Wikileaks on Israel, Iraq and the Iranian Specter

A 2007 cable from then US ambassador to Israel to Secretary of State Condi Rice shows a) that the Israeli leadership did not want the US to withdraw from Iraq and b) that Israeli politicians think that even if Iran never used a nuclear weapon, just for it to have one would doom Israel.

Since the US is in fact withdrawing from Iraq, and will be mostly out by next year this time, we may conclude that the Israeli leadership is very nervous about Tel Aviv – Baghdad relations. That the new government being formed by Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki depends deeply on the support of Muqtada al-Sadr and his Sadrist movement, the most anti-Israel political force in Shiite Iraq, must petrify Prime Minister Netanyahu and his security cabinet. The likelihood of the Sadrists further coordinating with Lebanon’s Hizbullah party-militia is high. So the fall of Saddam did not in fact take away the Iraq file from consideration in Israel’s future.

As for Iran, US intelligence still cannot find evidence of a nuclear weapons program, and the UN inspectors again certified spring, 2010, that no nuclear material has been diverted from the Natanz facility to non-civilian purposes.

But the cable shed light on the thinking of high Israeli officials about why Israel cannot, as many US analysts have suggested, just live with an Iranian bomb if one is achieved. They believe that such a development would create a psychological nervousness in the Israeli public that would likely doom it as a Jewish state.

What is being implicitly referred to is the expectation that if the Middle East turns even more dangerous for Israelis, such that they lose their status as the sole nuclear regional superpower, then Israeli Jews may well simply emigrate in large numbers. Over time, this development would ensure that Palestinian-Israelis, now over 20% of the population, become a plurality and even a majority.

At some point the Palestinian-Israelis and those Jewish Israelis tired of the increasing boycotts and constant wars may just vote to give citizenship to the Palestinians outside the green zone, creating a binational state. This process, which is likely whether Iran gets a bomb or not, resembles what happened to the Maronite Catholics of Lebanon, who were a majority in the 1920s when the French created the country, but whose high rates of out-migration and low population growth rates reduced them to about 22% of the population (if you count the children) today. Israel will likely be Lebanonized over the next five decades, in any case.

Natan Sharansky has admitted that the days of mass migration of Jews to Israel are over, and only 18,000 are likely to come in 2010. In one recent year, 2005, over 21,000 Israelis emigrated out, almost all of them Jews or ex-Soviets, and they had not returned by 2008. Because thousands of expatriates do return, there is not a net outflow at the moment, but obviously immigration no longer gives Jewish Israelis a demographic edge.

In polling, a third of Israelis say that they would emigrate if Iran got the atomic bomb, so the Israeli officials are not imagining things. Here is how the cable reported the sentiment.

… the very fact that Iran possesses nuclear weapons would completely transform the Middle East strategic environment in ways that would make Israel’s long-term survival as a democratic Jewish state increasingly problematic. That concern is most intensively reflected in open talk by those who say they do not want their children and grandchildren growing up in an Israel threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran…

The Israelis and their US supporters lobbied to destroy Iraq because of similar fears. Now they are pulling out the stops to get up a US war on Iran. But given that the al-Maliki government called for the diplomatic isolation of Israel during the Gaza War in 2008-2009, the policy of having hostile neighbors’ legs broken by Washington has not actually worked out very well. There is no guarantee that a post-Khomeinist government in Iran will be friendly to Israel. And, Israelis who worry so much about the Bomb are losing sight of the real dangers of modern warfare– asymmetrical movements and micro-weapons.

Here are the relevant passages:

“Monday, 08 January 2007, 16:38
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 000064
SIPDIS
SIPDIS
EO 12958 DECL: 01/05/2017
TAGS PREL, PTER, PGOV, IS, KWBG
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR THE SECRETARY’S JANUARY 13-15
VISIT TO ISRAEL
Classified By: Ambassador Richard H. Jones, Reason 1.4 (b) (d)

… 4. (S) While Israeli anxiety over a possible dramatic shift of U.S. policy as a result of the Iraq Study Group’s report has been allayed by statements by you and the President, there continues to be deep uneasiness here that the Baker-Hamilton recommendations reflect the shape of things to come in U.S. policy. Israelis recognize that U.S. public support for the Iraq war is eroding and are following with interest the President’s upcoming articulation of the revamped policy, but they are deeply concerned that Israeli-Palestinian issues not become linked in American minds to creating a more propitious regional environment for whatever steps we decide to take to address the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

