At this stage of the game with regard to the agreement with Iran about its nuclear capabilities, several facts have emerged. The first is that it is not at all clear whether at the end of the day an agreement will actually be signed. This is not due to our prime minister’s campaign against the agreement, or Republican tactics in Congress, but because it isn’t at all certain that Iran’s moderates are going to prevail opposite Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is apparently opposed to an agreement.
Khamenei has declared that unless all the sanctions are lifted immediately there will be no agreement.
Not even US President Barack Obama can agree to that. Unless Khamenei is playing an especially ruthless game of chicken, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appears to be in the role the hapless Tzipi Livni found herself in the negotiations with the Palestinians as a member of Netanyahu’s third government – i.e. a fig leaf to conceal a rejectionist policy.
The second is that whether or not an agreement is signed, Iran will have a military nuclear capability sooner or later, and the question that must be answered is whether it is better for all concerned – be it Israel, Saudia Arabia and the Gulf States, the Western powers, or Russia and China – that this happen with or without an agreement. With an agreement such as the one that is on the table at the moment (a “better agreement,” which is what Netanyahu is demanding, is simply not an option) there will be more international supervision over the process, which will help delay the inevitable.
Without an agreement sanctions against Iran will be expanded, which will make Iran even more dependent than it is today on China and Turkey, and Iran will be less inclined to play “by the rules of the game,” while becoming even more active than it is at present in trying to gain control over more countries in the Middle East, in addition to Syria and Yemen. The likelihood of Iran collapsing economically, or a successful revolution taking place against the ayatollahs, is zero.
So where does all this leave Israel? Netanyahu has been arguing that a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel. But does it really? Certainly it is preferable from Israel’s point of view that Iran should not go nuclear. But will a nuclear Iran really constitute a greater threat to Israel than a non-nuclear Iran? Today there are nine states in the world with a known military nuclear capability. These are the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and – let us not forget – Israel.
The first and last time anyone actually used nuclear weapons against another state was in August 1945, when the US dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
Since then nuclear weapons have become more of a diplomatic than a military means in brinkmanship power games, serving mainly as a deterrent. The closest the world actually got to a nuclear confrontation was during the 1961 Cuban Missile Crisis, and it has been reported that during the Yom Kippur War Israel had actually made operative preparations to use nuclear weapons.
The likelihood of a nuclear Iran actually using nuclear weapons against Israel, as opposed to threatening to do so, is extremely low, if not totally non-existent, for two reasons: the fact that Israel has the capacity to return in kind and multifold, and the fact that any nuclear attack against Israel would also affect the Palestinians.
Though a nuclear Iran will certainly constitute an additional headache for Israel’s political leadership and the IDF – requiring a major mental switch in the way Israel perceives its status in the Middle East, and forcing it to revert to thinking in diplomatic terms and not only military ones, as it did in the first two decades of its existence – it does not constitute an existential threat to Israel as presently constituted i.e. as a Jewish and democratic state.
In fact, Israel’s most urgent problems have nothing to do with the prospect of Iran going nuclear, though at a certain level Iran is certainly one of the problems.
If indeed the reports are correct that Iran is financing Hamas efforts to rebuild a system of tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israel and stockpiles of missiles, and that despite Israel’s attempts to stop Iranian arms from reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon, in the next military confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel, the latter will have the capability of firing thousands of rockets a day in Israel’s direction (as declared by Home Front Commander Maj. Gen. Eyal Eizenberg several weeks ago), then Israel certainly faces a major security problem, though not an existential one.
Leaving the military sphere, Israel has many other major problems than Iran’s future nuclear capabilities.
For example, the Dead Sea is facing a major ecological disaster, which threatens the whole economic infrastructure of the region, resulting from the sinkholes that are opening up at a frightening rate all along its western coast. Four years ago Netanyahu promoted the Dead Sea as one of the seven wonders of the world. Today he is totally silent – possibly because there are not as many potential Likud voters there compared with Judea and Samaria. It might be too late now, but a decision to stop diverting water from the Jordan River north of the Sea of Galilee, and increasing Israel’s desalination capacity, is urgently required – wake up! Or look at another issue, which symbolizes the collapse of basic services in Israel. I do not know what happens in the rest of the country, but in Jerusalem for quite a while already, mail is being delivered only twice a week; letters sent from within Israel can take between a month and a month and a half to arrive; letters and packages sent via air mail from abroad can take as long as three months to arrive; and I recently got a notice informing me that a package had arrived for me, two weeks after the notice had been sent out by the post office, which is a few blocks away from where I live.
Yes, I know, one could use UPS, FedEx and the like, and one can use private medical services as the public services collapse, etc. etc. However, if one is talking of “life,” as Netanyahu keeps doing with regard to Iran’s nuclear capabilities, life is here – and in too many spheres it is starting to resemble hell.
And of course, there is the issue of continued Jewish settlement activities in Judea and Samaria, which threaten both the Jewish and democratic characteristics of the State of Israel.
Furthermore, as soon as the negotiations with Iran come to an end with or without an agreement, the world will revert its attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and guess what – the pressure will be on Israel much more than on the Palestinians. Due to Netanyahu’s ruthless, rule-breaking campaign on the Iranian issue, American diplomatic support will be much more difficult to come by. What will Netanyahu do then – turn to Iran for advice on how to live with economic sanctions? Life, Mr. Netanyahu, is here and now. So as our prime minister, would you please start doing something about it? And I do not mean Iran.The writer is a retired Knesset employee.