THE BLOG

Getting Real on Iran, and Israel

04/02/2015 11:55 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2015

It looks like we're going to see just how serious Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu really is about what he has been calling an "existential threat" to Israel for more than 20 years.

That would be the ever-impending, at least in Netanyahu's eternal estimation, advent of a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Why are we likely to get the chance to see how serious Netanyahu is?

In part because the Obama administration's ballyhooed attempt to negotiate an end to an Iranian nuclear program which could produce nuclear weapons down the line is, not all that surprisingly, ending in some confusion, with the US and Iran differing in description of the agreement and with some key questions remaining.

But mainly because Netanyahu has denounced the agreement, saying it "would threaten the survival of Israel." And, further, that it "would legitimize Iran's nuclear program, bolster Iran's economy and increase Iran's aggression & terror." Obama's national intelligence director recently removed Iran and its close ally Hezbollah from the global terrorist list.

Well, what a surprise.

Just the sort of "surprise" that Kerry's failed attempts to move the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process turned out to be, that is.

So the strong economic sanctions which have failed for years to dissuade Iran from developing ever more capable means of enriching uranium for what it calls a civilian nuclear program, which it does not need, may well have to continue.

Just as Israel, at least under Netanyahu, has never had any intention of allowing the agreed-upon creation of a Palestinian state on territory seized from Arabs during the creation and securing of the State of Israel, Iran obviously has no intention of definitively backing away from a nuclear program which can, at some point, produce nuclear weapons.

Why would the Iranians come to a full stop now? They've already come so far, at real cost to their economic well-being, that it makes little sense to turn back now. To do so would make a mockery of the sacrifices they have made.

Why would Iran want nuclear weapons in the first place? For the same reason Israel and other nuclear powers did. To be more powerful.

Iran has been on the ascendancy in the Middle East since the US -- at the urging, ironically, of Netanyahu and other right-wing Israeli leaders, not to mention the American neoconservatives beating war drums on Iran now -- so helpfully knocked over Saddam Hussein's counter-weight regime in Iraq.

So Netanyahu is probably right about Iran wanting nuclear weapons. Something rather obvious to begin with. But Netanyahu was disastrously wrong about the Iraq War. And he's been demonstrably wrong for over two decades about Iran being just about to become a nuclear power, something which Israel achieved going on 50 years ago after assuring President John F. Kennedy that it would abide by his wishes for nuclear non-proliferation.

So the remaining question for Netanyahu and the rest of what will be yet again the most right-wing government in Israeli history is what they really mean by calling the prospect of Iranian Bomb an "existential threat" to Israel.

Do they really mean that the mullahs of Iran are such religious nuts that they would launch a nuclear first strike against Israel, a nation with reportedly hundreds of nuclear weapons of its own?

Or do they mean something else, something more attenuated, something have to do with Israel having to be more cautious if it is not the only nuclear power in the Middle East?

If it is the latter, Netanyahu is being at best imprecise and quite possibly very devious.

If it is the former, then Israel should attack Iran.

With one of the best air forces in the world, vast stores of nuclear and other advanced weapons, and one of the most inventive and technically-advanced military industrial complexes on the planet, Israel is more than capable of devising an attack to take out most of Iran's nuclear program, hardened though it is.

IF in fact Israel's very existence is under that sort of direct threat. If the threat is as clear and present as Netanyahu keeps claiming, Israel does not need to manipulate the US into another war.

We'll see how serious Netanyahu is about existential threats, and how seriously Israel's highly professional military takes all this endless talk.

There is great power in the blue-and-white when "en brera" is invoked. But only when there really is "no choice."

Incidentally, since Netanyahu is so concerned about threats to Israel's existence, he should consider the threat that he himself poses through his refusal to allow a Palestinian state. Few things could have done so much to legitimize the global trend to de-legitimize Israel as Netanyahu's own reckless re-election.

Israel is hard enough to defend as it is.

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