Thursday, June 16, 2011

Just The Facts

Ari Shavit is back to the subject of Iran this morning:

First fact: Neither the West nor Israel can accept a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran would make the Middle East nuclear, threaten Western sources of energy, paralyze Israel with fear, cause Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to go nuclear and the world order to collapse. A nuclear Iran would make our lives hell.

Second fact: Neither the West nor Israel has to act militarily at present against Iranian nuclearization. A military attack against Iran would incite a disastrous regional war, which would cost the lives of thousands of Israelis. A military attack against Iran would turn it into a great vengeful power that would sanctify eternal war against the Jewish State. A military attack against Iran would cause a world financial crisis and isolate Israel from the family of nations.

Shavit's "sophisticated" conclusion ("sophisticated" is his favorite adjective after "mature") is that Israel must be perceived to be fanatic. "Israel must not behave like an insane country. Rather, it must create the fear that if it is pushed into a corner it will behave insanely. To ensure that Israel is not forced to bomb Iran, it must maintain the impression that it is about to bomb Iran."

And just why is Shavit reviving this "madman" strategy, of all times, now? Because he thinks he must chastise former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin for dissociating themselves from Netanyahu's rhetoric, you know, that thing about options and tables.

IN FACT, THE  "first fact" is an intentionally grim thought experiment, the kind of worst case you pay intelligence officers to imagine, work through and plan for, but then expect statesmen to step back from, as Ashkenazi, Dagan, and Diskin clearly have. Our "first fact" suggests that if Iran has a nuclear bomb its clerical leaders would use it (or, unprovoked, credibly threaten to use it) against Israel and the Gulf states, i.e., "Western sources of energy," and to what end, exactly? Spread Shi'a Islam with a radioactive cloud? You would have to assume, that is, that Iran would attack without considering the prospect of nuclear retaliation from Israel and the US, or that Turkey (a member of NATO, remember) Saudi Arabia, etc., would not feel safe without nukes of its own.

But even if an Iranian bomb would touch off some regional nuclear arms race, why would this be "hell" in a way that total regional war would not? I mean the catastrophic war described in Shavit's "second fact," which precludes an Israeli attack in the first place. Indeed, if Israel is savvy enough to understand the awful effects of such a war, shall we assume Iran (which lost a generation fighting Iraq in the 1980s) does not? Shall we not at least assume that Iran sees how Israel can see this fact--that it knows Israel knows a preemptive attack on Iran would invite catastrophe for Israel--all of which makes the madman theory a little contradictory if not more than a little daffy?

Ashkenazi, Dagan, and Diskin, now that they are civilians, are simply doing what citizens must: calling on their leaders to speak sanely, constructively, and map out a foreign policy and security strategy that appeals to common sense. This includes, they say (something Shavit cannot quite get his mind around), getting on with the challenge of reconciling with Palestine's growing international power and making the most of the Arab League peace initiative while it is still on the table.

American neocons fancy themselves, as Irving Kristol put it, "liberals who've been mugged by reality." Shavit has come to the precocious conclusion (which he thinks less sophisticated and mature Israeli liberals resist) that our neighbors can be very dangerous. Someday, no doubt, he will graduate to the idea that we all can be.


john james said...

Sadly the old dream of containing nuclear proliferation seems dead. As one country after another manages the 'trick' of nuclear fission, it's hard not to conclude that eventually (and probably sooner rather than later) all substantial (ie, first or second world) countries will have managed this trick, and nuclear weapons will be part of almost everyone's arsenal.

Then perhaps the only question left to ask is, does this matter? Or more specifically, does having nuclear weapons mean that anyone is ever going to use them? It's hard to see how. Iran must know that attacking Israel with nuclear weapons would mean the end of Iran - a price, we might feel tempted to say, that a fanatic would pay. However there is no historical precedent to support the assumption that fanatics would be so reckless - historically, fanatics HAVE had nuclear weapons - lots of nuclear weapons - and so far they HAVEN'T used them, suggesting that nuclear deterrence really is an effective deterrence (one might say, the ultimate deterrence)... unfortunately providing the best argument for everyone to develop it.

