Following Yom Kippur, it behooves us all to reflect on what the oath of “never again” means in practical policy terms.
Holocuast memorial flame Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
Jews around the world, and well-meaning people of all faiths,
took this solemn oath following the Holocaust. Israel was established to be the
nation-state of the Jewish people, in which their unique contribution to world
culture would flourish even more. It was also designed to ensure that the
darkest hours of the past could never recur.
There is a deep debate
within Israel itself about the Iranian nuclear program. Many believe that a
nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat in the truest sense of the word
and thus that Israel must do everything in its power to prevent this from
Others believe that Israel could, in extremis, live with a
nuclear Iran, and while it should do what it can within reason to prevent this,
it need not do everything that it possibly can. No one in Israel doubts that the
threat is dire, and even those who have criticized the premier and defense
minister most stridently in recent months – including former heads of the
Israeli defense establishment – recognize that military action may ultimately
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is clearly in the
existentialist camp and is determined to prevent Iran from going nuclear. If one
can be critical of some of his policies in other areas, he deserves great credit
for having forced the international community to finally get serious about
Cynical and unfortunate though this may be, the unprecedented
international sanctions now in place – likely to soon be further strengthened –
are a function of (vastly overstated) Western concerns over the ramifications of
an Israeli strike, at least as much as their fear of a nuclear
ADMITTEDLY, NETANYAHU overreached, trying to push US President
Barack Obama too hard to make the kind of public commitments that Israel would
like to see on Iran, and thereby exposing fissures in the US-Israeli
relationship, a worrisome outcome which must be rectified. Like many Israelis, I
also have misgivings regarding his repeated allusions to 1938 and the eve of the
Then, as now, fanatical leaders called for Jewish
extermination, while an irresolute, self-preoccupied West, failed to take
effective action. The USA, however, is a very different country from what it was
in 1938, and while one can legitimately believe that Obama should take even
firmer action, he has done more than any other Western leader.
today’s IDF makes any comparison to 1938 moot.
Israel cannot be destroyed
Indeed, the real danger is probably not that Iran would ever use
nukes, though this can never be discounted entirely and the margin of error is
entirely unacceptable, but the extraordinarily dangerous influence a nuclear
capability would provide it.
Israel may, or may not, ultimately be forced
to take military action. One thing should be clear to all: no one in Israel
takes this eventuality lightly, is triggerhappy, or will act before what they
believe to be the last minute possible. No one wants to see the sanctions
succeed and a diplomatic resolution more than Israel.
however, bears responsibility for its security. The pros and cons of a military
strike can be legitimately argued and there is no single right
Those who have an unwavering view in either direction are, I
believe, simplistic and unrealistic.
OPPONENTS WILL correctly note what
may be a severe Iranian response against Israel (primarily through Hezbollah),
the possibility of some response against Saudi or other regional targets and
against American and Western interests, as well as a spike in oil
Most importantly, they will stress that the Iranian program can
no longer be destroyed completely, since they already have the technology, and
thus that even a successful attack will only achieve a few years delay.
Proponents will argue that the Iranian response against Israel is likely to be
far more limited than many fear, the response against Arab and American
interests minimal, if not almost nonexistent, and most importantly, that a few
year gain may prove to be vital.
This period would be used to further
increase international pressure on Iran and to continue subversion and other
preventative measures, and sooner or later the Iranian regime will fall.
Remember, it was the mass demonstrations in Iran of June 2009 that was a
harbinger of the Arab Spring.
We all wish to see a diplomatic resolution,
and all indications are that Israel still believes that it has some, though not
Following Yom Kippur, it behooves us all – Jews and non- Jews
– to reflect on the enormity of the stakes and what the oath of “never again”
means in practical policy terms.
The writer, a senior fellow at Harvard’s
Kennedy School of Government, was a deputy national security adviser in Israel
during Labor and Likud governments. He is the author of Zion’s Dilemmas: How
Israel Makes National Security Policy.