In 1938, Vladimir Jabotinsky, who advocated an “iron wall” of Zionist self-defense, warned European Jews that they “were living on the edge of the volcano,” but those Jews were essentially helpless. Now Jabotinsky’s spiritual grandchild, Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose father worked for Jabotinsky, says, “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.” The difference this time, says Netanyahu, is Israel isn’t helpless.
Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has for years been promising to annihilate Israel. One thing all students of Jabotinsky learn is to take someone at their word when they say they’re going to kill you.
War is coming, as surely as 1938 turned to 1939. A pre-storm wind is kicking up, with a swirling of articles and blogs predicting war by this weekend, perhaps before the leaves fall, almost certainly before another summer.
War by this weekend? Arutz Sheva (Aug. 17) quoted former U.N. ambassador John Bolton pointing out that Russia announced that on Aug. 21 it will start loading nuclear fuel and specialized fuel rods into Iran’s Bushehr reactor. Once that happens, an attack on the reactor, which happens to be above ground, would unleash radioactive material, hurting civilians.
“If Israel wants to do something against the reactor in Bushehr, it must do so in the following eight days,” says Bolton, but “I fear that Israel has lost this opportunity.”
On the front page of Iran’s Tehran Times (Aug. 17) there is the ominous headline: “Iran to test-fire new missiles on Aug. 22,” the day after the nuclear installation.
Bolton told the National Review, on the right, “Despite White House spin, the sanctions have had no effect.” In The Nation, on the left, Robert Dreyfuss says, “virtually no one, including the proponents of sanctions, thinks they can work,” except to “inflict real suffering on ordinary Iranians.” Pres. Obama, he adds, “has run out of ideas about how to handle Iran.”
The one article that’s galvanizing the conversation is Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Point of No Return” in The Atlantic (Sept.). “One day next spring,” he writes, Israel will inform Washington that the Israeli air force is flying toward Iran “because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people.”
In dozens of interviews, across the spectrum and across borders, Goldberg asked for predictions and was given a consensus answer: “there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July.”
As for Obama, writes Goldberg, “Israelis are doubtful that a man who positioned himself as the antithesis of George W. Bush… would launch a preemptive attack on a Muslim nation … If the Israelis reach the firm conclusion that Obama will not, under any circumstances, launch a strike on Iran, then the countdown will begin for a unilateral Israeli attack.”
According to one Israeli official, “the only reason [Netanyahu] would place Israel’s relationship with America in total jeopardy is if he thinks that Iran represents a threat like the Shoah.”
Obama may have many Jewish aides, friends and supporters, writes Goldberg, “but philo-Semitism does not necessarily equal sympathy” for Netanyahu’s dilemma. One Israeli official told Goldberg, if Obama is a “J Street” person, “we are in trouble,” J Street being the lobby representing “liberal American Jews who say, ‘If we remove some settlements, then the extremist problem and the Iran problem go away.’ ”
And yet, writes Goldberg, far from J Street, “some Israeli generals, like their American colleagues, questioned the very idea of an attack,” it would be too difficult, too risky.”
George Will, writing in The Washington Post (Aug. 15), sees Netanyahu believing that stopping Iran’s nuclear program is integral to stopping the worldwide campaign to reverse 1948, the year of Israel’s independence, returning everyone to that darker time, says Netanyahu, when a Jew “couldn’t defend himself — a perfect victim.”
The attempted undoing of 1948, writes Will, can be seen in the persistent campaign “to delegitimize” one Israeli military action after another “in order to extinguish [Israel’s] capacity for self-defense.” Says Will, with italics for emphasis, “Any Israeli self-defense anywhere is automatically judged ‘disproportionate.’ Israel knows this as it watches Iran.”
War talk has been strong in Europe, and for quite a while. Germany’s Spiegel, back in December, headlined, “It’s 1938, and Iran Is Germany,” with the sub-head, “Israel’s patience with Tehran wearing thin.”
The left, in blogs and papers, has attempted to discredit Goldberg: “A neo-con preps U.S. for war with Iran,” while “cauldrons are still boiling in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
In The Washington Post, Ezra Klein, admits, “I don’t even know if there actually is an Iranian nuclear-weapons program,” but an Israeli attack would only “make the Arab world… hate Israel even more. It would also hurt Israel’s standing in the world… Is that worth it? I’m skeptical, to say the least.”
Even if J Street was used loosely in the Goldberg story as a liberal Jewish catch-all, it’s clear that liberal Jews such as Klein will not support Israel if it went to war. As Klein explains, when “the Israeli government swings far to the right, elevates anti-Arab extremists like Avigdor Lieberman to positions of power, and focuses intently on bombing Iran while essentially mocking those who focus on the peace process, it becomes clearer and clearer that they have no solutions, and may not even be interested in solutions, to their underlying problems.”
Israel, adds Klein, is “willing to do dangerous things when they involve firepower — like attacking Iran or bombing Gaza — but not hard things when they involve fighting domestic battles to restart the peace process and reverse the settlements…”
Tikkun, a leftist Jewish magazine, asked, “Is war with Iran likely in the next 12 months?” One writer says, “as early as this month.” An editorial note in Tikkun hoped that something might “derail this terribly mistaken direction.”
Also on the left, Katherine Smith, in the Daily Kos, argues that “Iran, a country with a non-existent nuclear weapons capability and an air force that belongs in a museum, is not a threat to either nuclear power with a presence in the Middle East, the United States or Israel. The community of grassroots Iranian-American, Jewish-American, peace, and church groups have proven over and over, when we cooperate with each other we can make a difference,” even stopping a war.
Goldberg’s blog (theatlantic.com/jeffreygoldberg) has been offering a terrific ongoing conversation on the situation, with critics and advocates from all sides. Christopher Hitchens told Goldberg, on the blog, “I take Holocaust denial as Holocaust affirmation. People [such as Ahmadinejad] who say it didn’t happen are people who wish it would happen again. I don’t think there are any exceptions to that. This is not a fit person to be in command of nuclear weapons.”
Hitchens concludes, “The Iranian regime has several times publicly not just sworn but signed its name to [international] documents… that it has no ambitions to weaponize its nuclear capacity. If, after that, it is found that they have such impulses, then there is no such thing as international law anymore… we watched while that was contemptuously dismantled, trampled. In that case I see no reason not to take out the regime.”