So the eternal cycle of Mideast hatred and violence continues…In this attack, Islamic Jihad has succeeded for the first time in several months in evading Israeli security measures and possibly evading the vaunted Separation Wall which supposedly prevents such attacks. Haaretz reports:
The bomber reached Tel Aviv from the West Bank despite a total closure on the territories, and large numbers of security forces deployed around the country due to a high alert for Passover. The Shin Bet security service is trying to work out the route the bomber took to reach his destination.
If a bomber can make his way past such onerous obstacles how can we believe that there can ever be strong enough security measures to ensure peace in the long term short of a mutual settlement of the conflict agreed to by both sides after face to face negotiations (which both Israel and Hamas seem to oppose)?
Nine poor, innocent souls are lost.
There is a cruel, absurd calculus involved in the location targeted. Best to let Adam Keller of Gush Shalom speak to this subject:
One o’clock. In the noon news magazine on the radio, the commentator speaks in a rather bored way of the ongoing army raid into Nablus, words nearly identical to the reports of yesterday and of last week…
Suddenly: “We interrupt this report. A large explosion just occurred at the Old Central Bus Station in Tel-Aviv. Dozens of casualties. Stand by for further details”
The Old Central Bus Station. The least fashionable part of Tel-Aviv. The lively dirty streets which are the haunt of migrant workers one jump ahead of the notorious Immigration Police and the most poor and disadvantaged among Israel’s own citizens. The place where people have again and again to endure suicide bombings, too. Today, once again…The bombing had targeted the very same cheap restaurant which was attacked in the previous Tel-Aviv bombing, three and a half months ago.
The cruelty of targeting the Central Bus Station is that it is the poorest section of the city. It is where the Mizrahi Jews live and work. It is where migrant workers congregate (two of whom were among the dead). It is nowhere near the corridors of power or an army base. Those killed live lives almost as hard as the Gazans who suffer under Israeli siege and bombardment. Why them? How does killing them make a statement about Palestinian suffering or resistance to Israeli tyranny? It is mindless. It is stupid. It is pointless. It gains Palestinians nothing except a small measure of satisfaction to know there are now Israeli mothers and fathers suffering in the same way Palestinian mothers and fathers suffer when they lose one of their own at the hands of the IDF.
What lessons are there for Israel in this? Again, let us turn to Keller:
As always, the dilemma: Should we go there, to the scene where six people have just perished and forty others wounded, a place which is just a short bus ride away and where we just a few days ago went to buy sandals? Go there, as Israelis and human beings and and peace activists – but to do what? To say what?
Sure, we are horrified by the senseless random killing. But we have also something to say about why it happened, how it might have been prevented, how the next one can still be prevented. But how to say it on this day and in that location? How to make comprehensible, to shocked and angry and traumatized people, that the occupation is the root cause of our suffering as well as the Palestinians’? How to explain convincingly that we must dry at source the oppression which makes young Palestinians don explosive belts and throw away their lives together with those of others?
I’m sorry to say that the Israeli government has reacted to this horrible act in a way that is all out of proportion to what really happened. I just heard Dan Gillerman, Israel’s UN ambassador assess blame for the crime. Naturally, he mentioned Islamic Jihad but almost as an afterthought. That’s because IJ is of marginal significance in the death struggle between Israel and her Mideast enemies. Israel, or at least the Israeli government, sees its real enemies being Hamas and Iran. And naturally, they were the primary target of Gillerman’s analysis. But there was something strangely missing from the ambassador’s pronouncements. There was absolutely no separation in his mind between Iran, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They were equally culpable even though IJ did the deed and Hamas and Iran merely supported it tacitly. Gillerman certainly brought no proof that Hamas or Iran had any direct connection to the crime. He didn’t feel he needed to. The reason: lumping them all together confuses the untutored listener into believing that each actor could have been the one to plant the bomb given the opportunity. Here’s what Gillerman had to say to the BBC (audio stream):
“It’s very clear who is responsible. It’s a combination of the people who took direct credit for it–the Islamic Jihad–and the Al Aksa Brigades who are, by the way, part of Fatah, which is under control of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. But it is also the newly elected government of the Palestinian people, Hamas, a terror organization which has claimed and said time and time again that not only will it not recognize Israel, but it is intent on the destruction of Israel. But in addition to that the people who are responsible are the additional voices we are hearing from Iran, from Teheran, from the president of Iran…including his statement in a conference convened only at the end of last week in which he again called for the destruction of Israel.
