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War on Iran?

Israel versus Iran

By Israel Shahak
From his book Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies
February 24, 1993

Since the spring of 1992 public opinion in Israel is being prepared for the prospect of a war with Iran, to be fought to bring about Iran’s total military and political defeat. In one version, Israel would attack Iran alone, in another it would ‘persuade’ the West to do the job. The indoctrination campaign to this effect is gaining in intensity. It is accompanied by what could be called semi-official horror scenarios purporting to detail what Iran could do to Israel, the West and the entire world when it acquires nuclear weapons as it is expected to a few years hence. A manipulation of public opinion to this effect may well be considered too phantasmagoric to merit any detailed description. Still, the readers should take notice, especially since to all appearances the Israeli Security System does envisage the prospect seriously. In February 1993 minutely-detailed anticipations of Iran becoming a major target of Israeli policies became intense. I am going to confine myself to a sample of recent publications (in view of the monotony of their contents it will suffice), emphasizing how they envisage the possibility of ‘persuading’ the West that Iran must be defeated. All Hebrew papers have shared in advocacy of this madness, with exception of Haaretz which has not dared to challenge it either. The Zionist ‘left’ papers, Davar and Al Hamishmar have particularly distinguished themselves in bellicosity on the subject of Iran; more so than the right-wing Maariv. Below, I will concentrate on the recent writings of Al Hamishmar and Maariv about Iran, only occasionally mentioning what I found in other papers.

A major article by the political correspondent of Al Hamishmar, Yo’av Kaspi bears the title that summarizes its contents: ‘Iran needs to be treated just as Iraq has been’ (19 February 1993). The article contains an interview with Daniel Leshem, introduced as ‘a retired senior officer in the [Israeli] Military Intelligence, now member of the Centre for Strategic Research at the Tel Aviv University’. Leshem is known to be involved in forming Israeli strategies. His account of how Iran is going to nuclearize is too dubious to merit coverage here as are his lamentations that ‘the world’ has been ignoring the warnings of the Israeli experts who alone know all the truth about what the Muslim states are like. However, his proposals for the reversal of the progress of Iranian nuclearization are by all means worth of being reported. Leshem begins by opining that the Allied air raids had very little success in destroying Iraq’s military and especially nuclear capabilities, but, owing to Allied victory on the ground, UN observers could succeed in finishing the job. Harping on this ‘analogy’, Leshem concludes: ‘Israel alone can do very little to halt the Iranians. We could raid Iran from the air, but we cannot realistically expect that our aerial operations could destroy all their capabilities. At best, some Iranian nuclear installations could in this way be destroyed. But we couldn’t reach their major centres of nuclear development, since that development has proceeded along three different lines in a fairly decentralized manner, with installations and factories scattered widely across the country. It is even reasonable to suppose that we will never know the locations of all their installations, just as we didn’t know in Iraq’s case.’

Hence Leshem believes that Israel should make Iran fear Israeli nuclear weapons, but without hoping that it might deter it from developing their own; he proposes ‘to create the situation which would appear similar to that with Iraq before the Gulf crisis’. He believes this could ‘stop the Ayatollahs, if this is what the world really wants’. How to do it? ‘Iran claims sovereignty over three strategically located islands in the Gulf. Domination over those islands is capable of assuring domination not only over all the already active oilfields of the area, but also over all the natural gas sources not yet exploited. We should hope that, emulating Iraq, Iran would contest the Gulf Emirates and Saudi Arabia over these islands and, repeating Saddam Hussein’s mistake in Kuwait, start a war. This may lead to an imposition of controls over Iranian nuclear developments the way it did in Iraq. This prospect is in my view quite likely, because patience plays no part in the Iranian mentality. But if they nevertheless refrain from starting a war, we should take advantage of their involvement in Islamic terrorism which already hurts the entire world. Israel has incontestable intelligence that the Iranians are terrorists. We should take advantage of this by persistently explaining to the world at large that by virtue of its involvement in terrorism, no other state is as dangerous to the entire world as Iran. I cannot comprehend why Libya has been hit by sanctions, to the point that sales of military equipment are barred to it because of its minor involvement in terrorism; while Iran, with its record of guiding terrorism against the entire world remains entirely free of even stricter sanctions.’ In true-blue Israeli style, Leshem attributes this lamentable state of affairs to Israel’s neglect of its propaganda (called ‘Hasbara’, that is, ‘Explanation’). He nevertheless hopes that Israel will soon be able ‘to explain to the world at large’ how urgent is the need to provoke Iran to a war.