5. (S) Iran’s nuclear program continues to cause great anxiety in Israel. Given their history, Israelis across the political spectrum take very seriously Ahmadinejad’s threats to wipe Israel off the map. Olmert has been quite clear in his public comments that Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, a position stated even more emphatically by opposition leader Netanyahu, who compares today’s Iran to Nazi Germany in 1938. Despite the worst-case assessments of Israeli intelligence, however, there is a range of views about what action Israel should take. The MFA and some of the think tank Iran experts appear increasingly inclined to state that military action must be a last resort and are taking a new interests in other forms of pressure, including but not limited to sanctions, that could force Iran to abandon its military nuclear program. The IDF, however, srikes us as more inclined than ever to look toward a military strike, whether launched by Israel or by us, as the only way to destroy or even delay Iran’s plans. Thoughtful Israeli analysts point out that even if a nuclear-armed Iran did not immediately launch a strike on the Israeli heartland, the very fact that Iran possesses nuclear weapons would completely transform the Middle East strategic environment in ways that would make Israel’s long-term survival as a democratic Jewish state increasingly problematic. That concern is most intensively reflected in open talk by those who say they do not want their children and grandchildren growing up in an Israel threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran.”

26 Responses

  1. No, I don’t think there’ll be a major outflow of Jews if Iran gets the bomb.

    Currently, the Israeli media and politicians talk as if Iran’s goal is to attack Israel with nuclear arms. Naturally, this has created hysteria. Just as the mass media & politicians can create hysteria when it serves their purposes, they can calm the population when the old propaganda has outlived its purpose.

    In any case, this discussions is moot, since it’s very unlikely that Iran is seeking atomic weapons. Iran prefers integration into the world economy to being a target for invasion.

  2. If the real existential threat to Israel is fear, then the real enemy is the Israeli leadership that persists in fanning the flames of fear. The “Iran threat” is the product of Israel rhetoric. When Netanyahu repeatedly declares that Ahmadinejad is Hitler and it’s 1938, he shouldn’t be surprised when the consequence is to drive the Jewish population away from the neighborhood.

    In doing this, he reveals clearly that the Zionist premise of finding safety in the “land of Israel” was always a false one. Nothing is more dangerous to the world’s Jewish population than the project of concentrating it in one, small, vulnerable area. But given that Israel does exist, its only hope for safety now lies in making peace with its neighbors and extending the hand of friendship to them, instead of the hand of war.
    Unfortunately, it never seems to occur to the Israeli leadership to extend the hand of friendship to Iran.

  3. What is being implicitly referred to is the expectation that if the Middle East turns even more dangerous for Israelis, such that they lose their status as the sole nuclear regional superpower, then Israeli Jews may well simply emigrate in large numbers.

    Good point, although we don’t need Wikileaks to tell us that (it came up frequently in that essay written by Jeff Goldberg a few months ago).

    I think it goes beyond just the Iranian nukes. It’s that Israel has made its military dominance more or less the sole guarantor of its psychological and physical security, and a key element of that is that the military must be able to prevent attacks from happening. Iranian nukes change that, if Israel is incapable of stopping them – suddenly, Israel can be wiped out in a day.

    At which point, reality comes crashing into the Tel Aviv bubble, a whole bunch of Israelis get an extra reminder of how dangerous it is, and many of the ones capable of migration to a safer country (whom Israel depends upon for its economy) get out. I know I probably would.

  4. “Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to wipe Israel off the map because no such idiom exists in Persian,” remarked Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan and critic of American policy who has argued that the Iranian president was misquoted. “He did say he hoped its regime, i.e., a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse.” Since Iran has not “attacked another country aggressively for over a century,” he said in an e-mail exchange, “I smell the whiff of war propaganda.”

    link to nytimes.com

  5. Appreciate your insights on the latest Wikileaks dump.

    “Given their history, Israelis across the political spectrum take very seriously Ahmadinejad’s threats to wipe Israel off the map. ”

    And with Bill Kristol, Daily Show host Jon Stewart, Reuel Marc Gerecht, John Bolton, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, NPR’s Terri Gross, Scott Simon, and many others repeating the debunked Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map” or “Iran has a nuclear weapons program” There is no need to wonder that many Americans support a pre-emptive strike on Iran based on false claims. These false claims have been repeated all over the MSM (the list above have shouted them out themselves) and go unchallenged

