I watched Dan Meridor tonight on Charlie Rose and it was quite instructive. Meridor is the smooth, compassionate conservative face of the Israeli right. Unlike Bibi or Avigdor or even Ariel, Meridor seems a decent, reasonable person, someone with whom even a Palestinian might be able to come to terms. I was impressed in a limited sort of way as I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Israeli right of bankrupt of ideas or reasonableness. Meridor is not of that ilk.
Nevertheless, what Meridor, who is the intelligence minister, said about Iran was eye-opening. First, Meridor displayed none of that erstwhile reasonableness when he spoke of that nation. There was no sense of compromise possible. He made clear that America must “win” the battle against Iran and that Iran must “lose.” When you use such terms in such a delicate political environment you send an unmistakable signal both to the Iranians and the U.S. public. You are not in favor of compromise. You don’t care what Iran wants because you’re not prepared to give it to them no matter what. In fact, I fear that perhaps you’re prepared for war.
I regret that I haven’t yet found the video or transcript for the interview so that I can quote it. So I’ll do my best to convey my impression of it. Meridor did his best Richard Nixon imitation when he spoke of the prospect of an Iran with nuclear weapons. He predicted that it would radicalize the entire Middle East, empower Hezbollah, Hamas, and even Al Qaeda, and encourage every major Arab nation to begin a nuclear program of its own. It was an Arab version of the old domino effect from the Vietnam war era, except in this case it was far worse because he was predicting a Muslim bomb that could endanger not just Israel, but the entire west. You all, who are of a certain age, will remember how well the domino theory held up.
Charlie Rose asked Meridor a fairly nuanced question about what we can offer the Iranians to make them willing to compromise on their nuclear program. Instead of responding constructively, Meridor chose to view the question in a typically Israeli way: how can we put the screws to Iran to make them give up their nuclear ambitions.
Finally, Meridor in almost an aside said: “Of course we would prefer regime change in Iran…” In the context of the conversation, Meridor was saying that while Israel’s ultimate desire would be for an end, even by force, to the clerical regime, this was a wish rather than a firm conviction. But I thought it was instructive that the most pragmatic minister of the Likud government was candidly and publicly using the very pointed term “regime change.” If someone like Meridor can speak openly of this, imagine what the less delicate figures in the governing coalition like Lieberman and even Netanyahu are planning.
Roger Cohen followed Meridor and offered his assessment that an Israeli attack on Iran didn’t seem likely. I hope to God he’s right. Every time I read or hear Roger Cohen speak about Iran or the Middle East, I think to myself how clear, articulate and reasonable his views are on these terribly complex issues: “My God, this is the guy who should be the keynote speaker for the December Israel-Iran conference I’m planning.” So far, it appears unlikely I can secure his participation. But I won’t stop trying.