Provoking Iran into responding with war or measures just stopping short of war, is also elaborated by many other commentators. Let me just quote a story published by Telem Admon in Maariv (12 February) who reports that ‘a senior Israeli’, that is, a senior Mossad agent, ‘about two weeks ago had a long conversation with the son of the late Shah, Prince Riza Sha’a Pahlevi’ in order to appraise the man’s possible usefulness for Israeli ‘Hasbara’. In the ‘senior’s’ opinion, ‘Clinton’s America is too absorbed in its domestic affairs’, and as a result ‘the prince’s chances of reigning in Iran are deplorably slim. The prince’s face showed signs of distress after he heard a frank assessment to this effect from the mouth of an Israeli.’ Yet the ‘senior’s’ appraisal of the prince was distinctly negative, in spite of ‘the princely routine of handing to all visitors copies of articles by Ehud Ya’ari’ (an Israeli television commentator suspected of being a front for Israeli Intelligence). Why? In the first place because ‘the prince shows how nervous he is. His knees jerked during the first half-hour of the conversation.’ Worse still, his chums ‘were dressed like hippies’ while ‘he kept frequenting Manhattan’s haunts in their company and addressing them as if they were his equals’. The ‘senior’ deplores it greatly that the prince has emancipated himself from the beneficial influence of his mother, ‘who had done a simply wonderful job traveling from capital to capital in order to impress everybody concerned with her hope to enthrone her son in Iran while she is still alive’. Her valiant efforts look to me as connected, to some extent at least, to the no-less-valiant efforts of the Israeli ‘Hasbara’ before it had written off her son.

But what might happen if both Israel and Iran have nuclear weapons? This question is being addressed by the Hebrew press at length, often in a manner intended to titillate the reader with anticipated horrors. Let me give a small sample. In Al Hamishmar (19 February), Kaspi interviewed the notorious ‘hawk’, Professor Shlomo Aharonson, who begins his perorations by excoriating the Israeli left as a major obstacle to Israel’s ability to resist Iranian evildoing. Without bothering about the left’s current lack of political clout, says Aharonson: ‘The left is full of prejudices and fears. It refuses to be rational on the nuclear issue. The left doesn’t like nuclear weapons, full stop. The opposition of the Israeli left to nuclear weapons is reminiscent of the opposition to the invention of the wheel.’ Profound insights, aren’t they? After spelling them out, Aharonson proceeds to his ‘scenarios’. Here is just one of them: ‘If we established tomorrow a Palestinian state, we will really grant sovereignty to an entity second to none in hostility toward us. This entity can be expected to reach a nuclear alliance with Iran at once. Suppose the Palestinians open hostilities against us and the Iranians deter us from retaliating against the Palestinians by threatening to retaliate in turn against us by nuclear means. What could we do then?’ There is a lot more in the same vein before Aharonson concludes: ‘We should see to it that no Palestinian state ever comes into being, even Iranians threaten us with nuclear weapons. And we should also see to it that Iran lives in permanent fear of Israeli nuclear weapons being used against it.’

Let me reiterate that the Israelis are also bombarded ceaselessly with official messages to the same effect. For example, General Ze’ev Livneh, the commander of recently established Rear General Command of the Israeli Army said (in Haaretz, 15 February) that ‘it is not only Iran which already endangers every site in Israel’, because, even if to a lesser extent, ‘Syria, LH5ya and Algeria do too’. In order to protect Israel from this danger, General Livneh calls upon ‘the European Community to enforce jointly with Israel an embargo on any weaponry supplies to both Iran and those Arab states. The EC should also learn that military interventions can have salutary effects, as proven recently in Iraq’s case.’

Timid reminders by the Hebrew press that Israel continues to have the monopoly of nuclear weapons .in the Middle East, were definitely unwelcome to Israeli authorities. In Hadashotof 29 January and 5 February, Ran Edelist, careful to rely only on quotes from the US press, raised the problem of nuclear waste disposal from the rather obsolete Dimona reactor and of other possible risks of that reactor to Israeli lives and limbs. He was ‘answered’ by numerous interviews with named and unnamed experts, all of whom fiercely denied that any such risks existed. The experts didn’t neglect to reassure their readers that the Israeli reactor was the best and the safest in the entire world. But speaking in the name of ‘the Intelligence Community’ Immanuel Rosen (Maariv, 12 February) went even further. He disclosed that the said ‘community’ felt offended ‘by the self-confident publications of an Israeli researcher dealing with nuclear subjects. This researcher has recently been found by the Intelligence Community to pose “a security risk”, to the point of observing that in some states such a researcher “would have been made to disappear”.’ Ran Edelist reacted in a brief note (in Hadashot, 14 February), confining himself to quoting these revealing ideas of ‘the Intelligence Community’, and drawing attention to threats voiced there. But apart from Edelist, the press of the only democracy in the Middle East’ either didn’t dare comment, or was not allowed to.

