Don't bomb Iran

Maybe it's best to just wait for the people to remove the ayatollahs; there are enough good reasons why this isn't Israel's role.

Netanyahu holding document 521 (photo credit: Courtesy/Wikicommons)
Netanyahu holding document 521
(photo credit: Courtesy/Wikicommons)
Heady times are here again: the press is sniffing drama, soldierly fingers are itching for triggers, and politicians think they smell glory.
Iran, they say, has traveled to that end, reached this far, and come this close; Shi’ite fanatics are awash with anti-Semitism; and Sunni Islamists, from Ankara, through Homs to Cairo and Tunis – are on the march; and in Europe it’s Munich all over again; and the vote-thief who leads Iran curses us day in and day out while denying the Holocaust, tinkering with nukes and saying for the record that we should not be; it’s Hitler all over again, and the White House is inhabited by a neo-isolationist; and our wholesale release of convicted murderers has dented our deterrence; and the weather will soon be unfavorable; and if we don’t act who will, and if not with the IDF then with what, and if not now when?
Well that’s indeed it: Time isn’t right. The strategic stakes are too high, the regional constellation is too explosive, and Israel’s current leaders lack the moral license with which to embark on this mother of all adventures.
PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have reportedly been studying the issue closely for a long time, which in itself is good. The question is whether their delving into tactical details has not come at the expense of strategic clarity.
The two commando buddies might be thinking that if they fly this squadron in from the north, and those two from the south, and at the same time bomb here, and charge there, and in the interim parachute this brigade in the east, and then, for cover, lead that platoon just north of it, and meanwhile land that battalion altogether in the west for diversion – then we will have leveled the enemy’s reactors by late morning and axed its regime by sunset.
And then, when thousands flood Teheran’s streets under a blizzard of tickertape chanting “Long Live Israel” while in Beirut Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and his followers will shrink to a pinpoint, the whole world will applaud us for having finally handed Islamism a long-overdue knockout, the one after which the fundamentalist scourge will finally have been brought to its knees, and by whom – by the Jewish state.
Well that’s exactly the role we are not meant to play.
THE STATE of the Jews was established to look after the Jews, not to reshape its region, let alone the world. This is what Vladimir Jabotinsky inspired with his Iron Wall doctrine, which said the Zionist movement should adapt a long-term defensive strategy visà- vis its enemies, and this is what David Ben-Gurion inspired when he shaped the so-called Periphery Strategy, with which he cultivated a ring of allies – including Iran – surrounding Israel’s Arab neighbors, not in order to change Israel’s enemies, but in order to contain them.
Now much has been said about the immediate risks an Iranian response would potentially involve, with Tel Aviv being potentially exposed to protracted missile attacks from Iran, peppered with Lebanese barrages and Gazan salvos. Yet there is also a long-term risk of sowing an enmity that would outlive Iran’s Islamist regime.
Israel is marginal in the Middle East, by any yardstick: economic, religious, ethnic, cultural, certainly numerical.
It is one thing for us to defend ourselves, and an entirely different thing for us to reprogram our neighborhood. This is the mistake we made in the merry days of Oslo, when we tried to impose on the Arabs a New Middle East. We meant well, but to them our conceited arrival in their midst, if even as statesmen and investors, constituted intrusion, condescension and domination. It was the diplomatic flipside of the mistake we had made when we tried to democratize Lebanon by invading it.
In today’s setting this means that it is one thing for Israel to target one passing regime’s one program, as it has reportedly done vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear program, whether by bugging its computers, or sabotaging its supplies, or targeting its scientists; it is an entirely different thing to deal Iran a high-profile blow that will humiliate any Iranian patriot.
Moreover, a dramatic Israeli attack in Iran would be portrayed by the ayatollahs as an Israeli-led Western scheme to hijack Iran’s future. Many Iranians will not believe them, but a critical mass will. Israel will have been etched in the collective Iranian psyche as a rival, and worse – an enemy. Yes, today one might wonder how that status can be denied, but the fact is that the era of Israeli-Iranian harmony lasted about as long as the Khomeinist era. There is all the reason in the world to seek its return, and to avoid what might poison it when its time finally comes.
Now anyone who follows Iran knows that in its cities millions have long lost all respect for the mullahs and their baggage, and that the economic crisis in Iran is harsh. With patience, we will live to see the ayatollahs removed by the people, and their successors embrace with relish anything that to the clerics was anathema, from Israel to bikinis.
If only for these strategic reasons, Israel should maintain the Sisyphean struggle to besiege the Iranian regime diplomatically and economically, and to sabotage its nuclear program from afar, from within, and from below, while avoiding the cataclysmic military blow that must be reserved as a weapon of last resort.
FINALLY, THERE are two more reasons not to bomb Iran. First, with Gaddafi lynched, Assad embattled, Yemen ablaze, Egyptian Muslims and Christians sparring in the middle of Cairo and Israel vindicated in its long-standing argument that the root problems of the Middle East are not about Arabs and Israelis, but about Arabs and Arabs, nothing could be more foolhardy for Israel right now than to shift the limelight back to the Jewish state. Bombing Iran will likely provide all the region’s generalissimos and fundamentalists a cause to unite around, the same artificial issue in the name of which they neglected their citizenries for decades, as they focused on muzzling, under-educating and robbing their citizens while feeding them with hatred for Israel.
Lastly, to bomb Iran the Israeli leaders ordering it must command a solid political following.
Levi Eshkol went to the Six Day War in 1967, and Menachem Begin bombed the Iraqi reactor in 1981, while leading 45-person Knesset factions. Netanyahu won a mere 27 seats, and Ehud Barak, who won a woeful 13, has since lost eight of them and come to effectively represent no one but himself. Worse, over the years Barak has lied to the public so brazenly, whether in posturing as a social crusader only to emerge as a hedonist arms dealer or in declaring after his defeat in ‘09 that “the voter said we should go to the opposition” only to then assume his current job as defense minister, that he has come to epitomize a fraying political system’s moral bankruptcy.
That kind of leadership could narrowly suffice for, say, assaulting the flotilla that reached our shores in order to bully us. But what is now at stake is so much more than that; it is Armageddon, and that’s well above the Barak- Netanyahu duo’s moral-political payload.