Encountering Peace: To be (Ben-Gurion) or not to be?

Wouldn’t it be great if the ‘risks’ the prime minister spoke about at Sde Boker related to making peace with the Palestinians?

Netanyahu at Ben Gurion memorial service 311 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Netanyahu at Ben Gurion memorial service 311
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
At the annual ceremony Sunday commemorating the memory of David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke in “hint language.” He spoke about Ben-Gurion’s courageous decision to declare statehood even though he knew the Arab armies would attack from all sides. Ben-Gurion understood, said Netanyahu, that the risks would be great and the casualties high. According to many political and strategic analysts, Netanyahu was actually speaking about a possible Israeli attack against Iran.
Netanyahu noted that leaders and politicians from all over the world pressured Ben-Gurion not to do it, but the Old Man withstood the pressure. Several ministers at the time warned about the consequences if Ben-Gurion went through with his plans, but he held his ground.
Instead of the forecast doom and disaster, the State of Israel was born and we not only survived, we have thrived and excelled.
So was Netanyahu speaking about attacking Iran? If we attack Iran, Arab and Muslim armies will attack us from all sides, with rockets already pointed at our cities from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, maybe even Turkey.
If we bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities we have been warned the risks will be very high and there are likely to be a lot of casualties. World leaders, friends and foes alike are warning and applying pressure on Israel not to do it.
America has told Israel not to do it without Washington’s agreement. Many ministers in the government are warning Netanyahu not to make that decision, not to go through with his plans. Former security chiefs have also sounded the warning bells. The comparisons sound plausible.
When I heard the news I allowed myself to fantasize that Netanyahu was not hinting about attacking Iran, but of making peace with the Palestinians. Making a courageous decision against the advice of many of his ministers, even from within his own party.
Standing up to the settlers. Going against his right-wing backers among American Jews and the right-wing conservatives of the Tea Party across the Republican gallery of candidates for the US Presidency.
Of course it is impossible to know how Ben- Gurion would act today. But his development over the years seems to suggest that he would not have attacked Iran without an international coalition, certainly not without the United States. I also think that he would engage with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas because the PA adopted a more pragmatic attitude after the Arafat era.
Ben-Gurion would admire Salaam Fayyad and want to engage with him and ensure Fayyad’s success, in the hope that Fayyad would succeed Abbas as the first president of a Palestinian state. He would have seen elements of himself in Fayyad.
NETANYAHU IS correct to commemorate the great leadership of Ben-Gurion. Israel needs a Ben-Gurion today. Netanyahu’s comparison of the dilemma that he is facing is admittedly not so far-fetched. To bomb or not to bomb Iran, that is a very hard question. A nuclear Iran is something that we and most of the world certainly does not want to see.
On the other hand, I have yet to read an expert on Iran who believes that Tehran would actually use such a weapon. The existential threat of a nuclear Iran is apparently not real. Iran knows very well that a nuclear hit on Israel would lead to the total destruction of Iran itself. The second strike hits by Israel should not be mere conjecture for anyone in Tehran, and Israel is most likely poised to defend itself in that way even right now, before Iran has reached bomb status.
Mutually assured destruction is the best proven deterrence that enabled the long and difficult Cold War to run its course without a single nuclear exchange.
A nuclear Iran is certainly not in the interest of Israel and the current apparent strategy of assisting in the sabotage of Iran’s program should not be underestimated. The experts argue among themselves regarding how far Iran is away from being able to construct the bomb. Roger Cohen of The New York Times commented last year that Iran has had a nuclear program for more than 30 years and they have not yet produced one kilowatt of electricity. Pakistan went from zero to bomb in less than ten years.
Thwarting the success of Iran’s nuclear program has been the goal of many for a long time. The recent mysterious explosions there seem to be part of that strategy. As long as Iran refuses to place its program under the full scrutiny of the international community, international cooperation between intelligence organizations is the best way to continue to upset the Iranian plans. Not by bombing Iran. Certainly not by Israel bombing Iran without a wide international coalition and a United Nations Security Council Resolution backing.
THE IRANIAN regime is a failing one. It is ill and morally bankrupt and it is only a question of time until it falls. The moral bankruptcy of that regime is rapidly leading the country to economic bankruptcy and its continued isolation is having a deep impact. The failure of China and Russia to fully join the regime of sanctions and the cowardly failure of Europe to agree to impose fuel sanctions as well because of economic woes slows down the process.
But a lone Israeli strike against Iran would probably end the process of international cooperation against Iran. Not only that, but if Netanyahu were to make that “courageous” decision to go it alone, against the will of all friends and allies, including the United States, even if the attacks were successful at delaying the Iranian nuclear program, and even if there were under 500 Israeli casualties, as our glorious Minister of Defense has suggested, how long would it take before there were international sanctions imposed on Israel because of its own nuclear program? No one in the world, not one country in this region or anywhere else wants Iran to achieve bomb status. Surprisingly, recent polls in Israel which talk about an even split in Israeli public opinion on whether or not to hit Iran have also shown that a majority of Israelis support a nuclear-free Middle East.
A truly Ben-Gurion-esque decision by Netanyahu would be to adoption a nuclear- and weapons of mass destruction-free region in the Middle East, and to the champion of that cause to the world. He would state that Israel would be the first to join that region when all other countries, including Iran, are under a full non-proliferation agreement with complete, transparent verification regimes in place.
Just three years after the Holocaust, Ben- Gurion made the right choice and went against friends and allies and forged forward with the creation of the State of Israel.
It was the right decision. It was the only decision to make, even facing a truly existential war, the ultimate “to be or not to be.” Today, on the edge of 2012, this is no longer the question. And the answer, I’m sorry to say, is far more complex.
The writer is co-ceo of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, and a radio host on All for Peace Radio.