The press is allowed, and even encouraged, to discuss one issue related to Israeli nuclear policies: to say how clever Peres was in pretending to agree to negotiate nuclear disarmament and then raising unacceptable conditions for entering any such negotiations. An example of this is Akiva Eldar’s coverage in Haaretz (19 February), of Rabin’s excoriation of Egypt on television a few days earlier. Rabin scolded Egypt for suggesting that a Middle East regional nuclear disarmament agreement would be desirable. Eldar comments that The Prime Minister is known to loathe anything that relates to Egypt. Aiming at Boutros Ghali, he said [in a public speech]: “What can you expect of him? Isn’t he an Egyptian?” Rabin is particularly averse to Egyptian insistence that the Middle East should be completely denuclearized. Peres, by contrast, favors using Egypt as an intermediary in various diplomatic pursuits, while recognizing that Cairo’s reminders on the subject of Dimona obstruct his real mission, which is to mediate between Egypt and the grand man in Jerusalem.’ Therefore, after ‘Egypt recently invited Israel to a symposium that “would deal with both conventional and non-conventional armed confrontations”, a high-level discussion was held in the Foreign Ministry on how to pretend to accept the invitation and them "to decline elegantly". The solution was to communicate to Egypt the Israeli agreement in principle to attend the symposium on three conditions: that it be chaired by the US and Russia; that its agenda be unanimously determined by the chairmen and all the participants; and, most interestingly, that nothing be discussed unless the presence of all other Arab states, not just of Syria and Lebanon, but also – hard to believe – of Libya and Iraq, be assured in advance. In this way, any conceivable discussion of nuclear affairs was effectively precluded.’ I find it superfluous to comment on Eldar’s story.

But I do want to make some comments on the incitement of Israelis against Iran. I am well aware that a lot of expert opinions and predictions quoted here will sound to non-Israeli readers like fantasy running amok. Yet I perceive those opinions and predictions, no matter how mendacious and deceitful they obviously are, as politically quite meaningful. Let me explain my reasons. In the first place, I have not quoted the opinions of raving extremists. I was careful to select only the writings of respected and influential Israeli experts or commentators on strategic affairs, who can be presumed to be well acquainted with the thinking of the Israeli Security System. Since militarily Israel is the strongest state in the Middle East and has the monopoly on nuclear weapons in the region, strategical doctrines of its Security System deserve to be disseminated world-wide, especially when they are forcefully pressed upon the Israeli public. Whether one likes it or not, Israel is a great power, not only in military but also in political terms, by virtue of its increasing influence upon US policies. The opinions of the Israeli Security System may mean something different from what they say. But this doesn’t detract from their importance.

But there is more to it. Fantasy and madness in the doctrines of the Israeli Security System are nothing new. At least since the early 1950s those qualities could already be noticed. Let us just recall that in 1956 Ben-Gurion wanted to annex Sinai to Israel on the ground that ‘it was not Egypt’. The same doctrine was professed in 1967-73 with elaborations, such as the proposal of several generals to conquer Alexandria in order to hold the city hostage until Egypt would sign a peace treaty on Israeli terms. The 1982 invasion of Lebanon relied on fantastic assumptions, and so did the 1983 ‘peace treaty’ signed with a ‘lawful Lebanese government’ put in power by Sharon. All Israeli policies in the Territories are not just totally immoral, but also rely on assumptions steadily held and advocated without regard for their fanciful contents. It will suffice to recall how Rabin together with the entire Israeli Security System perceived the outbreak of the Intifada first as an Iranian manipulation and then as a fabrication of western television and press. They concluded that if the Arabs are denied opportunities to fake riots in order to be photographed, the unrest in the Territories could be suppressed with ease.

