Netanyahu's Existential Decision
For the fourth time in Israel's relatively brief existence, its prime minister is faced with an existential choice, a matter to be the focus of his talks with President Obama today. Anyone who is paying attention recognizes that Benjamin Netanyahu is confronted with the agonizing decision whether to launch a pre-emptive military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. The threats to Israel, to Iran, indeed to virtually the entire world posed by the consequences of his decision are staggering. Depending upon the outcome of an Israeli strike -- should it occur -- the consequences could include:
- Tens of thousands of missiles (launched by Hezb'allah, Hamas, and Iran itself) raining down upon all of Israel, resulting in calamitous destruction and death.
- The closing of the Strait of Hormuz and a confrontation between Iran and the U.S. that could easily escalate into a broader war engaging many nations.
- Widespread acts of terror against unknown Western targets, conceivably involving weapons of mass destruction.
- The destabilization of the Iranian regime, leading to revolution and foment all over the Middle East.
- An abrogation by the Obama administration of the historic alliance between Israel and the U.S., resulting in the total isolation of Israel -- which might tempt its numerous enemies to contemplate a massive frontal assault that Israel could repel only by the use of its nuclear arsenal.
- Or something worse.
However, should Israel choose not to attack, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran might have equally cataclysmic consequences:
- A nuclear attack by Iran on Israel, either by ballistic missiles or via a dirty-bomb terror approach.
- The initiation of a massive nuclear arms race all over the Middle East.
- Iran achieves a hegemonic domination of the region based on its nuclear prowess.
- Iran routinely applies nuclear threats and intimidation to destabilize or overthrow any region in the region that it finds offensive.
- Israel, horrified at one or more of the above, decides to pre-emptively attack Iran -- even though the consequences of the bombing of "online" facilities could lead to a nuclear holocaust.
But perhaps this outlook is too Cassandra-like. An Israeli strike could be a phenomenal success: Iran's nuclear capabilities are utterly destroyed, civilian casualties are minimal, the regime falls, a democratic government takes its place, and a better day dawns for all of the Middle East. Once again, the tiny state of Israel miraculously defies all odds, and a decade of peace is ensured. It's happened before. In fact, this is the fourth installment of this saga. The previous three were:
- David Ben Gurion's decision in May 1948 as to whether to declare independence.
- Levi Eshkol's decision in June 1967 as to whether to initiate hostilities to forestall Nasser's (and his allies') boldly stated intention to invade Israel and drive its inhabitants into the sea.
- Golda Meir's decision in October 1973 as to whether -- having been apprised of Sadat's (and his allies') intention to strike Israel on Yom Kippur -- to pre-empt by opening hostilities first.
In every case, Israel's fate hung in the balance. In the first two instances, the prime minister and the Israeli cabinet chose the bold, aggressive, exceedingly risky course of action. In the third, Ms. Meir did not. History records that -- although the first two decisions brought forth a great deal of pain and sacrifice (especially in 1948) -- Ben Gurion and Eshkol made the right decision, whereas Meir did not. Had either of the two gentlemen not made his decision as he did, it is likely that Israel would not exist today. And because of Meir's decision, Israel almost did not survive.
As grave as those pivotal points were, one could argue that Netanyahu's choice is potentially even more consequential:
- In the previous crises, weapons of mass destruction were not on the table.
- The worldwide ramifications of an Israel-Iran conflict are greater than they were for the Israel-Egypt conflicts of the past.
- Even with a "victory," the potential for civilian casualties and infrastructure destruction in Israel is much greater in this round.
- Israel might be more isolated internationally than heretofore.
- The probability of Israeli success is arguably less this time.
- There is no chance for secrecy or to launch a true surprise-attack.
Yet there are incontrovertible facts that Netanyahu cannot ignore. The maniacal leaders of a bloodthirsty, irrational, hate-filled regime have announced flagrantly and repeatedly their intention to destroy his nation. The world dismisses the threat as mere words. Alas, Netanyahu is watching the replay of a bad movie. The original was featured just 70 years ago. The scenario is sickeningly similar. And the monsters who made the threats in the original carried them out -- with horrific, existential consequences. Worldwide conquest by Herr Hitler was not beyond the realm of possibility. Had he succeeded, it is possible that he could have brought about the extinction of the Jewish people. I have no doubt that the evil mullahs would be pleased to complete Herr Hitler's unfinished task. They cannot be permitted to try.
But they have not squeezed the trigger yet. Can Netanyahu be certain that they will? Even if not, can he take the chance? Oh, the uncertainty! The perilous consequences! The bloodshed! Isn't there another way?
Can you imagine what it is to be in Netanyahu's shoes? The survival of the Jewish people and the fate of the world arguably rest in his hands. What an awesome responsibility! The consequences are monumental -- no matter which way he decides. God grant him the wisdom the make the right choice.