Ehud Olmert is packing his bags for the flight to Washington where he’ll meet with President Bush and Condi Rice. Their two major topics of conversation will be Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, specifically the expected Palestinian national unity government; and Iran’s nuclear programs. Ephraim Sneh, current deputy defense minister, senior Labor MK and former IDF senior commander, “did an Olmert” by acting as Olmert’s stalking horse in a Friday interview in the Jerusalem Post (or read the transcript of the full interview). You’ll recall that whenever Ariel Sharon wanted to say or do something especially bellicose, like threaten to assassinate Yaser Arafat, he had Olmert do the dirty work for him so Sharon’s hands wouldn’t be seen to be unclean.
In a similar way, Sneh warned the world in the interview that Israel would not stand idly by and allow Iran to achieve nuclear weapons capability. If the U.S. and the world refused to act, Israel would:
Israel must be prepared to thwart Teheran’s drive for a nuclear capability “at all costs,” Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh has told the Post.
“I am not advocating an Israeli preemptive military action against Iran, and I am aware of all of its possible repercussions,” Sneh stressed. “I consider it a last resort. But even the last resort is sometimes the only resort.”
…The former IDF brigadier-general described an untenable scenario of Israel “living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction.”
He said he was afraid that, under such a threat, “most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with their families; and Israelis who can live abroad will. People are not enthusiastic about being scorched.”
Thus the danger, Sneh elaborated, was that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would “be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That’s why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs.”
…Sneh said he still hoped the international community would institute effective sanctions against Iran, but that “the chances are not high… My working assumption is that they won’t succeed.”
Interviewed in his Knesset office, Sneh said his priority was to define Israel’s national goals, including “preparing the IDF for victory in the next round with Iran and its proxies.”
Lest we glorify this man’s military strategic abilities, we should remember that he commanded Israel’s first invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and Israel’s creation of the proxy puppet South Lebanese Army. He’s the military man who let Sabra and Shatilla happen though Sharon himself shares the lion’s share of blame.
But whatever one has to say about Sneh’s military abilities, you have to admit that this is a serious shot across Iran’s (and the world’s) bow. He is telling the Security Council: “if you can’t deal with the Iran mess, we will. And if we do it, we’ll do it our way, not yours. So do something or else deal with the consequences.” This is typical Israeli bravado and braggadocio in which threats and bullets substitute for real diplomatic policy. Unfortunately though, that doesn’t mean we can dismiss Sneh as a raving lunatic. As we saw in Lebanon, the lunatics seem to be running the asylum these days as far as the IDF and Israeli political leadership are concerned. In other words, anything Sy Hersh was concerned about the U.S. doing to Iran including using nuclear bunker busting bombs against Iranian nuclear facilities, he should be doubly and triply concerned about regarding Israel’s potential role in this.
George Bush and Dick Cheney have both recently admitted that they saw Israel as their potential warrior proxy regarding Iran. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the plan when Olmert meets with them would be to come up with various scenarios and decide how they respond. Will the U.S. attack Iran if the UN fails? Or will Israel do it? And if either does it how will they do it and what will they need from their partner? So, the upcoming meeting is something of a war parley between the two allies. And if Israel needs any of those bunker busters from the U.S. they’ll be sure to get them as they did in the Lebanon war.
But we need to ask whether Israel, even if it uses its considerable might against Iran can hope to succeed in attaining its goals. I am certain that it will fail. Even if it succeeds in knocking out the nuclear program (a highly dubious proposition), such Israeli adventurism will deeply destabilize both the Mideast and the world. If we here in the U.S. think we’re hated now, it will appear like a walk in the park compared to the hatred we will endure if we allow our proxy to do our dirty work for us. Our enemies, not just Iran or Al Qaeda, will be spurred by immense reservoirs of hate and thirst for revenge. My Mideast Doomsday Clock will be set to 30 seconds to midnight. This would be about as bad as it could get short of a full-theater, multi-nation war.
Israeli commentators are stating that they see even less likelihood after the election defeat that the U.S. would attack Iran than before. Which means that the job may go to the IDF after all. Hence, Sneh’s opening verbal salvo.
Iran fully understands the meaning of the gesture and has protested to the UN about the threat made against it by a fellow member of the General Assembly (a serious violation of UN rules). But what good such a protest will do considering how badly Iran is thought of by much of the rest of the world (outside of the Arab world–and perhaps within it as well). Iran’s statements and actions regarding the nuclear issue and Israel have done nothing to win it any friends except in places like Cuba, Russia (perhaps), Lebanon (perhaps), Bolivia, and Venezuela. Not much company.
And returning to Sneh’s comments about an Israel drained of population by the fear of such a nuclear attack, this is utterly preposterous. Israel has been under attack many times in its existence–notably in 1948 and 1967. Israelis steeled themselves rather ran away. He is talking about his own countrymen and women as if they are turncoat cowards. This is deeply insulting to Israelis. No Iranian threat will have such an impact on Israel.
What really causes Israelis to emigrate and potential immigrants to hesitate is the constant state of war which Israel provokes with its neighbors (not that they aren’t helping in propagating this state as well). And Sneh’s bellicosity only worsens these fears. What Israeli mother wants to see her child serve in a war in which he or she might be killed? Yet, to their credit, most Israelis do precisely this; even though their leaders and generals do not deserve such loyalty. So it is Sneh and Halutz who create the atmospherics which discourage aliyah (immigration) and encourage yeridah (emigration).
I am not intending to belittle the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon. But calm and patience is required in dealing with this prospect rather than saber rattling. Despite Israeli claims (i.e. “lies”) to the contrary, Iran will take years before it can weaponize any nuclear material. There is no urgency whatsoever in attacking Iran now. No need to decide the matter now.
So why do so? One very good reason. After the savage Beit Hanun massacre, and the ensuing black eye Israel received for killing 18 innocent Gaza civilians in their sleep, Olmert is desperate to change the channel. How else to do that by dramatically changing the subject. His thinking is, you do this by talking about Iran’s nuclear weapon, which nobody in the world wants and regarding which everyone sympathizes (or so Olmert believes) with Israel as an almost certain target. Et voila, presto chango, the subject is changed. Israel goes from monster to victim overnight. “Nice work if you can get it,” as the song lyric says.