[Marxism] Israel, Iran, and nuclear holocaust

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Jul 18 20:50:08 MDT 2008

The author is a mainstream Israeli liberal, and may be being used to convey
a threat credibly to Iran in the context of the current negotiations. We
have, of course, seen a lot of these four-to-seven month predictions about
Israeli or US attacks on Iran. None of them has come true yet. Nor does
Israel have the capacity to risk such an attack without very strong
assurances that Washington will join the attack if there is any Iranian
retaliation or resistance.

But Iran, precisely because of its relative independence and relative
strength, remains a central potential target of imperialist war. I don't
think this will cease to be true unless Iran and the US can reach a
"historical compromise" which the US is not even broaching as yet.
Fred Feldman

July 18, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor
Using Bombs to Stave Off War 
Li-On, Israel

ISRAEL will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to
seven months - and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope
that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant
delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of
that country's nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East
will almost certainly face a nuclear war - either through a subsequent
pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran
gets the bomb.

It is in the interest of neither Iran nor the United States (nor, for that
matter, the rest of the world) that Iran be savaged by a nuclear strike, or
that both Israel and Iran suffer such a fate. We know what would ensue: a
traumatic destabilization of the Middle East with resounding political and
military consequences around the globe, serious injury to the West's oil
supply and radioactive pollution of the earth's atmosphere and water.

But should Israel's conventional assault fail to significantly harm or stall
the Iranian program, a ratcheting up of the Iranian-Israeli conflict to a
nuclear level will most likely follow. Every intelligence agency in the
world believes the Iranian program is geared toward making weapons, not to
the peaceful applications of nuclear power. And, despite the current talk of
additional economic sanctions, everyone knows that such measures have so far
led nowhere and are unlikely to be applied with sufficient scope to cause
Iran real pain, given Russia's and China's continued recalcitrance and
Western Europe's (and America's) ambivalence in behavior, if not in
rhetoric. Western intelligence agencies agree that Iran will reach the
"point of no return" in acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in
one to four years.

Which leaves the world with only one option if it wishes to halt Iran's
march toward nuclear weaponry: the military option, meaning an aerial
assault by either the United States or Israel. Clearly, America has the
conventional military capacity to do the job, which would involve a
protracted air assault against Iran's air defenses followed by strikes on
the nuclear sites themselves. But, as a result of the Iraq imbroglio, and
what is rapidly turning into the Afghan imbroglio, the American public has
little enthusiasm for wars in the Islamic lands. This curtails the White
House's ability to begin yet another major military campaign in pursuit of a
goal that is not seen as a vital national interest by many Americans. 

Which leaves only Israel - the country threatened almost daily with
destruction by Iran's leaders. Thus the recent reports about Israeli plans
and preparations to attack Iran (the period from Nov. 5 to Jan. 19 seems the
best bet, as it gives the West half a year to try the diplomatic route but
ensures that Israel will have support from a lame-duck White House). 

The problem is that Israel's military capacities are far smaller than
America's and, given the distances involved, the fact that the Iranian sites
are widely dispersed and underground, and Israel's inadequate intelligence,
it is unlikely that the Israeli conventional forces, even if allowed the use
of Jordanian and Iraqi airspace (and perhaps, pending American approval,
even Iraqi air strips) can destroy or perhaps significantly delay the
Iranian nuclear project.

Nonetheless, Israel, believing that its very existence is at stake - and
this is a feeling shared by most Israelis across the political spectrum -
will certainly make the effort. Israel's leaders, from Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert down, have all explicitly stated that an Iranian bomb means Israel's
destruction; Iran will not be allowed to get the bomb.

The best outcome will be that an Israeli conventional strike, whether failed
or not - and, given the Tehran regime's totalitarian grip, it may not be
immediately clear how much damage the Israeli assault has caused - would
persuade the Iranians to halt their nuclear program, or at least persuade
the Western powers to significantly increase the diplomatic and economic
pressure on Iran.

But the more likely result is that the international community will continue
to do nothing effective and that Iran will speed up its efforts to produce
the bomb that can destroy Israel. The Iranians will also likely retaliate by
attacking Israel's cities with ballistic missiles (possibly topped with
chemical or biological warheads); by prodding its local clients, Hezbollah
and Hamas, to unleash their own armories against Israel; and by activating
international Muslim terrorist networks against Israeli and Jewish - and
possibly American - targets worldwide (though the Iranians may at the last
moment be wary of provoking American military involvement). 

Such a situation would confront Israeli leaders with two agonizing, dismal
choices. One is to allow the Iranians to acquire the bomb and hope for the
best - meaning a nuclear standoff, with the prospect of mutual assured
destruction preventing the Iranians from actually using the weapon. The
other would be to use the Iranian counterstrikes as an excuse to escalate
and use the only means available that will actually destroy the Iranian
nuclear project: Israel's own nuclear arsenal. 

Given the fundamentalist, self-sacrificial mindset of the mullahs who run
Iran, Israel knows that deterrence may not work as well as it did with the
comparatively rational men who ran the Kremlin and White House during the
cold war. They are likely to use any bomb they build, both because of
ideology and because of fear of Israeli nuclear pre-emption. Thus an Israeli
nuclear strike to prevent the Iranians from taking the final steps toward
getting the bomb is probable. The alternative is letting Tehran have its
bomb. In either case, a Middle Eastern nuclear holocaust would be in the

Iran's leaders would do well to rethink their gamble and suspend their
nuclear program. Bar this, the best they could hope for is that Israel's
conventional air assault will destroy their nuclear facilities. To be sure,
this would mean thousands of Iranian casualties and international
humiliation. But the alternative is an Iran turned into a nuclear wasteland.
Some Iranians may believe that this is a worthwhile gamble if the prospect
is Israel's demise. But most Iranians probably don't.

Benny Morris, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben-Gurion
University, is the author, most recently, of "1948: A History of the First
Arab-Israeli War."

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