Israel Is Wide Awake as Decision Time Approaches on Nuclear Iran

(Financial Times-UK) Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Michael Herzog - Israel has been publicly debating the wisdom of a military strike on Iran's nuclear program. But it is not "sleepwalking" into a war. The Israeli discourse is a real debate driven by the feeling that Iran's nuclear project is advancing, international resolve is insufficient and regime change does not look imminent. Israel perceives a nuclear Iran as a potentially existential threat. The possible combination of extreme Islamism, a messianic leadership calling to "wipe Israel off the map," and nuclear weapons is deeply sobering. Given Israel's collective memory of the Holocaust and its hostile surroundings, Israelis take this threat especially seriously. Even assuming Iran can be deterred from using a nuclear bomb, a nuclear Iran will dramatically upset the strategic balance in a region undergoing revolutionary transition. Having defeated international pressure and acquired a nuclear umbrella, Iran will be emboldened as a radical regional pole. A nuclear Iran will overshadow the calculations of regional actors, trigger a regional nuclear arms race, destroy the non-proliferation treaty and increase the danger of miscalculation towards a nuclear crisis. Iran will escalate its destabilizing power projection, threatening Israel and moderate Arab regimes, undermining any peace process, manipulating energy markets and posing as guardian of certain Muslim communities even beyond the Middle East. Over time, one cannot rule out proliferation to non-state actors. Containment and deterrence will do little to offset these severe consequences. The Israeli public debate reflects the fact that Israelis do not want war. Rather, they feel that while the problem is not exclusively theirs, a failure of international pressure will leave them alone with that decision. Far from sleepwalking, Israelis have their eyes wide open and expect others to do the same. The writer, former chief of staff to Israel's minister of defense, is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

2011-12-22 00:00:00

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