'War And Peace' And Indignation
By Bernard Avishai and Reza Aslan
Sunday, August 10, 2008; B03
The Bush administration seems less and less likely to launch a parting strike on Iran's nuclear installations -- but Israel isn't sounding nearly so tranquil. The talk from Jerusalem will almost certainly grow more strident as the competition to replace the country's scandal-plagued prime minister, Ehud Olmert, intensifies. Former Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz is running hard against the less hawkish Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to succeed Olmert as leader of the governing Kadima Party; he recently told Israel's dominant daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, that an attack on Iran was "unavoidable." And Binyamin Netanyahu, the right-wing opposition leader who might well beat either Livni or Mofaz in a general election, is also likely to think seriously about a preventive Israeli raid.
Meanwhile, prominent Israeli military analysts, officials and writers are insisting that Iran constitutes a mounting "existential threat." Take one of the country's most important historians, the erstwhile dove Benny Morris, who recently predicted in the New York Times that "Israel will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to seven months" -- roughly (and not inconveniently) the period between the U.S. presidential election and the departure of the Bush administration. Morris claimed that his view that Israel's existence was on the line is shared "across the political spectrum." In Israel today, anyone who resists such talk risks becoming an appeaser amid a chorus of Churchills.
Leave aside the possibility that the threat of an Israeli attack may be designed to give leverage to U.S. and European diplomats pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear efforts. Leave aside the question of whether, if you believed that such a strike was truly imminent, you'd predict it in a major newspaper. Leave aside the fact that no Israeli strike could happen without a U.S. green light and permission to fly over Iraq. And leave aside the perennial suspicions that Israel's military elite, which sees the Jewish state as the West's foremost strategic asset in the region, also tends to see the Middle East through the prism of the "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West. Could Israeli threats be serious?