Watching Netanyahu’s speech at the recent AIPAC conference I recalled something said about Netanyahu long ago: That he was a great orator, but a very small leader.
One could argue that no other Israeli prime minister had it better: a shackled American president on an election year, GOP primary contenders competing to express support, an extremely supportive audience, a defeated Palestinian leadership largely committed to negotiations and virtually no opposition in Israel.
This was his opportunity to deliver a dramatic blow to Iran by outlining a new strategic plan — based on Israel’s support for Palestinian statehood and willingness to negotiate the Arab League Peace Initiative (peace with all Arab nations in return to establishment of a Palestinian State in the occupied territories based on the 1967 lines) as a foundation for building a regional alliance aimed at prevention of proliferation of nuclear arms and stabilization of the Middle East. Instead, Netanyahu called for an attack on Iran, avoided any mention of progress toward peace in the Middle East and, in his use of the Holocaust and the Book of Esther (the Purim Megilla), perpetuated the perception of an “Iranian-Jewish” conflict — a perception that is wrong, counterproductive and potentially very dangerous to Jewish communities all around the world if indeed Israel or the United States end up attacking Iran.
While Netanyahu’s ferocious and passionate call for war met with applause at AIPAC, the responses in Israel were weary. Repeated polls suggest that Israelis are concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, but the majority is against a unilateral attack (63 percent in one poll) and many Israelis worry about potential retaliation by Iran and their Hezbollah proxies.
Most analysts share the same concerns: A successful attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is almost impossible; it will most probably encourage further nuclear weapons development and lead to a significant retaliatory attack causing significant civilian casualties in Israel, Iran and possibly all over the world. Nearly every former IDF chief of staff has publicly opposed an attack. Lt. Gens. Amnon Shahak, Shaul Mofaz and Dan Halutz directly questioned the wisdom of Netanyahu’s speech, concurred that the risks of an attack outweighed the potential effect on Iran’s nuclear capacities and expressed support for president Obama’s policy of sanctions as did the recently retired Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who is said to have consistently opposed an attack when he was on active duty.
Opposition to an attack on Iran came also from an unexpected source. Unlike other public figures, heads of intelligence services in Israel tend not to speak in public about security. However, in this case, all three previous heads of Mossad — Ephraim Halevi, Danny Yatom and Meir Dagan — expressed their opposition publicly. Halevi said that Romney’s op-ed in The Washington Post was a “a clear message to the Iranians to expedite their nuclear efforts,” and Meir Dagan, who headed the Mossad for almost a decade before his resignation last year, stated that a strike before all other options were exhausted was “a stupid idea” and expressed in a recent “60 Minutes” interview the almost heretic idea that the Iranians were “rational” and thus that diplomatic approaches may help. Not known as a peacenik, Dagan has also stated that
Israel must start negotiating on the basis of the Arab League Initiative in order to change the dynamics in the region and potentially secure its future.
Many believe that Netanyahu has the opposite idea — instead of using a peace initiative to avert the Iranian threat, he uses the Iran nuclear threat as means to put to bed the Arab Peace Initiative and to postpone indefinitely the discussion about a Palestinian state.
Of course, as a genomics expert, I have no way to really judge whose opinion we should trust on Iran, but Netanyahu’s Holocaust antics, accurately defined by Yehuda Bauer, Israel’s top Holocaust scholar, as “sheer nonsense,” may have provided us with a clue. When Netanyahu proclaimed dramatically “this is 1938,” I recalled previous similar proclamations, the most poignant one by President George W. Bush when he compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler to justify a pre-emptive war on Iraq. This led me to think that we can use past experience to decide whom to trust when we consider an attack. We can simply ask: “Did you support the War on Iraq?” If the answer is yes, we should — considering the lack of justification for that war and its catastrophic results (including the emergence of Iran as a regional superpower) — decide not to listen to them.
After all, although warmongers are never held accountable, there is no reason for us to allow them to be repeat offenders. Maybe, instead we can listen to those who oppose an attack (especially when they are former chiefs of staff and Mossad heads) and, for one time, prevent an unjustified war.
(Dr. Naftali Kaminski is an Israeli physician-scientist living in Pittsburgh; he is a member of the Middle East Peace Forum of Pittsburgh and blogs at the Pittsburgh Middle-East Peace Blog pittmep.com.)