Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nuclear Iran, decision time

Yesterday was Yom HaShoah day in Israel, or Holocaust Remembrance Day as it is known in English. It was also the final day of President Obama's Nuclear security summit in Washington in which 47 nations came together to combat nuclear proliferation. I can think of no better context to lay out the case against a nuclear Iran. People often say to me "what's the big deal"?. India, Pakistan, Israel all have nukes, what is so different about Iran ? Another comment I frequently hear is that Israel is paranoid and obsessed about its security and is trying to drag the United States into a conflict with Iran. To understand why this is completely wide of the mark one must first make an effort to understand Israel, Zionism and the legitimate concerns of world Jewry.

Israelis pause yesterday for two minutes to remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust

Yesterday the citizens of Israel observed a two minute silence in memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. It is utterly impossible for non Jews to understand the psychological impact that such a crime has had and continues to have on the Jewish Psyche. The holocaust was much more than racial hatred and mass murder. It was an attempt by the Nazis to round up every Jew on the European continent and murder them in the most cost effective and efficient manner available. It was the worst crime in human history.

The world looks back on the holocaust and says "Never Again". Never again can the world allow a Hitler to emerge. Never again must the international community sleep. But this is not how many Jews see it. Many Israelis and Jews look back on this dark period and asked questions like, how can we prevent this in the future ?. One of the lessons the Jews have learned from the holocaust is that next time they will not rely on others to protect them. The Jews of the 1930s never believed that such a thing could ever happen them. So many Jewish families have a story of a relative who used to say, "You cannot take this Hitler guy seriously". Such Jews always assumed that someone would come to their rescue, but it never happened. Many Jews have a sense of shame that they never managed to effectively fight back against the Nazis and they are sensitive to the image of the Jew being soft. This is Israel. This is why it was created in 1948. Never again will the Jews have to hope that their host nations will protect them from age old hatred of the Jew. They have their own Jewish state now and they will protect it like a tiger defending its cubs.

In a discussion about the Iranian nuclear programme recently I heard Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu say "we will not walk into the gas chambers this time". A lot of people do not seem to accept this as many like to argue that the threat posed by Iran is not comparable to that of Nazi Germany in its day. Not true. The Nazis killed six million Jews. The Iranians could do the same. A nuclear Iran could annihilate Israel. It is highly unlikely that Iran would ever simply launch a nuclear missile at Israel. But what if 8, 10 or 12 guys in the regime were to act, possibly without approval. The next think we know Hezbollah, the Lebanese based Shia group, and Iranian proxy, that controls the South of Lebanon could have access to a nuclear weapon. Unlikely you might say, probably but can you really expect the Israelis to just hope it will all be ok. As Netenyahu says, "not this time" and I say, fair play to him. Iranian threats cannot be ignored as toothless rhetoric. Just like the relative who thought Hitler could be dismissed, taking Iranian threats to wipe Israel of the face of the map lightly could be national suicide for Israel. This becomes even more apparent when one delves into the thinking behind Iran's theocratic system with all its apocalyptic visions.

Obama's nuclear summit focused on two areas. The first which appears to have been successful was an international agreement to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials throughout the world. This is welcome news and hopefully a big blow to the long feared nightmare scenario of a well financed terrorist group, employing disaffected former Soviet scientists and working with elements in an emerging nuclear nation to arm a terrorist group with a nuclear weapon. The second less successful element of the summit concerned UN sanctions on Iran. The only way sanctions on Iran could be powerful enough to prevent Tehran from progressing in its nuclear ambitions is if they were endorsed by the UN security council, ie the five permanent members of the council. The British French and Americans are in favour of tough sanctions but the Russians and Chinese are not. Unfortunately, despite marginally harsher language Moscow and Beijing still appear to be opposed to sanctions. If this does not change in the very near future Israel (or possibly the US) will bomb Iran's nuclear sites. If this happens we can say goodbye to the global economic recovery as well as the military progress seen lately in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only other alternative is some sort of out of the blue opening to Iran (Nixon to China style) that stems from some secret negotiations we are unaware of. This would be a satisfactory outcome (no matter how loud the cries of appeasement from the GOP) if it resulted in a non nuclear Iran.

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