This week something highly unusual happened in America. The Prime Minister of a Foreign Country virtually promised on American soil to attack another country. Look what he said:
- And ladies and gentlemen, Israel must always preserve the right to defend itself.
- The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.
- And I promise you that as Prime Minister, I will never gamble with the security of the State of Israel.
- Iran calls for Israel’s destruction, and they work for its destruction – each day, every day, relentlessly.
- None of us can afford to wait much longer.
- As Prime Minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadows of annihilation.
- Never again will we not be masters of the fate of our very survival. Never again.
This, we heard from Mr. Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, on Monday, March 5, 2012. He has served public notice that, regardless of what President Obama says, regardless of what ‘expert’ opinion says in America, in Israel, in any region of the world, he and his cabinet colleagues will do what they deem best at a time they deem most appropriate to protect Israel from the mortal danger they perceive to be imminent.
We only know what is reported publicly. Senator Dianne Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and knows far more. So if you doubt our interpretation of Netanyahu’s words, listen to Senator Feinstein tell CNN “I believe that Israel will attack… His resolve is very firm. No one should doubt that.”
This is also the conclusion of Ronen Bergman, one of the most knowledgeable reporters in Israel. He wrote an excellent and detailed article in the New York Times on January 25, 2012. His conclusion:
- After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and
chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel
will indeed strike Iran in 2012.
In that article, Mr. Bergman quoted the response of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to doubts expressed by top-ranking military personnel about the attack’s necessity or effectiveness:
said: “It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their
opinions. But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees
us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see
nothing but the sky above us.”
Mr. Bergman interpreted the phrase, “we see nothing but the sky above us“, to mean that Barak and Netanyahu feel personally “in a very direct and concrete way for the existence of
the State of Israel — indeed, for the future of the Jewish people.” Mr. Bergman repeated these views last Sunday on CNN.
This a heavy burden Barak and Netanyahu carry. When you understand this burden, you realize that these two leaders will take the risks of action over the risks of inaction.
We understand this because at a formative age, we saw another leader carry this sort of personal burden. At that time, we saw another Prime Minister take a momentous decision of this type against expert advice and against the wishes of a powerful American President.
That year was 1971 and that Prime Minister was Indira Gandhi. She had visited Washington DC to ask President Nixon to stop the genocide being committed by West Pakistani-Panjabi Army in East Bengal. The military regime in Pakistan was supported by America and President Nixon owed a special thanks to that regime for playing the middleman between America and China. So President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger merely extended diplomatic empathy for what India faced on its border but counseled patience.
Mrs. Gandhi was neither impressed nor deterred. In response to a Pakistani air attack, she declared war and sent the Indian Military Air Force & Army into East Bengal. Today Bangladesh is an independent country as a result of Mrs. Gandhi’s courageous decision.
This was a very hard decision. She knew the risks. She understood that both America and China would exert enormous diplomatic pressure and could threaten to intervene militarily. Both did. President Nixon ordered the US Seventh Fleet to move into the Bay of Bengal and China threatened to move divisions to the China-India border. It did not matter. Mrs. Gandhi had made a manifest decision for her country’s future and she carried it through. This one decision, the huge victory she won for India makes Mrs. Gandhi the most popular, the most respected Indian Prime Minister to date.
This is not relevant to Israel. But Mrs. Gandhi’s next set of decisions have a very direct bearing on today’s Israel. During the next 16-17 years, Mrs. Gandhi and her successors had a number of opportunities to destroy the offensive capabilities of the Pakistani Military. The last such opportunity was in 1987-1988 when India could have destroyed the nuclear enrichment facility at Kahuta in Pakistan before Pakistan entered its “zone of immunity”. The Indian Army was already mobilized and engaged in Operation Brasstacks on the Pakistani border, the largest land exercise since World War II.
But the Indian leadership did not have the courage to launch a unilateral attack. The result – India now faces a nuclear-armed Pakistan that attacks Indian homeland through terrorist proxies, trained and armed by the Pakistani Military.
Israel sees this and has drawn its most important lesson from it. Israel will not turn into India. Israel saw its own citizens specifically targeted and killed by Pakistani trained terrorists in Mumbai in November 2008. They saw how Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail restricted India’s options for retaliation. Netanyahu and Barak will not let Israel be subject to such nuclear blackmail. Read the words attributed to Defense Minister Barak by Ronen Bergman:
- “From our point of view,” Barak said, “a nuclear state
offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. Imagine if we
enter another military confrontation with Hezbollah, which has over 50,000
rockets that threaten the whole area of Israel, including several thousand that
can reach Tel Aviv. A nuclear Iran announces that an attack on Hezbollah is
tantamount to an attack on Iran. We would not necessarily give up on it, but it
would definitely restrict our range of operations.”
We were in Mumbai during the November 2008 attack by Pakistani terrorists. We saw India’s utter helplessness in the face of that horrible massacre of Indian citizens. So we understand on a deep personal level that Netanyahu and Barak would do everything in their power to stop Iran from going nuclear.
That does not mean we support it. Like many US analysts, we are afraid that America will pay a very heavy price for an Israeli attack on Iran, strategically, tactically and economically. In fact, the consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran could be a protracted conflict in the Middle East and a recession for the global economy. Listen to what Zbigniew Brzezinski said on CNN on February 24, 2012:
- We don’t need go to war. And we have to make that very clear to our Israeli friends. They’re not going to go to war by flying over our airspace over Iraq (perhaps he forgot that we got out of Iraq a couple of months ago). We’re not going to support them. If they do it, they will be on their own. The consequences will be theirs, because the price we’ll all pay, based on a massive war, which the Iranians interpret as being done with our connivance, will be disastrous for us in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the terms of oil, but also in the Middle East more generally.
Others have been even more vocal. The entire world could pay a very heavy price for an Israeli attack on Iran. Actually, Israel itself could pay a huge price. If America suffers and the American people come to blame Israel for causing global damage, then the US-Israeli relationship could unravel. And that could prove to be an existential threat to Israel.
But, in our opinion, these risks are ground risks. These can addressed and handled. When Netanyahu and Barak look up, they see nothing but the sky in Ronen Bergman’s words. In other words, these two people feel a solemn historical obligation to protect their people from what they see as an imminent existential danger.
So at some point, President Obama will have to make a choice. He could let Israel attack Iran as the lesser of two evils. Or, if he believes such attack will gravely damage America, he will have to prevent an Israeli attack. Mere words will not be sufficient. President Obama will have to inform Prime Minister Netanyahu that he has ordered the US Air Force to shoot down Israeli warplanes if they fly towards Iran. That would be a far tougher decision than the Bin Laden decision. Ironically, that courageous, unpopular but patriotic decision could end up being the smartest political decision of all.
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