Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2009, pages 46-47
Israel and Judaism
More and More Jewish Voices Opposing Israel-Promoted Pre-Emptive Attack on Iran
By Allan C. Brownfeld
FOR SOME time, there has been a strenuous effort to prepare the way for a pre-emptive strike against Iran, either by the U.S. or by Israel with American acquiesence. Those promoting such a military assault are the same people who promoted war in Iraq by telling us that Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction, was tied to al-Qaeda, and played a role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Now, we are told that Iran represents an “existential” threat and that any nuclear program it pursues—however far from achieving a single nuclear weapon it may be—must be eliminated.
Despite the fact that the U.S. intelligence community has not yet concluded that Iran has even decided to develop a nuclear weapon, the calls for action are growing. Among the chorus are neo-conservatives, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Commentary magazine, the World Jewish Congress and a host of others.
A fund-raising letter from the World Jewish Congress declared that, “Iran poses the greatest danger to the Jewish people since the Nazis came to power in the 1930s.” According to AIPAC, “Today the threats to Israel have never been greater...Iran is speeding up its nuclear weapons program...Do your part to stop Iran’s rapidly accelerating nuclear weapons program...”
Norman Podhoretz, long-time editor of Commentary and author of the book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, argues that Iran poses an imminent threat. In an essay in Commentary, he depicted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran as a revolutionary, “like Hitler...whose objective is to overturn the going international system and replace it...with a new world order dominated by Iran...The plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force.”
AIPAC’s spring 2006 convention made Iran its special target and featured giant screens alternating clips of Adolf Hitler denouncing the Jews and Iranian President Ahmadinejad. The show ended with a fade-out to the post-Holocaust vow, “Never Again.”
Addressing AIPAC’s May 2009 annual meeting in Washington, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) declared that, “Mr. Ahmadinejad dreams of finishing Hitler’s work and killing all the world’s Jews. Each day that passes brings him closer to possession of a nuclear bomb, the ultimate weapon. When we daily fret and wring our hands, but fail to do anything that will really stop him, how late are we then?”
“The only viable solution is dialogue.”
The Israel Project, a Washington-based component of the Israel lobby, in March 2007 distributed an “Iran Press Kit” to over 17,000 media professionals and 40,000 pro-Israel activists in the U.S. Its Jerusalem office distributed the kit to more than 400 foreign journalists accredited in Israel. One of the documents in the press kit warns that “The Nuclear Clock is TICKING...and time is running out.”
Toronto’s Natonal Post contributed to the image of Ahmadinejad as a new Hitler when it published an accusation that his government had allegedly passed a law requiring Jews to wear a yellow insignia. While the story was retracted the following day, more people remember the damning news than the subsequent retraction from the daily whose owners are active in Canada’s Israel lobby. Professor Yakov M. Rabkin of the University of Montreal, author of A Threat From Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism, wrote of the National Post article that, “This disinformation certainly helps prepare the public opinion for a military strike against Iran, a disquieting remake of the scare of Iraq’s illusory weapons of mass destruction.”
Israel’s new government has declared that it will not move ahead with the core issue of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in U.S. efforts to stop Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The emerging Israeli position, announced by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his May visit to Washington, flies in the face of U.S. policy enunciated by both Republican and Democratic administrations. If anything, U.S. officials believe that progress in the Israeli-Palestinian talks would do more to curb Iranian influence than turning away from the two-state solution, as the Netanyahu government is doing.
Netanyahu’s apocalyptic rhetoric bears some scrutiny. Despite the fact that Iranian Jews are able to practice their religion freely and have representation in the Iranian parliament, Netanyahu has insisted that this is, again, 1938, and that Ahmadinejad is, again, Hitler.
Fortunately, many far saner Jewish voices, both in Israel and the U.S., have also been heard.
Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is critical of those who urge a pre-emptive attack on Iran and who, in his view, overestimate its potential danger. “Though rich in oil,” he notes, “Iran is a Third World country with a population of 80 million and a per capita income of $2,440...Its annual defense budget stands at about $6.3 billion—a little more than half of Israel’s and a little less than 2 percent of America’s. Iran, in fact, spends a smaller percentage of its resources on defense than any of its neighbors except the United Arab Emirates.”
Columnist Leonard Fein of The Forward observed that “Podhoretz wants to use force now. Others, including a disturbing number of major Jewish organizations, endorse ”˜merely’ the threat of force, loudly proclaiming that ”˜all options’ must be on the table. Is such a threat a useful deterrent, or does it instead increase Iran’s very real sense of vulnerability, thereby encouraging precisely the behavior it is meant to deter? And is not such talk a way of creeping toward a war? Another real war just now? Madness. Yet this is the risk being pressed on us. Why must Jewish organizations be and be seen as the loudest drum-beaters of all?...Germany, 1938? The more relevant and equally cautionary precedent is Iraq, 2003—and counting.”
Consider the views of Keith Weissman, one of two former AIPAC staff members against whom espionage charges were abandoned by U.S. prosecutors in May. A specialist on Iran, Weissman has lived in that country, speaks Persian and wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago on Iranian history.
Columnist Doug Bloomfield reported in the May 21 Washington Jewish Week that Weissman told him there is no viable military option for dealing with any Iranian nuclear threat and that efforts by the Israeli government and its supporters to link that threat to progress in peace with the Palestinians and Syria are “nonsense,” and an obstacle to the Arab-Israeli and international cooperation essential to changing Iranian behavior. Weissman said there is no assurance that an attack on any Iranian nuclear facilities—even if all of them could be located—would be anything more than a temporary setback. Instead, a military strike would unify Iranians behind an unpopular regime, ignite a wave of retaliation, block oil exports from the Persian Gulf and probably necessitate a ground war.
“The only viable solution is dialogue,” said Weissman. “You don’t deal with Iran with threats or preaching regime change. That’s where the Bush administration went wrong. President Bush’s demand that Iran halt all nuclear enrichment before we would talk with the regime was an excuse not to talk at all. And the administration’s preaching of regime change only made the Iranians more paranoid and told them there was no real desire to engage them, only demonize them.”
The Netanyahu government’s position that dealing with Iran must come before progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks is, Weissman charged, “part of the sophistry of people like Netanyahu who want to avoid confronting the peace process. Iran’s ability to screw around in the Israel-Arab arena would be severely impaired by pressing ahead on the Palestinian-Syrian tracks instead of looking for excuses not to...We’re going to have to end up accepting some kind of peaceful Iranian nuclear energy program—and they actually need it; it’s already too late to drop it entirely. That’s why it is so important to establish a relationship with Iran in which they accept international inspection and obey international law. For that to happen, there has to be a discussion of some overarching security architecture for the region that includes both Israel and the Arabs, but before that can even be considered there has to be Arab-Israel reconciliation.”
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December 2007 said “with a high degree of certainty” that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons quest in 2003. Israel now has between 80 and 200 nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists, while the U.S. has over 5,000 warheads deployed and a large number in reserve. For the most powerful country in the world to launch a pre-emptive strike against a country such as Iran—or permit Israel to do so—would make no sense at all, except in those fevered quarters which foresee an “existential” threat. Fortunately, those who advocate such a policy represent no one but themselves—certainly not the larger American Jewish community in whose name they continue to pretend to speak.
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.