In the Arena


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Has the New York Times ever published a more over-the-top, irresponsible op ed column than this one? Not that it shouldn’t have been published: if Benny Morris represents even a small minority of Israeli public opinion, then his view is as newsworthy as it terrifying. Morris has a reputation as a respected historian…but it’s impossible to see why, given the sourceless certainty and shoddy thinking of this piece.

Shoddiest of all is the assumption that if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon, it would use it–immediately– against Israel. And, since sanctions aren’t working–another Morris assumption, contradicted by the National Intelligence Estimate of last November, which said that Iranians respond to diplomatic pressure…

Western intelligence agencies agree that Iran will reach the “point of no return” in acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in one to four years.
Which leaves the world with only one option if it wishes to halt Iran’s march toward nuclear weaponry: the military option, meaning an aerial assault by either the United States or Israel.

Note the words: “Acquire the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in one to four years.” Clever rhetoric. So far as we know, both the UN inspectors and the US intelligence community believe that Iran does not have a nuclear bomb program at the present time. It is enriching uranium, which is a serious problem. And, in fairness, most everyone assumes Iran wants a nuclear weapon–if for no other reason than to counter the threat announced by Morris’s prominently placed op-ed: If I’m an Iranian, I sure as hell want a nuclear deterrent.

Morris assumes insanity on the part of Iran’s leaders. His evidence? The rants of the powerless Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Ahmadinejad, as I’ve written here before, is a special favorite of Jewish neoconservatives–who really want this war–and the McCain campaign, even though he doesn’t have any control over the nuclear program or Iranian foreign policy.) And, to be sure, the mullahs run a terrible, repressive, extremist government–at odds with the true desires of the Iranian people–but they have acted in a relatively restrained manner in their neighborhood in recent years. They dabbled, for a bit, with arming and funding Iraqi Shi’ite militias, but stopped that when it became apparent that their preferred militia, the Badr Corps, had gained a significant position in the Iraqi military. The Maliki government is Iran’s best-case scenario in Iraq.

And make no mistake, it would take one crazy mullah to launch on Israel. For one thing, he’d be responsible for the probable destruction–certainly, the contamination–of the third holiest site in Islam, Jerusalem’s Al Aksa mosque. And he’d be responsible for the deaths of thousands of Muslims in Israel and the Palestinian territorities. And he’d be responsible for the destruction of Iran, given Israel’s inevitable counter-strike.

I haven’t been tracking my Israeli sources closely for the past six months because of the U.S. presidential campaign, but if there’s even a slight chance that Benny Morris is right and Israel is poised to attack Iran, the U.S. needs to make a few things clear, privately, to the Israeli government immediately: If you do this, you’ll get no military support from us. Indeed, we’ll cut off every penny of military aid you receive from us. And we will condemn your actions.

But, as I said, I can’t imagine this deranged scenario being anything close to true.