Before the founding of the modern State of Israel, the anti—Semitic view of the historical role of the Jew was that of half—willing victim. Jews were supposed to wait patiently while the Poles, Tartars, and Cossacks threw the bones to see who got to burn down the village this time. Many of us thought this subjection ended in 1948 and would never again disgrace humanity.
Discussions surrounding the Iranian nuclear threat suggest this judgment may have been premature.
Talks concerning Iranian nuclear programs between Iran on one hand and Britain, France, and Germany on the other exhibit the nature of a ritual shadow play, one that consistently overlooks what should be the most salient fact: that Israel itself possesses nuclear weapons.
You'd think this would lend some sense of urgency to efforts to defuse the crisis, but you'd be wrong. The Jews are once again expected to wait while the dice are being tossed, this time until Tel Aviv and Haifa vanish in blinding flashes of fire.
Israel has a nuclear arsenal estimated at two hundred bombs. These have never been tested, but with the state of nuclear technology, that's not a necessity. As Ted Taylor, the late senior U.S. bomb designer, once put it,
'No nuclear weapon ever designed has failed to go off.'
These bombs are evidently compact enough to be deployed on any of the fighter—bombers that comprise Israel's Air Defense Force. A possibility also exists that Israel possesses long—range cruise missiles — the Israelis were pioneers in the field of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's).
No nation has been more discreet in its possession of nuclear weapons than Israel, which has never acknowledged having any such weapons at all. Nor has it ever explicitly threatened any of its neighbors with the nuclear stick.
Iran, on the other hand, has done little else in recent months. The behavior of the country's rulers, both political and religious, has been such that it would cause alarm even without the nuclear capability. By now Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's new president, has become a nearly iconic figure. Each succeeding item that comes to our attention about this man makes it difficult to believe there can be anything worse to come. But there always is.
Consider his membership in Pasdoran, Iran's version of Hitler Youth, whose uniform he still occasionally wears. Consider his commitment to Mahdaviat, which Daniel Pipes translates as,
'belief in and efforts to prepare for the Mahdi.'
The Mahdi is the Twelfth Imam, supposed to return at the End of Days in the Shi'ite version of Revelations. The more fanatical 'Twelvers' believe that they have a duty to create worldwide chaos to hasten the day of return.
Back in the mid—80s, it was common to come across distraught American Leftists convinced that Ronald Reagan had placed fundamentalist Christians in the Defense Department for the purpose of bringing about the Rapture. It would be nice to see something matching that level of concern today.
Ahmadinejad's commitment to Mahdaviat is easily gauged. While mayor of Tehran, he had a broad avenue built to welcome the Mahdi. As president, he began a railroad to the town of Jamarkan, where the Mahdi is alleged to be biding his time in a well awaiting the great day. He spent seventeen million for an elegant mosque in the same area. Pipes tells us Ahmadinejad also had his list of proposed cabinet members dropped into the well for the Mahdi's approval.
The story of Allah's intervention at the UN is worth contemplating. According to Ahmadinejad,
'...I was placed inside this aura. I felt it myself. I felt the atmosphere suddenly change, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink.... And they were rapt. It seemed as if a hand was holding them there and had opened their eyes to receive the message from the Islamic republic.'
This is the man who repeatedly denied that the Holocaust ever occurred. Who has refused to curtail developments that can only be utilized to obtain nuclear weapons. Who has stated that Israel must be 'wiped off the map.' (And not only Ahmadinejad — ex—president Akbar Hashemi—Rafsanjani, a supposed 'moderate,' used exactly the same words a few months previously.)
The criteria for a preventive nuclear war have never been codified, simply because such an alternative is too ghastly to contemplate. But the possible need for such an action is in little doubt. Few would argue against the necessity of a preventive strike against a nuclear—armed Hitler. In 1948, Bertrand Russell, godfather of the peaceniks, publicly suggested such a strike against Stalin's USSR (he went to great pains in later years to deny ever saying any such thing, but the printed record doesn't lie).
For that reason, it's difficult to say what factors are required to justify such an action. But the case of Iran — a demonstrable record of bloodthirstiness and callousness, an expansionist messianic ideology, a foreign policy based in large part on anti—Semitism, rule by a hallucinatory fanatic, explicit threats of a nuclear first strike — pushes any conceivable envelope. Taken alone, each of these factors would be a matter of concern. Together, they make it extremely difficult to deny that Israel is being forced up against the wall.
The Europeans appear proud of the fact that they've muddled along for two years, as if diplomacy was simply a matter of delaying the inevitable. Now, with a nearly audible sigh of relief, they have handed the matter over to the UN. The UN of the 'Zionism is racism' decree. The UN that welcomed an armed Yasser Arafat. The UN that abandoned its peacekeeping posts in the Sinai in 1967 at Egyptian demand — without notifying Israel. The UN whose head a few weeks ago sat beneath a huge wall map featuring a boldly labeled 'Palestine' without any sign of discomfort.
These are not actions designed to defuse a crisis.
An acute observer might well think that everyone involved was trying to ease the way for a strike to be carried out — by the U.S. or Israel or both. It really wouldn't matter so long as the EU and the UN were not involved. (The French nuclear threat only highlights this point — it's best read as a statement intended to direct Iranian intentions elsewhere.) Israel, after all, does have a history of the coup de main, the all—or—nothing strike such as occurred in 1956, 1967, and 1981.
Look at the situation from Israel's point of view to grasp how far it may be forced to go. This is the state founded in the shadow of the Holocaust, as a lifeboat for oldest surviving nation on Earth. The only people the world ever consciously tried to destroy.
To the Israelis, a hostile Middle Eastern state gaining nuclear weapons renders the level of risk effectively infinite. They will be facing not defeat, not humiliation, but effective annihilation. Under these circumstances, any level of response is justified. In the past week, two prominent Israelis, Benjamin Netanyahu and chief of staff Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, have both publicly stated that 'the threat to Israel is existential.' On January 21st Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz went even further: the Iranian people face 'havoc and destruction' if their government fails to stand down. They should be taken as meaning what they say.
Those words may be the only warning anyone ever gets.
There was a point during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 when it appeared that the Egyptians had broken though Israeli lines in the Sinai at the same time the Syrians were about to drive across the Golan. Although never verified, it's been reported on some authority that Moshe Dayan placed the Israeli nuclear strike force on full alert, the planes at the ends of the runways with their engines hot, their weapons armed, ready to head for their targets.
The 'go' phrase was, 'The Temple has fallen for the third time.'
It didn't happen then. And I think it can taken as a given that the Temple will not fall this time either. Apart from that, everything else is up in the air. Except for the jets — and they're always ready to go.
Among many other things, J.R. Dunn was the editor of the International Military Encyclopedia for twelve years.