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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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The Iranian threat is a real one

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It’s not bluster. Nor is it just “psychological warfare.” All the warnings in Israel that the Jewish state can’t afford to sit still while Iran races to acquire nuclear weapons must be taken seriously.

The number of recent articles speculating about what Israel may do to counter this looming threat is staggering.

In the meantime, the Iranian leadership’s familiar anti-Israel and antisemitic rants have accelerated in a particularly noxious manner.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a crowd of worshippers on Aug. 17 that “the existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity.” Two days later, marking the end of Ramadan, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumour at the heart of the Islamic world” that must be destroyed. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a commander in Iran’s Revolution Guards Corps, declared that Israel would be “wiped out of the map and thrown into the trash bin of history forever.”

Israel’s UN mission called on the Security Council “and all responsible members of the international community to condemn Iranian hate speech without any further delay.” The United States did, while UN secretary Ban Ki-moon issued a statement calling the Iran’s tirades merely “offensive and inflammatory.” He asked Iran to tone it down, reminding its leaders that according to the UN Charter, it’s forbidden for one member state to call for the destruction of another. But no moves are afoot to expel Iran from the UN for repeatedly violating this pledge (or to hold it to account for its incitement to genocide – something Liberal MP Irwin Cotler drew attention to in the Aug. 14 National Post). At the same time, Ban indicated, in the face of Israeli objections, that he planned to attend an upcoming meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran. So much for isolating Iran internationally.

Discussions about whether Iranian leaders, transfixed by Holocaust denial and other antisemitic delusions, are “rational” or “irrational” are beside the point. As George Jonas put it in the National Post: “A fellow who says he’s out to destroy you is out to destroy you. Believe him.” If Jews have learned anything from their great but tragic history, it is this.

In this toxic climate, a public debate has grown in Israel about how best (or how in the least bad way) to respond to the Iranian threat. There are no good options. It’s clear that sanctions and diplomacy aren’t working. Not only are these measures not stopping Iran from pursuing its illicit nuclear program, they’re not even slowing it down. Israel never thought they would. Nonetheless, others in the international community are urging Israel to give them more time, while Israel argues that this allows Iran more time to develop and hide its nuclear assets, shielding them from attack.

Here’s where the debate in Israel stands: It’s intolerable to live under the threat of a nuclear strike by Iran. On the other hand, if Israel launches a preventive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the experts agree that Israel alone won’t be able to destroy them. It will only be able to set back the Iranian nuclear program by a year or two, but will also likely incur Iranian, and Hezbollah, counterstrikes. Can Israel afford to act alone? Can it count on the United States, whose president has promised, more than once, that he won’t allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons?

Absent an agreement with the Americans, a plurality of Israelis, including military and strategic experts, don’t want Israel to act alone at this time.

In the Aug. 22 Globe and Mail, Paul Koring noted that “despite the sabre-rattling, few analysts expect an imminent Israeli strike.” Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller concurred, saying that an Israeli strike is unlikely before the American presidential election in November. Still, he concluded, “If you’re betting on a war with Iran, think year’s end or early next… Ultimately, Israel will act.”

Paul Michaels is director of senior media relations for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

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