No Permanent Allies But Fear Itself

Some are trying to attribute Netanyahu’s decision to pick a fight with his most important ally for no reason to his permanent siege mentality:

Netanyahu interprets Jewish history as a series of tragedies and near-annihilations of our civilization. While not inaccurate, it is a patently pre and post Zionist narrative. Don’t allow things like Dimona, F-15s, Dolphin-class submarines, the Weitzman Institute or Teva confuse you. According to the Pm, we’re on the brink of catastrophe.

Dimona, as Jeffrey Goldberg explains at the link, is the term for the Israeli nuclear program.

Netanyahu, it seems to me, is rather unique among recent Israeli PMs in his calculations of Israel’s long-term interests.  Still, Israel has long walked the line between understandable suspicion of its neighbors’ intentions, and unreasonable, never-validated certitude that Armageddon lurks around the corner.  Here’s a list of predictions gone awry:

October 1992: “Warning the international community that Iran would be armed with a nuclear bomb by 1999, Peres told France 3 television in October 1992 that ‘Iran is the greatest threat [to peace] and greatest problem in the Middle East … because it seeks the nuclear option while holding a highly dangerous stance of extreme religious militantism.'”
Source: Then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in an interview with French TV, as described in the book “ Treacherous Alliance .”

November 1992: “But the Israelis caution that a bigger threat to Middle East serenity — not to mention their own country’s security — lies in Teheran, whose regime they say is sure to become a nuclear power in a few years unless stopped.”
Source: New York Times, “Israel Focuses on the Threat Beyond the Arabs — in Iran”

January 1995: “Iran is much closer to producing nuclear weapons than previously thought, and could be less than five years away from having an atomic bomb, several senior American and Israeli officials say.”
Source: New York Times, “Iran May Be Able to Build an Atomic Bomb in 5 Years, U.S. and Israeli Officials Fear”

1995: “The best estimates at this time place Iran between three and five years away from possessing the prerequisites required for the independent production of nuclear weapons.”
Source: Benjamin Netanyahu, in his book “Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat the International Terrorist Network”

February 1996: “On February 15, 1996, Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak told members of the UN Security Council that Iran would be able to produce nuclear weapons within eight years.”
Source: Barak comments reported in “ Treacherous Alliance ” …

November 1999: “Unless the United States pressures Russia to end its military assistance to Iran, the Islamic republic will possess a nuclear capability within five years, a senior Israeli military official said Sunday.”
Source: Associated Press, “Israeli official: U.S. must pressure Russia to end military cooperation with Iran” (via Nexis)

August 2003: “Iran will have the materials needed to make a nuclear bomb by 2004 and will have an operative nuclear weapons program by 2005, a high-ranking military officer told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.”
Source: Jerusalem Post, “Iran can produce nuclear bomb by 2005 – IDF” …

February 2009: “Netanyahu said he did not know for certain how close Iran was to developing a nuclear weapons capability, but that ‘our experts’ say Iran was probably only one or two years away and that was why they wanted open ended negotiations.”
Source: Then-candidate for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in conversation with an American congressional delegation, as described in a cable released by WikiLeaks …

November 2009: “General Baidatz argued that it would take Iran one year to obtain a nuclear weapon and two and a half years to build an arsenal of three weapons.”
Source: Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, an Israeli military intelligence official, in conversation with an American defense official, as described in a WikiLeaks cable.

A country in a state of permanent fear and suspicion can never trust its rivals to reach an enduring agreement.  As long as Israel is widely regarded in the region as engaged in an illegitimate occupation, it will never live securely.  (Of course, Israel’s fear, based on Ahmadinejad’s “the regime occupying Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time” comment, among many others, is that it isn’t its occupation that’s the problem, but its existence).

“State of fear and mistrust for decades” doesn’t seem to me to be a plausible endgame for a country of under 8 million people in a rough neighborhood.

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8 Responses to No Permanent Allies But Fear Itself

  1. dedc79 says:

    I follow your argument to a point. But I think any responsible govt should be doing some planning/worrying about what its most powerful enemy is doing. If anything, this shows that if the Iranians are pursuing a bomb, Israel should factor in the affects of (1) Iranian incompetence and (2) the ability of tools like Stuxnet to slow those plans down.
    then again, there are others who say iran isn’t pursuing such weapons at all. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/06/06/110606fa_fact_hersh

    • I think any responsible govt should be doing some planning/worrying about what its most powerful enemy is doing.

      That is certainly a valid principle.

      An addendum: it should take care to do so accurately.

      My point is that Israel’s fears are to an extent justifiable, but to an extent they are not. The siege mentality is not only harmful to everyone living in the region right now, but hostile to Israel’s long-term interests.

      But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s former Mossad head Meir Dagan saying the same thing: Israel ”must present an initiative to the Palestinians. We must adopt the Saudi initiative. We have no other way, and not because [the Palestinians] are my top priority, but because I am concerned about Israel’s wellbeing and I want to do what I can to ensure Israel’s existence. If we don’t make proposals and if we don’t take the initiative, we will eventually find ourselves in a corner.”

      Armageddon from Iran has been lurking right around the corner in Israel’s imagination for at least two decades. This mentality obscures clear thinking.

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