Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

July 29, 2010

“Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty”

One week ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives introduced a resolution that would give Israel the green-light to go ahead and attack Iran militarily if it were to acquire nuclear weapons. So far, H.Res.1553, which asserts “Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty”, has been signed by 46 Congressmen or one-third of House Republicans. The resolution, spearheaded by Congressmen Gohmert of Texas, expresses:

Support for the State of Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel.

The bill goes on to lay down its argument.  First, it describes the plight of the Jewish people, the Holocaust, and their right to return to their homeland.  The “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel is stressed, as is the fact that the U.S. was the first country noble enough to accept Israel as a state.  After this historical background, which is being used as an emotional appeal, the bill proceeds to attack Iran.

The bill adopts an ethical stance, implying that the U.S. is right in acting as a police force.  It describes Iran’s history of noncompliance in regards to  sanctions against its nuclear program and also quotes some of the deplorable things President Ahmadinejad has said, such as the infamous: “Israel should be wiped off the map.”  The use of this kind of rhetoric of existential fear is meant to instill fear in the public, which would justify the use of military action against Iran.

But the one most important thing this bill is lacking, perhaps, is logic.  There is no denying Iran’s words and actions.  But how credible is Iran? If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, is it feasible to think they would use them? Even Iran is smart enough to recognize the consequences of using nuclear weapons.  It is well-known that the purpose of nuclear weapons is not actual use, but rather deterrence and international power and leverage.  Israel’s claim of self-defense is futile in this regard.  Israel probably fears Iran acquiring nuclear weapons more because it would challenge the nuclear hegemony of Israel in the region, limiting its leverage and ability to act without accountability, as well as shifting the regional balance of power in Iran’s favor.

The House Republicans who signed this bill need to think about the outcomes of what would happen if Iran was attacked militarily.  Most likely, a dangerous, regional war would erupt that would also involve the U.S.  The legitimacy of Iran’s threats need to be re-examined, as preemptive attacks on Iran could have devastating effects.  The difference between mere rhetoric and credible threats need to established.

And the U.S. needs to tone down its own use of rhetoric as well, as is evident in this resolution .  Americans need to become more aware of the attempts made by the government to make them think they are in danger, as it allows the U.S. to take any actions it deems fit in the name of security. As Abraham Lincoln once said:  “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

July 19, 2010

The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Worst-Kept Secret in the Middle East

Several CNI interns and I attended an event entitled “The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Espionage, Opacity, and Future” held at the International Spy Museum here in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by  Institute for Research: Middle East Policy (IRmep) and brought together three distinguished panelists to discuss the worst-kept secret in international politics–the existence of an Israeli Nuclear Arsenal.

The panel discussion was frank and deeply informative, bringing together authors Grant F. Smith and Sasha Polakow-Sulansky, and recent CNI Radio: Jerusalem Calling guest John Mearsheimer. The topics discussed ranged from the interpretation of recently declassified documents on the role of American interests in building Israel’s nuclear arsenal to the relationship between apartheid South Africa and Israel.

Perhaps most striking was John Mearsheimer’s realistic analysis of the situation.  Mearsheimer posed four questions:

Why did Israel develop nuclear weapons?
Should Israel abandon its nuclear arsenal?
Is opacity in Israel’s best interest?
Is it in America’s best interest for Israel to have nuclear weapons?

Coming for a realist perspective, Mearsheimer argued that nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrence; he said that if he were a national security adviser to Israel in the 1950s, he would advocate that the state acquire nuclear weapons.

In regards to opacity, Mearsheimer argued that Israel is not fooling anyone with its “strategic ambiguity,” as virtually everyone is aware that Israel is a nuclear power.

The nuclear issue clearly shows a divide in interests between the U.S. and Israel.  “Israel is an albatross around our neck,” he said.  Initially, the U.S. was against Israeli nuclear proliferation in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  If Israel was a nuclear power, it would be difficult to secure a nuclear-free Middle East.

Mearsheimer is not optimistic about the future; he believes the situation will only get worse.  He believes the proximity talks are a charade and that Israel will eventually become an apartheid state.   He articulates his point further in his article in the American Conservative.

When asked by former CNI President Gene Bird what the U.S. can do to prevent another war in the region , Mearsheimer laid out what he believes the Obama strategy should have been: Obama should have appealed to the American Jewish community and emphasized that a two-state solution was in the best interest of Israel.  Instead, he picked a fight with the Israeli lobby, and consequently had to “run up the white flag,” during the recent White House meeting with Netanyahu.

While Mearsheimer’s realist perspective is intriguing and certainly feasible, the future of the conflict does not have to be as grim as he predicts.  Though his analysis of the Obama administration’s strategy and relationship with both the Israeli government and Israeli lobby is spot-on, there are some encouraging aspects of Obama’s policies, notably his willingness to address the Israeli-Arab conflict so soon in his term, unlike his predecessors.

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