Jewish Advocates of Pre-Emptive War with Iran
Come Under Increasing Criticism
Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January - February 2008
An array of Jewish organizations are in the forefront of promoting pre-emptive action against Iran and are coming under increasing criticism by other voices in the Jewish community.
A fund-raising letter from the World Jewish Congress declares that, “Iran poses the greatest danger to the Jewish people since the Nazis came to power in the 1930s.” An Anti-Defamation League appeal declares that, “ADL has taken a tough and principled stand against those who deal with demagogues like (Iran president) Ahmadinejad ... We’ve put it to the world that Ahmadinejad must be isolated.” A letter from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) reads: “Today the threats to Israel have never been greater ... Iran is speeding up its nuclear weapons program. Now that the Iranians have the capability to enrich uranium, they have constructed more than 2,000 centrifuges and plan to have more than 8,000 centrifuges in operation by the end of this year ... Do your part to stop Iran’s rapidly accelerating nuclear weapons program ...”
Norman Podhoretz, author of the recently published book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, and long-time editor of Commentary — now promoting his book before Jewish audiences across the country — argues that Iran poses an imminent threat. In an essay in Commentary, he depicted President Ahmadinejad as a revolutionary, “like Hitler ... whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it ... with a new world order dominated by Iran ... The plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force.”
In The New York Times of September 25, the Anti-Defamation League paid for a full page ad about a nuclear-armed Iran, while an American Jewish Congress resolution advocated that “military action” against Iran “be considered.”
In his column in The Forward (Nov. 9, 2007), Leonard Fein writes: “Podhoretz wants to use force now. Others, including a disturbing number of major Jewish organizations, endorse ‘merely’ the threat of force, loudly proclaiming that ‘all options’ must be on the table. Is such a threat a useful deterrent, or does it instead increase Iran’s very real sense of vulnerability, thereby encouraging precisely the behavior it is meant to deter? And is not such talk a way of creeping toward war? Another real war just now? Madness. Yet this is the risk being pressed upon us. Why must Jewish organizations be and be seen as the loudest drum-beaters of all? Why can we not bring ourselves to say that military intervention is not on the table at all? Why not stash it under the table, out of sight, and mount instead a diplomatic assault? Germany, 1938? The more relevant and equally cautionary precedent is Iraq, 2003 — and counting.”
In his recently published memoir Man in the Shadows, Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, says that rather than constantly escalating the rhetoric of confrontation with Iran, the U.S. and Israel should be looking for ways to establish a creative dialogue.
Interviewed by David Ignatius of The Washington Post (Nov. 11, 2007), Halevy said that while Iranian President Ahmadinejad may boast that he wants to wipe Israel off the map, Iran’s ability to do so is “minimal.” He declared that, “Even if the Iranians did obtain a nuclear weapon, they are deterrable; because for mullahs survival and perpetuation of the regime is a holy obligation. We must be much more sophisticated and nuanced in our policies toward Iran.”
Halevy argues for a combination of increased economic pressure and a diplomatic opening that attempts to speak to Iran’s “national aspirations” and its shared interests with America and the West — and even Israel. “Iranians, including those in government, know that acceptance of Israel is not just something they have to accept but something that may bring their deliverance,” Halevy maintains.
In Halevy’s view, Ahmadinejad’s fiery rhetoric masks a deep split within Iran over the country’s future: “I believe that behind their bombastic statements there is a desperate fear that they are going down a path that would have dire consequences. They don’t know how to extricate themselves. We have to find creative ways to help them escape from their rhetoric ... A creative and constructive approach ... might move them to see that their self-interest would be better served by taking alternative paths ... Sensible Iranians are not in short supply ...”
Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is critical of those who urge a pre-emptive attack upon Iran and who, in his view, overestimate its potential danger. He writes in The Forward (Sept. 28, 2007), “Though rich in oil, Iran is a Third World country with a population of 80 million and a per capita income of $2,440 ... Its annual defense budget stands at about $6.3 billion — a little more than half of Israel’s and a little less than 2 percent of America’s. Iran, in fact, spends a smaller percentage of its resources on defense than any of its neighbors except the United Arab Emirates.”
Van Creveld notes that, “Iran may have some Shihab III missiles with the range to hit Israel, but their number is limited and their reliability uncertain. Should the missiles carry conventional warheads, then militarily speaking the effect will probably be close to zero. Should they carry unconventional ones, then Iran — to quote former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, speaking not long before the first Gulf War — will open itself to ‘awesome and terrible retaliation.’ ... General John Abizaid, the former commander of the U.S. Central Command, is only the latest in a long list of experts to argue that the world can live with a nuclear Iran. Their views deserve to be carefully considered, lest Ahmadinejad’s fear-driven posturing cause anybody to do something stupid.”
Washington Post (Oct. 23, 2007) columnist Richard Cohen urges that, “Rather than enhancing Ahmadinejad’s standing in his own country, rather than put Iran up against a wall and dare it to back down, rather than make Iran the hero of anti-Islamists everywhere, why not attempt to engage in direct talks and treat the country not as a pariah ... but as a fellow state? Why not, as it were, treat Iran as we once did the Soviet Union or we now do in China. We talked to the former; we talk to the latter.”
In December, 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was released and said, with “a high degree of certainty,” that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons quest in 2003. In response, reports The Forward (Dec. 7, 2007), “In a conference call hurriedly arranged by the umbrella body of Jewish organizations, community leaders decided to immediately send letters to the presidential candidates from both parties, urging them to continue pushing for sanctions against Iran.”
Washington Times (Jan. 6, 2008) columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave notes that, “The NIE was a decisive blow to neoconservative and ... administration hawks who have long advocated a pre-emptive aerial bombardment against Iran.”
The fact is, argues Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, that, “The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality ... Norman Podhoretz has written that Iranian President Ahmadinejad is ‘like Hitler’ ... Last year, Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis, a close adviser to Bush and Vice President Cheney, predicted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that on Aug. 22, 2006, Ahmadinejad was going to end the world. The date, he explained, ‘is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to the farthest mosque, usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back. This might well be deemed an appropriate date for apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world.’ This would all be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.”