Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bombing Iran Will Strengthen It; Only Peace Will Weaken Iran

In Israel's history, very few years have opened without flowery declarations about 'a decisive year.' For the most part, they turned out to be years of missed opportunities.

By Gideon Levy
This Comment was published in Haaretz on 5/11/2010
A moment after the U.S. congressional election season, a moment before the presidential election season, a very short window of opportunity opens for the decision-making season. This is likely to be an unparalleled season of danger. As usual, on the agenda is an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities and "the peace process."

Nothing has come of the latter, but even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like for once to make a decision, "go down in history" and set aside this whole headache of two states and freezing the settlements, Likud MKs Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely. Defense Minister Ehud Barak also wants it. So the coming months are destined for trouble, and calamity is looming. The relatively easy way for Netanyahu and Barak to decide, and make people forget, could be through bombing. Yes, this could succeed once again, as it did in Iraq and that mysterious country, but this success, too, would be imaginary. A failure would be disastrous, and there is a plethora of horror scenarios for the day after.

Iran is dangerous; an Iran that is bombed will be even more dangerous. The regime in Iran is stable; the regime after a bombing will be even more stable. Anyone who wants to strengthen it is invited to bomb. Anyone who wants to unite the Iranian people even more behind its leadership is invited to threaten and attack. Anyone who wants to spur on Iran even more to get a nuclear bomb is invited to intimidate it. Even the last of the ayatollahs knows the truth: If Afghanistan or Iraq had an atomic bomb, the United States would not have dared to invade them, and their regimes would have been spared.

The last of the ayatollahs also knows that lashing out at Israel the occupier is the best way to preserve the regime. And in Israel, the last of the experts knows that bombing Iran will merely delay the development of a bomb by a few years. Anyone who wants to prove that Israel knows how to bomb - to bomb once again - is invited to embark on that crazy adventure.

On the other hand, anyone who wants to weaken Iran, to isolate it and neutralize its dangers even partially, is invited to act differently. There is only one way to remove the threat for more than two or three years - by making peace. It's irritating how simple that sounds, and how unrealistic. It's possible to imagine an "unrealistic" scenario like this: Israel responds to Syria's entreaties for peace, challenges it and signs a peace treaty with it. Iran then loses one strategic ally - Syria. Another strategic ally returns to Israel - Turkey. And there is peace upon Israel.

One can imagine even wilder developments. Israel ends the occupation and reaches a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Iran loses its most vitriolic pretext for attacking Israel. After all, what can President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad say if the Palestinians make a deal with Israel? Who will listen to him after Nablus, Gaza, Hebron and half of Jerusalem become sovereign territory and the Arab League declares peace? And how much support will he be able to muster if he is left without all these excuses for aggression, standing almost alone in the face of a new Middle East with only Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and maybe Hamas remaining at his side?

Iran will then become like Libya once was, isolated and ridiculous, and after that, perhaps like Libya is today, accepted and belonging. Does this sound oversimplified? Maybe, but the "complex" and "realistic" alternatives are more unrealistic and dangerous.

The most hazardous process that has occurred in Israel in recent years is the loss of rationality. For a long time now, Israel has not known what's good for it; the most serious harm to its interests has been caused by its own deeds, powerful "friendly fire" time and again.

The decision-making season is at hand and the decisions will have to be made mainly by two people - Netanyahu and Barack Obama. We didn't expect anything of the first while we were disappointed by the second. Nevertheless, the last word has not yet been said about them. The U.S. president has the power to hold back an Israeli bombing attack and put pressure on this country to choose the other path. Obama owes this to Israel and to world security. It must be said in Netanyahu's favor that he has never taken Israel to war, a rare achievement for an Israeli prime minister. It's worth his while to keep it that way.

In Israel's history, very few years have opened without flowery declarations about "a decisive year." For the most part, they turned out to be years of missed opportunities. The decision-making season that began this week could turn into neither of these; it could turn out to be the season of catastrophe.

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