The new nuclear age

The threat from Iran is unique, and we need both passive and active measures to address it.

ahmadinejad cool 88 (photo credit: )
ahmadinejad cool 88
(photo credit: )
In his latest anti-Israel outburst, the president of Iran regurgitated all his usual threats of genocide, as well as his Holocaust denial, but this time with a new twist - denial of the Bible too. According to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Jews never lived in the Land of Israel. He topped this off by threatening Europe unless it ends its support of Israel. Shimon Peres quite rightly called him a "new Hitler." But the president of Iran is no clown. He stands at the head of a regional superpower, one that has long-range missiles and that is on the verge of manufacturing nuclear weapons. Despite this, there is one clear advantage to Ahmadinejad's ranting: He did not mention the occupied territories, the rights of the Palestinians or the two-state solution. This helps to clear the media fog regarding the principal obstacle to a settlement in the Middle East: the refusal to accept the existence of any kind of Jewish state in the Middle East. Israel has erred grievously in its policies in the territories - in its policy of creeping annexation, its refusal to recognize the rights of the Palestinians, its establishment of settlements on land that does not belong to it. All of this has weakened Israel from a security aspect, as well as morally and internationally. But none of this changes the basic truth that it is the Arab-Islamic hatred for Israel and its refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East that is responsible for the failure to reach any kind of settlement in our region. In recent years, we have let ourselves believe that at least some Arab countries would accept Israel's existence, albeit reluctantly, if we were to relinquish the territories occupied in 1967 and enable the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside it. The innovation today is that the current anti-Israel campaign is being led by a powerful and talented non-Arab nation that is unwilling to accept any compromise with the "Zionist entity." Unlike Hitler, who tried to camouflage the Reich's plans to implement its Final Solution to exterminate the Jews, the president of Iran has proudly declared his evil intentions. Neo-Nazi declarations of this kind might have been expected to immediately trigger an international protest. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead, the Iranian president was recently received warmly in Havana, invited to address the UN General Assembly and even to meet with the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations in New York. There, although he was argued with on a number of subjects, no one stood up and condemned him in no uncertain terms for threatening "to wipe Israel off the map." Peres quite rightly and harshly denounced this bizarre reception. BUT WHAT right do we have to complain about others? After all, not too long ago, 30 lecturers and professors from Tel Aviv University signed an astounding petition. In it they claimed that Iran is not to blame for anything. It is not Iran that launched a propaganda campaign against Israel and the West. It is not Iran that is the adventurer. The United States and Israel are to blame. At the meeting with the Council on Foreign Relations, Peter G. Peterson, who chaired the gathering, criticized the Iranian president for denying the Holocaust. And UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on his visit to Teheran did not hesitate to criticize his hosts for this denial. But in their defense of Iran, the 30 academics from Tel Aviv did not see fit to include a single word of reservation regarding its president's Holocaust denial. THE IRANIAN threat is of concern throughout the world, but Israel would be the first and main target of a nuclear Iran. It is difficult to see what could prevent the nuclearization of Iran. Even worse, we can expect the Arab Middle East to arm itself with nuclear weapons too, and we cannot ignore the possibility that a nuclear "Islamic bomb" may find its way from Pakistan to new rulers who might identify with al-Qaida. All this is forcing Israel and the Western world to confront a new nuclear age far more dangerous than the Cold War. Although the Soviet Union was a cruel empire, its members were rational, calculated people who were deeply aware of the balance of terror, which prevented a nuclear Holocaust. In this new nuclear age, the bombs will be in the hands of madmen who have enshrined the idea of suicide and death. The president of Iran also believes that the destruction of Israel will ring in a new Muslim age and save the world. WHAT CAN be done? Only a defense alliance with the United States - in or outside the framework of NATO - could perhaps deter the lunatics. Israel, for its part, must campaign to have those who threaten it with genocide roundly and unequivocally condemned, and it should do what it can to see that they are tried in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. As Liav Orgad recently wrote in Maariv, Jewish organizations should be mobilized worldwide to hold protest vigils and demonstrations against the Iranian embassies in the West. Israel must demand that the UN Security Council issue a clear condemnation after every further threat; and most importantly, with the help of the United States, Israel must develop an anti-missile weapons system regardless of the cost, and we must prepare passive defensive measures such as constructing shelters capable of withstanding nuclear explosions. The writer, a former cabinet minister and Knesset member, is president of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.