So what we’re seeing on the ground is the implementation and a very swift one of the extreme and mad statements made by the leader of this new axis of terror, Iran. This axis of terror which consists of Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah–which threatens not only the safety of Israel but the whole free world and civilization as we know it.”
What’s astonishing about this analysis is its full-blown hysteria. Iran moves from being merely a mortal threat to Israel to being a mortal threat to “the whole free world and civilization as we know it.” The reason for such fevered thinking is clear. Israel is desperate to ring the alarm bells in Washington about Iran. Israel wants the Bush Administration to do its dirty work by taking out Iran’s nuclear facility. Later in the interview, the BBC correspondent asks whether Israel would support military action against Iran. Gillerman dutifully lies and says that Israel is confident that diplomatic solutions will work in this situation. The truth is that Israel does not believe diplomacy will work. Israel believes that only military force will work. And if you scratched the surface, Israel would certainly agree with the Pentagon planners who are saying that only a nuclear bomb could penetrate Iran’s defenses and destroy the underground bunkers housing the nuclear facilities. In fact, the Israelis don’t want us to stop with attacking Iran’s nuclear plants. They want regime change. They want a full-fledged invasion to topple the mullahs and install a quiescent regime that will not threaten Israel.
I hope to God that Bush will realize that Israel has a vested interest in fomenting a war with Iran. I hope he will not take the bait offered by spokespeople like Gillerman who paint the most lurid picture possible of Iranian capability. In the interview, he warns that Iran is rapidly reaching the point of no return after which it will have the capacity to make nuclear weapons. This, of course, is a wild exaggeration. No doubt, Iran has made serious advances in its capabilities to enrich uranium. But it is years away from having a bomb. Israel says three years. U.S. experts say ten. So the idea that we must take out Iran now is preposterous.
Israel’s overblown rhetoric in this crisis reminds me of how Gershon Gorenberg describes the onset of the Six Day War. Gorenberg believes that neither side really wanted war. But that the increasing bellicosity of statements coming from each side convinced the other side it had to ratchet up the rhetoric until war became inevitable. In the current crisis, Iran is Egypt and the Iranian president, Nasser. Israel is reacting to Iran’s bellicosity in precisely the same way that Levi Eshkol and his cabinet reacted to Nasser’s taunts. The only difference between 1967 and 2005 is that much more is at stake. Now, there are nuclear weapons, superpowers, and the Arab street at play. A war or even a military attack against Iran carries much higher stakes not just for Israel or the Mideast region, but for the entire world.
That is why diplomacy must work. That is why there is no feasible military option available. That is why anyone who believes there is could further destabilize the entire Mideast and the world, setting the dogs of terror loose to roam the streets of western capitals. I don’t know precisely what’s in store if we bomb Iran. But I do know it will escalate the horror that we’ve already known in New York, London and Madrid.
Why Israel’s hysteria in the face of the Iranian threat? There’s no question that Iran is a threat to Israel. A nuclear Iran would be bad for Israel. But it’s more than that. Let’s not forget that Israel HAS the bomb. As the only current Mideast nation with nuclear capability Israel possesses the ultimate weapon; the one that stops any argument with its enemies in its tracks. No enemy of Israel could possibly contemplate striking a mortal blow against it because that nation knows it would receive a nuclear response. There’s a weird form of deterrence in that. But if Iran goes nuclear, then Israel loses that card. If Israel ever contemplated using its nuclear weapons it knows that Iran would likely respond in kind. This immediately cheapens the value of the deterrent and thus, at least in Israeli eyes, makes Israel more vulnerable. In Israel’s view it MUST be the only nation in the region with WMD. That’s why it pulls out all the stops to draw the U.S. into its ‘death-struggle’ with Iran. But should the U.S. attack Iran merely to preserve Israel’s nuclear dominance of the Mideast?