  6. The facts make nonsense of this :-”What is being implicitly referred to is the expectation that if the Middle East turns even more dangerous for Israelis, such that they lose their status as the sole nuclear regional superpower, then Israeli Jews may well simply emigrate in large numbers. Over time, this development would ensure that Palestinian-Israelis, now over 20% of the population, become a plurality and even a majority”

    Unless the figures issued monthly by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics are spurious, they show that the Jewish birth rate in Israel is rising and has increased by 14% since 1996. In the immediate past year 119,000 Jewish babies were born in Israel (as against only some 70-80,000 in the whole of the rest of the world!). The crude birth rate is now 20.9 per 1000 which is, apart from the Israeli Arab Muslim birth rate, the HIGHEST in the industrialised world. Meanwhile, the Arab Muslim birth rate has since that year of 1996 declined by 26%. There might be net emigration of Jews in the scenario envisaged – but nowhere near the scale suggested and meanwhile the porportion of Arabs will either stay about the same or even decline. The Arabs both in Israel and in West Bank/Gaza would not escape being affected by a nuclear attack by Iran on Israel and they must know that very well.
    Iran would also know that, but to it they would be merely expendable martyrs!

  7. As a Jewish Israeli, I’d like to say that the above simply does not make sense. Israel has been through countless wars and regular terror attacks; its citizens are hardened to war, and most of us have faith in the Israeli army and its ability to protect this country. I don’t think there is, or will be, a danger of Israelis emigrating because of a nuclear threat.

    Also, I think it’s wrong to single out Israeli Jews. We’re people, and Israelis of other religions are people. If anyone does emigrate because of a nuclear threat, it won’t just be Jews leaving. To think that the government is “petrified” of losing the nation’s Jewish majority because of that just doesn’t make sense.

    • So then go with the one state solution since that is the only solution that is still viable with Israel daily confiscating more Palestinian lands

    • You know what reaaaaallly doesn’t make sense? Apartheid.

      “Nobody should preach to us ethics, nobody!”

  8. I marvel over your psychic abilities. “Since the US is in fact withdrawing from Iraq, and will be mostly out by next year this time, we may conclude that the Israeli leadership is very nervous about Tel Aviv – Baghdad relations. ” How about you to stick to the facts and what is as opposed to trying to predict the future? Biden, Gates, Crowley, et al would beg to differ with your prediction.

  9. So, the Jews of Israel do not want their children to grow up next/near to a nuclear armed Iran now but from 1953 (after a made in the USA, CIA backed coup) to 1979 that would have been ok as the US was giving Iran nuclear power. So what has changed? Iran is no longer a US client state however Iran has not attacked/threatened Israel or any other country for that matter but did defend itself against Iraq. Nor does Iran have nuclear armaments unlike Israel which has had them for a number of years. On the other hand Israel has threatened and attacked and occupied for years at a time a number of it’s middle east neighbours and is still occupying Palestinian territory and has been for 60 plus years. Sounds like transference to me.

  10. From Wikileaks reports:

    “…King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia repeatedly asked the United States to “cut off the head of the snake”- presumably meaning to attack Iran’s nuclear program – while there was still time”.

    Well yeah, I guess he would like to see a new war, one of whose most immediate CONSEQUENCES would be for the price of a barrel of oil to shoot from today’s price of about $80 to who knows what, say around $300? I can see how that would serve his interests.

    But surely not ours. That would implode our stuttering economy like a house of cards. Not to mention the entire world economy. How does the thought of gas at around $6 to $9 per gallon strike you? How does the thought of the massive drain on our finances to buy the roughly half of our total consumption from foreign suppliers strike you? Is this not even worth a casual thought?

    A new war against Iran would have calamitous CONSEQUENCES military, geopolitical and economic so horrible, one can hardly overstate them. Chaos from Beirut to Pakistan. It is easy to start the bombing, but whey they strike back, it is hard to stop. And chaos is one foe that no amount of bombing can quell.

    And not even to mention that we currently have two ongoing quagmire wars with no end in sight.

    We stood down the Soviet Union. Iran can not even be compared to them and the real threat it presented. The notion that Iran would strike say Poland or Hungary in some missile strike is ludicrous. The only thing more ludicrous is the allegation that Iran, a nation with zero nuclear weapons, would attack Israel, a nation with hundreds of same and the most advanced delivery systems.

  11. One wonders how many Israelis think about the Iranians who do not want their children or grandchildren grow up under the threat of a nuclear-armed Israel? The difference is for the Iranians that is a reality, not a possibility.