Relevant to this is the fact that Israeli policies bear the easily recognizable imprint of Orientalist ‘expertise’ abounding in militarist and racist ideological prejudices. This ‘expertise’ is readily available in English, since its harbingers were the Jewish Orientalists living in English-speaking countries, like Bernard Lewis or the late Elie Kedourie who had visited Israel regularly for hobnobbing on the best of terms with the Israeli Security System. It was Kedourie who performed a particularly seminal role in fathering the assumptions on which Israeli policies rest and who consequently had in Israel a lot of influence. In Kedourie’s view, the peoples of the Middle East, with the ‘self-evident’ exception of Israel, would be best off if ruled by foreign imperial powers with a natural capacity to rule for a long time yet. Kedourie believed that the entire Middle East could be ruled by foreign powers with perfect ease, because their domination would hardly be opposed except by grouplets of intellectuals bent on rabble-rousing. Kedourie lived in Britain, and his primary concern was British politics. In his opinion the British refused to continue to rule the Middle East, with calamitous effects, only because of intellectual corruption of their own experts, especially those from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at Chatham House, who were misguided enough to dismiss the superior expertise of minority nationals, particularly Jewish, from the Arab world, who alone had known ‘the Arab nature’ at first hand. For example, in his first book, Kedourie says that as early as 1932 (!) the British government was misguided enough to grant Iraq independence (it was faked, but never mind) against the advice of Jewish community in Baghdad. On many occasions during his recurrent visits to Israel, from the 1960s until his death, Kedourie would assure his Israeli audiences (one of which I was a member) that Iraq could ‘really’ be still ruled by the British with ease, under whatever disguises it would be convenient to adopt, provided the grouplets of rabble-rousers would be dealt with by a modicum of salutary toughness. That, the opportunities for education would be restricted so as not to produce a superfluous number of intellectuals, prone to learn the western notions of national independence. True, Kedourie also opposed the idea of exclusive Jewish right to the Land of Israel as incompatible with his imperialistic outlook, but he favored the retention of Israeli permanent rule over the Palestinians. The rather incongruous blend of Kedourie’s ideas with the Land of Israel messianism is already an innovation of Israeli Security System vintage.

The implications of the Kedourie doctrine for Israeli policy-makers are obvious. First, Israel always seeks to persuade the West about what its ‘true’ interests and ‘moral duties’ in the Middle East are. It also tells the West that by intervening in the Middle East they would serve the authentic interests of Middle Eastern nations. But if the western powers refuse to listen, it is up to Israel to assume ‘the white man’s burden’.

Another implication of Kedourie’s doctrine, acted upon by Israel since the early 1950s already, is that in the Middle East no other strong state is to be tolerated. Its power must be destroyed or at least diminished through a war. Iranian theocracy may have its utility for the Israeli Hasbara, But Nasser’s Egypt was attacked while being emphatically secular. In Both cases the real reason for the Israeli threat to start a war was the strength of the state concerned. Quite apart from the risks such a state may pose to Israeli hegemonic ambitions, Orientalist ‘expertise’ requires that natives of the region always remain weak, to be ruled always by their traditional notables but not by persons with intellectual capacity, whether religious or secular. Before World War I, such principles were taken for granted in the West, professed openly and applied globally, from China to Mexico. Israeli Orientalism, on which Israeli policies are based, is no more than their belated replica. It continues to uphold dogmas which, say in 1903, were taken for granted as ‘scientific’ truths. The subsequent ‘troubles’ of the West are perceived by the Israeli ‘experts’ as a well-deserved punishment for listening to intellectuals who had been casting doubt on such self-evident truths. Without such rotten intellectuals, everything would have remained stable.

Let us return to the special case of Iran, though. Anyone not converted to the Orientalistic creed will recognize that Iran is a country very difficult to conquer, because of its size, topography and especially because of fervent nationalism combined with the religious zeal of its populace. I happen to loathe the current Iranian regime, but it doesn’t hinder me from immediately noticing how different it is from Saddam Hussein’s. Popular support for Iran’s rulers is much greater than for Iraq’s. After Saddam Hussein had invaded Iran, his troops were resisted valiantly under extremely difficult conditions. All analogies between a possible attack on Iran and the Gulf War are therefore irresponsibly fanciful. Yet Sharon and the Israeli Army commanders did in 1979 propose to send a detachment of Israeli paratroopers to Tehran to quash the revolution and restore the monarchy. They really thought, until stopped by Begin, that a few Israeli paratroopers could determine the history of a country as immense and populous as Iran! According to a consensus of official Israeli experts on Iranian affairs, the fall of the Shah was due solely to his ‘softness’ in refraining to order his army to slaughter thousands of demonstrators wholesale. Later, the Israeli experts on Iranian affairs were no less unanimous in predicting a speedy defeat of Iran by Saddam Hussein. No evidence indicates that they have changed their assumptions or discarded their underlying racism. Their ranks may include some relatively less-opinionated individuals, who have survived the negative selection process which usually occurs within groups sharing such ideologically-tight imageries. But such individuals can be assumed to prefer to keep their moderation to themselves, while hoping that Israel can reap some fringe benefits from any western provocation against Iran, even if it results in a protracted and inconclusive war.

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