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Back to square one

Back to square one

Israel's obsession with nuclear weapons reveals just how ephemeral the Zionist project is, discovers Saleh Al-Naami


Head of Israel's Mossad Meir Dagan leant on a small staff in the company of his top aides as they waited in the room that opens into the Defence Ministry office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for permission to enter. This scene used to repeat itself every Thursday at noon, but recently the meetings between Netanyahu and Dagan have intensified, with them now meeting as often as three times a week, the Israeli media reports. One reason for their hectic schedule is that Dagan is in charge of coordinating Israeli policy on the Iranian nuclear issue, and is required to present evaluations of Israeli responses to the Iranian nuclear programme. Yet the increase in the number of meetings also reflects how seriously Israel is taking Iran's nuclear endeavours, a fact that was expressed in Netanyahu's recent speech at Bar-Ilan University, where he said that the Iranian nuclear threat was currently the top threat facing Israel.

Despite the apparent satisfaction among Israeli intellectuals and media professionals over the protests that have followed the presidential elections in Iran, Israeli decision-makers have warned of their possible consequences, and Israeli strategists agree that the election of Mir-Hussein Mousavi as Iran's president would have formed an even more serious threat for Israel than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rule. Mousavi's rise, they argue, would lead to toppling the mounting international pressure currently placed on Iran to stop its nuclear programme. Israel's second largest paper Maariv has reported top Defence Ministry officials as saying that it would be difficult for Israel to justify attacking Iranian nuclear facilities if Mousavi became Iran's president, even though Israel's decision-makers concur that Mousavi wouldn't differ from Ahmadinejad with regard to continued interest in the Iranian nuclear programme.

To a great extent, what's worrying Israel about the Iranian nuclear programme is the fear that the Israeli public has of it. Many Israelis tie their continued residency in Israel to developments in the Iranian nuclear programme, and the angry response of Netanyahu's government to a public opinion survey published by Israeli papers late last month is understandable -- about a quarter of Israelis say they will leave the country if Iran succeeds in developing nuclear arms. This survey tore down the myths upon which Zionism is based and which stress the spiritual, historical, and religious ties between the Jews and this land. Now many in Israel are raising difficult questions over these myths, and a quarter of them say they'll abandon the country if a neighbouring state develops nuclear arms.

As Israeli public opinion polls suggest, the number of those wanting to flee Israel would increase if Iran actually did develop nuclear arms. And these poll outcomes also confirm the fears expressed by former Israeli defence minister General Ephraim Sneh, who said two years ago that Israel would fall apart on its own accord if Iran developed nuclear arms because most of the Jews would simply leave Israel. These polls also explain why Israel considers any neighbouring Arab or Islamic state developing nuclear arms to form an existential threat.

Of course there are also other reasons why Israelis are terrified of the possibility of Iran or any other Islamic or Arab country in the region developing nuclear arms. Decision- makers in Tel Aviv are trying to keep silent over these reasons so as not to increase motivation for joining the nuclear arms race. Yet according to comments Israeli security experts made before the Knesset's foreign affairs and security committee, there is a list of reasons for the concern Israel is trying to hide over the possibility of Iran or any Arab country in the region developing nuclear capacities, even if they are considered moderate countries. These reasons include the following:

Firstly, should an Arab or Islamic state in geographic proximity to Israel develop nuclear capacities, that would greatly decrease Israel's ability to strike at the Palestinian resistance. Israel would then have to take into consideration the possibility of a confrontation in which the use of nuclear arms are a threat. These fears were expressed in a report submitted by Israeli military intelligence to the government a year ago. Netanyahu, for example, held that Israel wouldn't have been so bold in its last war on the Gaza Strip and conducted such wide-scale operations of killing and destruction if the Arabs had possessed nuclear arms. As such, decision- makers in Israel hold that the development of Arab or Iranian nuclear arms would allow the Palestinian resistance a greater margin of flexibility and an effective strategic reach. This would in turn increase the threat to Israeli security while Tel Aviv would remain incapable of firmly responding.

Secondly, Israeli strategist Shalom Gutman holds that Iran and the Arabs developing nuclear arms would undermine Israel's role in the region which, he argues, benefits the West. Israel has always claimed that the West and especially the United States are not doing it any favour by supporting it with arms, for it plays the role of the region's "police force" that disciplines "outlaws". This role was recognised by former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who several years ago told the American CNN network that "you Americans are not doing us a favour by offering us aid, for Israel plays the role of a permanent American jet carrier in the Middle Eastern region." It is certain that if Iran or the Arabs developed nuclear arms, Israel would lose this role, for the arms of the "police" would become outdated and wouldn't frighten anyone anymore, at which point Israel would need the West rather than the other way around. Former defence minister Shaul Mofaz warns that the Arabs' success in developing nuclear arms would allow them to develop relations with the West on different bases than those currently governing Western-Arab relations.

Thirdly, Arab development of nuclear arms would make Israel's traditional arsenal lose its value in future military confrontations. It would also harm many of the Israeli security institutions whose accomplishments have become legendary, in particular Mossad, which is currently charged with undermining Arab attempts to develop nuclear arms. This mission is based on Menachem Begin's principle established following the 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor by which Israel is obliged to prevent "enemy states" from developing nuclear arms by any means, including attacking facilities that are suspected of being part of future plans to develop nuclear arms.

Additionally, Israel would be economically strained by the need to allocate a large budget for building shelters and facilities to deal with the outcomes of a war in which nuclear arms are used. Despite the exorbitant cost of building such shelters, the Israeli government would be forced to do so in order to reassure residents and convince them to stay. It knows how terrified the public is of Arabs and Muslims developing nuclear arms and that their doing so might result in a mass exodus from Israel.

And finally, much of Israel's elite hold that the development of nuclear arms would put an end for good to the most important pillar of the Zionist project, that being Jewish immigration to Palestine. If a large percentage of Jews living in Palestine want to leave, it is almost certain that Jewish immigration to Palestine will end.

All of this reveals how fragile the Zionist entity is despite its military and technical superiority and its victory over the Arab armies. None of these achievements prevent Israel from sensing that it could return to square one at any moment. Changing the nature of the conflict is largely dependent on the ability of the Arabs to develop nuclear arms. Even those who believe in reaching a political settlement with Israel must also realise that without a significant change in the strategic power balance, Israel won't ever be convinced to change its current positions on a settlement to the conflict

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/953/re7.htm

 

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