelis do not take the threats of an imminent attack any more seriously than the rest of the world, at least not yet.
Nor do they seem to be panicked by Iran's nuclear program. After all, they have been told that Iran is on the brink of developing nuclear weapons for more than a decade. So they are not rushing to stock up on bread and milk, nor are they purchasing airline tickets to escape.
That is to their credit. The Israeli public is apparently less ready than Netanyahu or Defense Minister Ehud Barak to discard the primary teaching of the Zionist movement: That the establishment of a Jewish state secures the Jewish people against any repeat of the horrific acts taken against it during the 20th century.
To Israelis (and even to diaspora Jews) the "Never Again" mantra means that, given the existence of a strong Israel, with a powerful military force, the Jewish people are immune to threats of destruction (or as immune as any of us in the post 9/11 world). The fact that Israel has a large nuclear weapon stockpile and the ability to deliver those weapons by air, sea or land also adds immeasurably to that sense of confidence. The Holocaust, simply put, cannot be repeated because any nation attempting a repeat would be destroyed.
That is not a pretty statement but it is true and everyone knows it, including any Iranians who might want war. It is not a difficult concept to understand, certainly not for Americans, who lived for decades believing that it was the threat of "Mutually Assured Destruction" that protected us from attack by Stalin and his successors in Moscow.
Of course, there are those who say that the Iranians, unlike the Soviets, are indifferent to the destruction of their own nation, but that is patently ridiculous. Few governments in history have been as cavalier about the destruction of their own people as the Soviet government (it starved or executed 5 to 8 million citizens) but even they were not going to risk the state itself. Iran is, to put it mildly, considerably more protective of its own people.
No, the Israeli people are not scared. It will take more than the fear mongering of the current government to make people who did not even flinch during the genuinely dangerous moments of the War of Independence and the Yom Kippur War to go into panic mode now. That is not the Israeli style and it is a credit to the success of the Israeli state, which took a traumatized people and transformed it into a self confident one.
Netanyahu and Barak will not change that -- not with their fake cries of terror or their more genuine swagger. The unfortunate thing is that they would try.
Here is how Kadima party leader, retired general and former chief of the IDF Shaul Mofaz describes Netanyahu's game:
"Mr. Prime Minister, you're creating panic. You are trying to frighten us and terrify us. And in truth -- we are scared: scared by your lack of judgment, scared that you both lead and don't lead, scare that you are executing a dangerous and irresponsible policy."
The question arises: what are Netanyahu and Barak up to? To me, it is clear. Their entire game is to squeeze President Obama during the run-up to the presidential election. True, the tactic is not new, but the urgency of the current campaign is unprecedented.
That is because the primary fear motivating Netanyahu and Barak is not of Iran. It is that President Obama will be reelected and will, after November, be significantly more immune to their demands for more Iran sanctions, support for some future Israeli strike against Iran and even for U.S.-back-up should an Israeli strike not be able to finish the job.
Then there is what former Prime Minister Golda Meir called the"shopping list" of whatever else the military and intelligence community wants from the United States at any given moment. Netanyahu and Barak know that the window to ask and to get could close in November, so the name of the game is getting as much as possible now.
They may be right. President Obama will probably give Israel almost anything to prevent an attack on Iran during the election campaign, an attack that could quite conceivably crash the world economy and incidentally elect Israel's preferred candidate, Mitt Romney. So now is the moment.
Additionally, Netanyahu and Barak are smart enough to know that even if Romney is elected, he is not likely to want to start his presidency with another war in the Middle East (despite what he may tell Sheldon Adelson and his neoconservative advisors).
So here is my prediction. There will be no war any time soon. But Israel will be getting more and more goodies from President Obama between now and the election just to ensure it, and probably afterwards as well.
After all, Obama's reluctance to abandon diplomacy in favor of war will not end with the election. It will intensify. So it is likely the U.S. taxpayer will continue to bear the cost of ever-increasing aid to Israel, our insurance policy against an Israeli attack on Iran. That is not ideal, but it is far better than a war that could cost lives, including Americans'.