Historically, Jewish life came under threat because of our physical weakness.
For most of our history, we were stateless, without a defense force, without an organized economy. We survived and overcame all odds, probably the greatest and most dangerous odds any nation faced, from ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Persians to the Spanish Inquisition, Russian pogroms and the European Holocaust. We survived due to our values, beliefs, faith and wisdom, and understanding that such struggles of survival are not about physical strength. And thanks to this spirit and our yearning for Jerusalem, Israel was reborn.
Today we face an antithetical danger, maybe more potent than before – we are strong, we have a country, one of the strongest armies in the world, the best air force, we are a high-technology super power – we rule the destiny of another people rather than being ruled by others. And yet we face significant dangers – a hostile Arab world with strong xenophobic, Islamic tendencies, terrorism from fundamentalist Islamic terror organizations, and above all, the threat of an Iran committed to our destruction, denying our existence and the Holocaust, developing nuclear weapons with the declared intent to destroy us.
And now we have to decide how we use our power, a power without precedence in our history and without peer in our region, to deter Iran and its Muslim allies – Hezbollah and Hamas – and forestall a nuclear threat upon us.
It seems that the Netanyahu government is inclined, led by the prime minister and the minister of defense, to use our military might to attack Iran and prevent it from becoming a nuclear power. Recent government leaks and expert media analysis point to a possible Israeli military attack on Iran and its nuclear facilities this autumn, before the American elections.
A public debate has erupted on this critical issue and almost daily an ex-general or head of intelligence make his voice heard in favor of or against an Israeli-initiated war against Tehran. I believe that civilian voices must also be heard, as what is at stake touches on our very being and identity.
My own opinion is that if indeed the analysts are right about the intentions of Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, then Israel is about to commit the greatest mistake in our modern history, one that would endanger us much more than the mullahs of Tehran could ever do.
An Israeli war on Iran would have the following dangerous consequences:
a) It would in all likelihood lead to a regional war – the whole Muslim and Arab world would close ranks with Tehran in case of a solo- Israeli attack. Shia-Sunni antagonism would pale next to a Jewish- Islamic war.
b) It is to be assumed that an Israeli-Iranian war – which probably becomes regional as the chief of staff told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee – would end with us having the upper hand, using our strategic conventional defense capacities. This in turn would likely lead to the nuclearization of the Middle East with countries like Saudi Arabia, possibly also Egypt and Turkey, turning to the development of nuclear strategic capacities. In turn our strategic deterrence would be questioned and harmed.
c) The terror war against Israel, by Hezbollah and Hamas, would with time turn non-conventional, from chemical to nuclear on a small but lethal scale.
d) The Assad regime in Syria would be saved as Iran’s main ally and Syria’s non-conventional capacities would be introduced into the war zone.
e) Such a war would bring to an end the vital peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and any hope of a solution to the Palestinian issue, leaving us isolated in a bi-national state.
f) The entire Muslim world, with more than 1 billion citizens, would remain hostile to Israel, probably for decades to come.
g) Perhaps most dangerously, the Israel “attack alone option” would lead to an unprecedented rift with the American administration and we would be perceived by our No. 1 strategic ally as harming strategic American interests. This would endanger the very backbone of our national security.
h) Internationally, Israel would be perceived as bringing the region to the brink of a nuclear confrontation, which would turn us into a pariah state, endangering our political and economic interests.
i) The national coherence and consensus in Israel would be shattered, as much of the country is not convinced that this is a necessary war and prefers American leadership on the Iranian issue. Not to speak of the unpreparedness of Israel’s civil defense and the casualties inflicted on us (which should not be a consideration for or against a military operation).
j) An Israeli attack on Iran and its nuclear facilities would delay but not prevent Iran from going nuclear. It would harm Iran’s nuclear capacities but increase its motivation to become nuclear. The international case against Iran’s nuclear ambitions would be severely weakened.
So the choice before us is not just to bomb Iran or live with an Iranian bomb. The real alternative is between tackling a most severe threat from a backward, extremist country – devoted to destroying us and hostile to the West – alone or as part of the international community, trusting the American leadership.
Power opts for the “going it alone” option, wisdom for following the American lead. When we were weak, we knew how to deal with weakness through wisdom. Now that we are powerful, we still have to use wisdom and not give in to folly.
This is not about a strategic policy decision – this is about our very being and identity. The writing is on the wall.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.