Ynet reports (fuller Hebrew version) that Ephraim Halevy, a former Mossad director, said yesterday that Iran poses no “existential threat” to Israel and that attacking it must truly be a last resort. Anyone considering such a strike must realize that it would impact not just Israel, but the entire region for the next 100 years. If this was all Halevy said it would be important, but mere reinforcement of views already expressed forcefully by Meir Dagan, the most recent past Mossad chief. What renders the former’s views even more interesting is that he identifies what he considers an even greater existential threat to Israel: the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox):
Haredi radicalism has darkened our lives. It endangers us even more than Ahmadinejad.
His attack on Haredim is shorthand for an entire range of social developments within Israeli society that includes, but goes beyond merely the ultra-Orthodox. Halevy, who himself was raised in the moderate Orthodox Bnai Akiva youth movement, refers to the increasing religious and political radicalization of the entire Orthodox movement in Israel. There has always been friction between secular and religious within Israel. But in the past, there were streams within the Orthodox movement which held moderate political and halachic views. Parties like the National Religious Party were ones which accepted a separation between synagogue and state. They participated in governing coalitions and were statist in orientation. They didn’t believe the State should be subordinate to the Jewish religion or halacha. Leaders like Josef Burg (Avrum Burg’s father) were also sober-minded and incorruptible.
Today’s Orthodox are increasingly extreme in their views. The moderate religious parties are long extinct. In their place are the ultra-Orthodox, who are much more socially separatist and militant. They view Israeli secular society as a world–and a state apart from them. They participate in politics because of the spoils it brings them in financial subsidies, and not for patriotic reasons. For them, the State of Israel is not an end, but a means toward a successor regime that fulfills the tenets of Judaism as they see it.
Haredim generally don’t join the IDF and receive dispensation from military service as long as they are studying in yeshivot. When Haredim do join the army they serve in military units which are among the most brutal in their treatment of the Palestinians. Which brings us to Haredi political activism. Many of them are the extreme among the settlers. Their yeshivot and settlements produce the most virulent and homicidal of the Jewish terrorists in places like Yitzhar, Tapuach, and Itamar (among others).
So when Halevy calls the Haredim an existential threat the term is shorthand for a whole set of phenomena that have developed inside Israel over the past few decades and moved Israel from a place which suffered from a divide between secular and religious; into a society in which, while the secular still existed, they had been co-opted and subsumed into a state that moved more and more in the direction of racism, intolerance, and authoritarianism. These noxious elements, while always present even among secular Israelis, became far more pronounced as Haredi culture did.
Though Halevy doesn’t mention this explicitly, I’m sure he’d liken the increasing militancy of the Haredim and their settler members with that of militant Islam. Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda have their counterparts in Israel’s most violent settler rabbis and Kahanist MKs like Baruch Marzel, Michael Ben Ari, and a number of others. While it is true that Jewish terror has not achieved the level of violence of the terror acts of Al Qaeda, that is because Jewish religious extremism has had to struggle against the secular, democratic values of Israel to find traction. That’s why the process of radicalization has been gradual within the nation. Within Muslim states like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, there were few countervailing influences to hold back this fundamentalist tide.
Going farther afield, the Ynet report noted Ehud Barak, while visiting London (yes, the British Parliament has removed any threat of arrest warrants against Israeli leaders possibly culpable for war crimes, thus enabling the Israeli defense minister to re-enter the global political marketplace), made some extraordinarily overblown, incendiary remarks about Iran. Among them was his likening the Islamist regime to North Korea and his claim that an Iranian bomb would undo military arms treaties (which is ironic considering Israel has refused to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). He also posited an Iran whose hegemony ruled the region through military threat:
Which would force the local actors to bend under the influence of Iran. It would spread terror–they already finance terror–throughout the region. This would bring them a form of immunity of the sort from which North Korea benefits. In fact, they’re not producing Barbie dolls, but rather nuclear weapons and heavy missiles capable not just of hitting Israel but central Europe.
What Barak neglects to mention that Israel isn’t producing many Barbie dolls either and that it is rolling out far more nuclear weapons and heavy missiles than Iran. That little fact seems to have slipped his mind though I hope it hasn’t slipped the minds of his listeners.
The above quotation is a perfect example of the near pathological language of jihad, which Israeli commentators have attributed to Barak and Bibi lately (in numberous posts I’ve published here referring to them). I’ve truly come to believe that this is no longer mere political rhetoric and jawboning to get Iran to stand down from its nuclear program, or to get the U.S. to supply its most advanced weapons system. This sort of language goes beyond the rational. It’s the rhetoric of a Caesar dreaming of his next conquest. Though this Caesar hasn’t nearly as decisive and effective a fighting machine as a Roman legion at his disposal (though of course the IDF can wreak far more havoc on the world than any Roman army).
Though U.S. officials have been studiously nonchalant in commenting on any chance of an Israeli attack on Iran, this report by CNN’s Pentagon correspondent shows that the U.S. military is taking this possibility quite seriously:
The United States has become increasingly concerned Israel could be preparing to strike Iran’s nuclear program, a senior U.S. military official told CNN on Friday.
The U.S. military and intelligence community in recent weeks have stepped up “watchfulness” of both Iran and Israel, according to the senior U.S. military official and a second military official familiar with the U.S. actions. Asked if the Pentagon was concerned about an attack, the senior military official replied “absolutely.” Both officials declined to be identified because of the extreme sensitivity of the matter.
Both the U.S. Central Command, which watches developments in Iran, and the U.S. European Command, which watches developments in Israel, are “increasingly vigilant” in watching potential military movement in both countries. U.S. satellites are a crucial method of gathering intelligence in both arenas, though the official did not specify that was the method being used.
…The military official told CNN that the United States is watching any Israeli military movements closely as well as those inside Iran. In the past, the U.S. officials felt they had assurances from Israel that it would give warning to the United States of any attack.
“Now that doesn’t seem so ironclad,” the official said.
The article also adds that the U.S. military envisions an Israeli attack including not just F-16s, but Jericho III ballistic missiles, presumably equipped with conventional, rather than nuclear warheads. If the missiles, which presumably could include cruises and other land and sea-based weaponry, were accurate enough, it would take some of the burden off the IAF’s manned airpower. Finally, an attack would offer Shock and Awe Israel-style.
Let’s return to an Israeli voice of reason and sanity, Halevy’s who said:
…No one should believe that there is an [Iranian] existential threat because this is simply not true.
The tragedy for Israel is that Dagan and Halevy, retired from active duty, cannot personally stop such an attack. They’ve left the field to the megalomaniacs like Barak and Bibi, and there’s no telling whether they can be restrained.
This article appeared at Tikun Olam
About the author: Richard Silverstein
Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.