Another way to ask the same question: 'Is a nuclear Iran any worse now than a nuclear Soviet Union of the fifties and sixties?' Again the answer is, it's hard to see how. At least it's hard to see how the fanaticism of Stalin and his political descendants was any better or worse than the worst of Mideast fanaticism of today. In the end all fanaticism probably comes out of the same mold: poor education combined with an inflated self-regard combined with that noteably urgent form of insanity found in leaders of all types - add an unlikely ideology (fueled by a desperate or shaky economic standing) and poof! - fanaticism. Luckily there doesn't seem to be anything in this kind of mental dysfunction pushing a leader towards suicidal thoughts. Probably just the opposite - that urgent self-regard seems to be a survival instinct, and thus these fanatics who manage the mantle of leadership are primarily survivalists, clinging to life and power like children clinging to what little they've got - not the sort to be blowing everything up out of despair or a bored affect.

Where are we headed then? To a world where everyone has nuclear weapons. And what will that mean for us? Not much, hopefully, except for the truly frightening possibility of a specious regime 'losing' a bomb to terrorists who would feel no qualms about using it in a major city. It seems very likely then that nuclear terrorism, and not nuclear nations, is the great danger we will all soon be facing - a blackmarket catastrophe impossible to police, let alone stop. In fact it seems reasonable to project that, along with the accumulated effects of overpopulation, nuclear terrorism promises to be the critical world issue of the 21st century... and beyond.

Potter said...

The Lebanon War of 2006 and the Gaza operation of 2008-9 have already proven that Israel acts like a mad dog when it comes to it’s fears which can grow out of proportion.

Shavit says that Israel’s threat to Iran is also a way of getting the attention of the major powers. That is pretty dangerous irresponsible childish ( to say the least) behavior. Brinksmanship is a game with dire consequences. It can easily get beyond the self-serving politics of leaders like Ahmadinejad and the mullahs and Netanyahu and his.

Israel’s threat to attack Iran helps justify Iran’s need of a nuclear weapon. Add that to the fact that Israel has (undeclared) nuclear weapons believes it is an exception,claims it needs ambiguity, is not held accountable. Is Iran different? Iran does not need it’s ambiguity?

Israel’s fear of the Iranian nuclear bomb, pushed hard by Netanyahu, and fear of war, also empowers the Iranians ( it would seem). This is a gift to them. The occupation also helps Iran. Iranians can continue to threaten without even having a bomb, just by aiming for it. Iran can also play mad dog or madman games. As per Shavit’s second “fact”, these imagined possibilities or probabilities is already Iran’s deterrence.

If Iranians are wise to the fears and consequences to Israel of military war, and they surely are, then it already has deterrence and clearance to either develop it’s inevitable bomb and suffer the consequences or not.

Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East would probably end in a Mutually Assured Destruction and standoff unless we have more mad-dogs or madmen .

Brinksmanship is very dangerous; it is toying with insanity, inviting it. Hopefully thought experiments on the part of all sides will avoid catastrophe.

I resent having to "go there" in my mind even.

Acuumyst Report said...

Recently I went to meeting organized by "liberal" Moslems discussing sharia law and why it should not be part of modern enlighted society. The jewish speaker a constitution a lawyer went squarely against it, the christian speaker a minister went squarely against it, hindu speaker a law student went squarely against it, moslem speaker - iman and teacher a leader of the "liberal moslems" in Canada basically had been very supportive.

I believe very strongly that the islam and moslem governments are still in its formative years very dangerous and tribal like judaism had been 2000 years ago and christanity in Middle Ages.

The tribal judaism as represented by settlers and religious population supported by present government is moving close to the concept of tribal jewish nation republic, same as Iran calls itself The Islamic republic of Iran.

I believe both countries The Jewish Republic of Israel and The Islamic Republic of Iran will be danger to regional and world peace once the nuclear arms falls into their hands. (I believe that nuclear arms of Israel are not controled by political establishment of Israel yet.)

Eventualy the enlighted, educated Jews will leave the country with which they will have nothing in common and tribal war will be fought between jewish and moslem populace.

Let hope by that time Iran will not have nuclear arms and they will be moved from Israel to safe location

Rob said...

Gosh,if you want to talk about "facts"that are not,why stop[or start] with Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program?How about the lie that Arab forces attacked Israel the day after UDI not because Jewish terrorists had already driven out over 200,000 Palestinians,or the often repeated lie that the Arab countries started the June '67 war-Begin"we had a choice we chose war"

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