  12. Professor Cole:

    Your analysis omits what is clearly one of the biggest stories (thus far) culled from the WikiLeaks dump: the lobbying to stop Iran’s nuclear program, not just from Israel but from major Sunni Arab states. This included the King of Bahrain, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the military establishment in Oman, and the UAE.

    That Israel lobbied against Iran is dog bites man; a succession of Israeli governments have long been on the record here. But that Arab states were also lobbying the U.S. to consider attacking, or at the very least, somehow stopping Iran’s nuclear program has been suspected but never documented.

    This becomes a major story, not just because it’s been documented, but also how that documentation strengthens what heretofore had been merely speculative. You focus on Israel as a player, which I would argue is rather old, and going forward, far less relevant news than how the Sunni states might react to a nuclear tipped Iran. Consider:

    Will some or all of these states (collectively, perhaps) along the southern Persian Gulf develop nuclear weapons? Even if not, will they insist on publicly hosting Western nukes on their territory? (If these seems far fetched, consider South Korea’s request along those very lines made several days ago.)

    Putting nukes aside, consider the prospects for a catastrophic regional conventional war. The recently announced $60 billion arms sale from the U.S. to the Saudis suggests that the latter is less concerned about Israeli aggression and very concerned about Iran.

    Perhaps the Sunni states would take another approach: might they conclude that appeasing a nuclear-tipped Iran–perhaps cooperating in some future export restriction of Gulf oil–be more in their interest than their current relations with the large number of American, European and Asian customers of their oil?

    Even the world’s (in my opinion) red herring focus on Israel vs. Iran of the last several years, the truth is that without active Sunni-state cooperation, there can be no Israeli (conventional) strike on Iranian facilities. First, there’s the matter of overflight permission. Such permission could not be “one-time” deal, because unlike Iraq’s vulnerable Osirik facility, degrading Iran’s program will require many sorties: first to disable communications and air defenses, and next, to degrade the nuclear facilities themselves. As you know, that likely would require not just overflight but permission to pre-position fuel and ordnance in airbases located in Sunni-state territory.

    (As I know you’re aware, rumors have been rife over the past several years of covert Israeli-Saudi cooperation along these lines as well as Israeli-Egyptian cooperation in allowing Israeli submarines to transit the Suez.)

    My main point is this–without discounting at all the importance of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, the real “story” (no, not just a narrative, but actual facts on the ground) may be not what Israel does but what the Sunni states decide to do.

  13. Actually the emigration figures from Israel were falling for a while. In 2004, Ian Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania wrote in in a paper about Jewish emigration out of Israel (aka “yeridah”) :

    The high levels of immigration in the early 1990s, especially from the former Soviet
    Union, have disappeared, with fewer than 22,000 immigrants registered for 2003.
    Other reports indicate that since 2002 no more than 30% of these immigrants have
    been classified by the government as Jewish. In mid-2003 it was reported a
    “moribund” annual rate of 1,000 immigrants from North America, with 50% of them
    leaving Israel after their arrival. The head of manpower for the Israel Defense
    Forces reported in mid-2003 that 34% of Israelis of conscription age were not
    serving in the army. Five per cent of those, he noted, were Israelis who “left
    the country prior to their recruitment and lived abroad.”

  14. I think the real reason of the hysteria over Iran is that Israel needs wars to survive. It hasn’t payed for any of its adventures. The bill for all of the wars that Israel have waged against its neighbors have been paid for by the American Tax payers. The Israeli economy seems to have been based on the premise of permanent fear and war. For it to live like normal nations means it is no longer the Israel that we have grown to know. That is the real threat to future of Jewish state.

    We know Iran is not actively working on Nuclear Bomb (we can even assume that it may have the capability to do so if it wants one). We also know that Pakistan does poses a bomb. We also know on the radical scales, even if you accept all of the Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric (and the western media spin on them), Iran is far less radical than Pakistan. Pakistan’s militants can’t even accept their own fellow muslims because they are Shiites, let alone Jews. Yet Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has never been subject to fear mongering by Israel. That leads me to conclude that Israel’s interest in US-Iran conflict is to serve Israeli agenda in the middle east. Nuclear bombs are simply a fictitious bogyman.

  15. Demography is, again, Israel’s biggest trip-wire. If the above is true, they would do so much better to concede some real justice so that the region would tolerate them; and to stop stoking up the paranoia. