Superfluous and Harmful Talk

The declarations from our leadership about the urgent need for the United States to act to avert the Iranian nuclear threat are downright harmful, especially when they are made in the U.S.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on June 10, 2008.)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is providing unlimited material for speeches and declarations by Israeli politicians. Some are useless, some are senseless and some are downright harmful.

Not that nuclear weapons in the hands of the regime in Tehran would not present a danger to Israel. Ahmedinijad is not Hitler, and Iran is not Nazi Germany, but the destructive power of nuclear weapons is such that even in the hands of a Third World country, they have the potential of causing immense damage. Talk is not going to avert this danger. Whatever needs to be done is best done without publicity. But the subject is irresistible to Israeli politicians. It is grist for their mills and serves internal political purposes.

First, the specter of a major war with Iran has been held up by our politicians as an imminent danger for the past two years, and has been used as an excuse not to do anything about the daily rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in the South. Why get bogged down in Gaza, they hint, when we are likely to be engaged in a major war in the North at any moment?

Second, the Iranian threat is presented as a good excuse for offering the Golan Heights to Syria. What is more important at this time than disrupting the alliance between Iran and Syria, and the Syrians might be tempted to move away from Iran in return for the Golan Heights, some of our politicians declare. Moving 30,000 Israelis from their homes seems to them a small price to pay for such an achievement. Even in the unlikely event of a severance of the present close ties between Iran and Syria were to occur, how it would avert the nuclear danger from Iran is left to speculation.

Third, it is claimed, this is no time for an election. Even though the Olmert government failed miserably in leading the nation in the Second Lebanon War and has done next to nothing to protect the civilians in the South, still, it is argued, it should be allowed to hang on because of the Iranian war clouds on the horizon. We can’t endure an election, Olmert’s supporters argue, while the danger from Iran is staring us in the face.

This kind of talk, superfluous and useless, may be no more than the usual scare-mongering the Israeli public has become used to. But the declarations from our leadership about the urgent need for the United States to act to avert the Iranian nuclear threat are downright harmful, especially when they are made in the U.S.

They are harmful to the crucial U.S.-Israeli relationship, because they create the impression that Israeli leaders are trying to drag the U.S. into a military adventure in Iran. Attempts have already been made in the U.S. to portray Israel as having been responsible for America’s involvement in Iraq. No need to add to that charge.

What is more, the public calls from Israeli leaders that it is high time for the U.S. to do something about the Iranian nuclear project are less than useless. The American leadership is well informed about what the Iranians are doing, and while there may be some differences between Israeli and U.S. intelligence on that subject, the comparisons are best made secretly.

It is true that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran constitutes a danger not only to Israel, and the Middle East, but also to the rest of the world, and therefore to America’s interests. But the Americans will do whatever they consider to be in the best interest of the U.S. You can depend on that. No amount of urging by Israeli politicians is going to change their decision. Publicity about our prime minister’s visit to Washington to discuss the Iranian threat with the president of the U.S. can only do harm to both countries’ interests. Nothing is served by this, except the domestic political interests of Israeli politicians, and that is not sufficient excuse for harming the long-term interests of Israel.

The threat to Israel from nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran is well understood. The preparations that need to be made and the consultations that need to be held to contend with this eventuality should be conducted in secret. Nothing more needs to be said.

There is probably no way of stopping our politicians from exploiting this subject, especially any time that Ahmadinejad gives them an opening by uttering another one of his threats against Israel. But keep America out of it.

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