By Annie Robbins
On Saturday I posted on AEI’s Danielle Pletka surprising admission that a nuclear armed Iran’s threat to Israel wasn’t that it would launch an attack but rather that it could upset the “balance of power” in the region. Mark Wauck responded to the post by emailing me a useful article, The Root of All Fears: Why is Israel so Afraid of Iranian Nukes, by Ariel Ilan Roth, published by the Council in Foreign Relations two years ago; and Roth came to the same conclusion:
Iran needs only to possess nuclear weapons, not to use them, in order to further enhance its international prestige and force adversaries to take it seriously. Likewise, the deterrent power of an unused nuclear capability would allow the regime to spread its ideology without the constant worry of regime change imposed from abroad.
But along the way Roth convincingly breaks down all the reasons Iran is unlikely to initiate an attack on Israel. But fear of attack is not why Israel is so obsessed with Iran. The reason it pressures for an attack is to prop up ‘national morale’ because Israelis believe that their own safety is dependent on an iron wall. “Most Israelis believe the key to enduring peace in the Middle East is convincing Israel’s adversaries that ejecting Israel through force is an impossible task not worth pursuing.” An Iranian nuke would shatter any ‘perception of invincibility’ Israel has continually relied upon.
In a follow up email Wauck articulates:
Unstated in Roth’s article are a number of important factors. Of especial importance is the changing nature of Israeli society itself. Every day brings new news of settler excesses, of the ever growing influence of religious fundamentalism, of the constant brain drain of Israel’s creative secular elite, who no longer feel at home in Israel.
These mean that the Netanyahu regime–and every Israeli government–finds itself increasingly in a bind. Military invincibility is essentially insured, but the pressure of living in a hostile Middle East is taking its toll on the national morale of Israelis, and especially on the segment of its population that is necessary for Israel’s continued economic health. It’s my belief that part of the drive to eliminate even the appearance of an Iranian challenge–however slight–to total Israeli regional hegemony is the desire to reassure Israelis of their security in perpetuity. But societal change is undermining even this hope.
Roth sees a strike against Iran as only a temporary solution–what Israel needs is a rethinking of its future and a new strategy to break out of the dead end of gradual but ever increasing isolation:
The possibility that Israel may no longer be capable of forcing peace upon those who deny its right to exist is beginning to dawn on many Israelis. Whether Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear infrastructure or not, the time has come for Israel’s defense community to develop a strategic doctrine for long-term coexistence that does not rely on a posture of invincibility.
But what could such a new strategic doctrine for long-term coexistence be? Coexistence must begin at home, with the Palestinians, but with the growing strength of fundamentalism such a development is increasingly unlikely.
And so, I believe, there is an increasing possibility that an Israeli government might take a desperate gamble, risk a bold military stroke that it hoped could somehow break the deadlock and force peace on a reluctant Middle East. This may be what Roth is hinting at in his final paragraph:
But, given that widespread Arab acceptance of Israel’s right to exist does not appear to be on the horizon, most Israelis, including the current prime minister, insist that Israel’s most urgent strategic objective is to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Doing so would temporarily remove the threat of a regional nuclear cascade and maintain Israel’s superiority of arms. More important, it would hold at bay the suspicion that Israel may never attain true peace. This increasingly widespread fear has a toxic effect on national morale, is an existential threat to the Jewish state, and lies at the root of Israel’s obsession with the Iranian bomb.
Notice that this has little or nothing to do with an existential threat to Israel in a military sense. Rather, it has much more to do with an existential crisis inherent in the entire Zionist project, the inability to ever attain a nebulous “true peace.”
Annie Robbins is Writer-at-Large for Mondoweiss. She is a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area.