I don’t know whether it’s time just yet for someone, anyone to bomb Iran. But it’s been quite a few years since the wise folk in the strategy profession have been saying “sanctions need time.” This sounds very reassuring unless, of course, Tehran’s nuclear option beats out Tehran’s financial collapse. Just how much economic pain will the world’s self-appointed moral monitors permit even a repellent and perilous Islamic power to endure until all the strings of conscience are played and the will to act is foreclosed. Before you know it, in fact, all of Western civilization will be in the dock … and all of Iran’s highly plausible threats and convincing menace will be right there about to be executed. Yes, make no mistake about who will be the first to be imperiled.
The Germans waited until January 1942 to detail at the Wannsee Conference their plans for the “final solution to the Jewish problem,” which was actually already in full swing. Looking back through the madcap film images of Nazis as Chaplinesque funny men, the nightmare has aspects of comedy. I suppose there is a parodic aspect to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fulminations, what with the diminutive little man, his scruffy beard and open-collared white shirt, his formal dress, dining out at the National Council of Churches of Christ, addressing a special convocation convened by Lee Bollinger and lecturing at the Council on Foreign Relations. There is not much to lampoon in his boss, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose views on Israel are, if anything, more belligerent than those of Dr. A’jad and since he is actually supreme leader he should be taken seriously, much more seriously.
Now, of course, in Israel itself there is a plethora of views, some more hawkish than the mainstream, many (many more than you would think) less hawkish. And the same comparison can be made with the opinions of the cabinet which is also not at all monolithic. No one serious in this argument is completely predictable, except for Haaretz which is influential not because Israelis read its daily Hebrew edition—maybe 25,000 do—but because foreign correspondents are delighted to be confronted every morning with accusations against the Jewish state that somehow make the Holocaust less onerous to European souls. The Jerusalem Post is a somewhat more balanced but a suffusive religious undertone makes the skeptical reader feel he is always arguing with God. (As it happens, The Times of Israel is a new English language web daily created by the Post’s former editor, David Horovitz, a scrupulous journalist who had long chafed under his former owner’s whims.)
American military interlocutors are now publicly worrying that Israel does not have the capacity to cripple Iran’s nuclear designs on it. Is the inference that, if only it waited some more, the edge of the Israel Defense Forces over the Iranians would somehow increase? One principle of the IDF and, more important in a way, of the intrinsic Zionist idea is that Israel does not want, never wants American men and women to fight for it. That is why Israel is so irritatingly cautious about surrendering the whole West Bank (with half of Jerusalem) to capricious and weapons-wanton Palestinians. Ariel Sharon made that mistake already in Gaza, and the shelling of the Negev is its most dispiriting but lesson-teaching consequence. All the blather about 1967 cease-fire lines in just that … blather. A very tough regime of Israeli surveillance all over the West Bank and on its frontier with Jordan—how long do you think the peaceable kingdom will survive?—will have to be installed before Palestinian independence, so to speak, is attempted. (And that’s only if Arab Palestine isn’t like Egypt and Syria, which it might just be and as I am inclined to think it is destined to be. Alas.)
That one principle of the IDF, that they actually fight their own battles, is inviolable and inviolate, words with slightly different meanings but one carrying the implication of sacred. And sacred it is. No American force has ever actually done battle for Israel. None. Neither Bibi Netanyahu nor Ehud Barak is about to relinquish that idea and that reality. They may want to borrow some refueling equipment. But they already have enormous numbers of bunker busters, as the best-informed military correspondent in Washington Eli Lake reported just a few days ago. I should note (humbly) that Barack Obama approved the sale of 55 of these 5,000-pound deep penetrators to the Israelis already in 2009, when he had only begun to dicker with them over settlements. These are not all that they have, since their own armaments industry has been producing thousands of lesser and slightly lesser capacity devices. If Israel cannot do it, believe me it won’t.
So back to all the fretting in Washington. Do the heavy thinkers believe that Israel should just wait for Iran to have a certifiable atomic device capable of hitting any place in Israel? Hey, maybe the Israelis and we Zionists who worry about them should cross our fingers and hope.
I know that most of you don’t cotton to the editorials of the Wall Street Journal. Well, here’s one every responsible citizen should confront. It’s called “Containing Israel on Iran: General Dempsey Sends a Message of U.S. Weakness to Tehran.”
P.S. I know that some of my readers (and maybe even most of them) do not judge arguments and articles I cite by their historic evidence or their logic but by whether their authors are good guys or bad. But let me try again. Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton is a certified bad guy, what with him having been George W.’s emissary to the fraudulent international debating society and, what’s more, doing lots of his writing, including this article, in The Washington Times. I challenge anybody to try to make hash of this piece. Ditto for Ilan Berman’s little essay in the same daily on the same day.
P.P.S. Apropos my above reference to David Horovitz and his new e-paper The Times of Israel, Horovitz analyzed the prospects of an Israeli strike against Iran through the prism of Ehud Barak’s relationship with the prime minister, a fortunate bond for both and for the Jewish state primarily.
Martin Peretz is the editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.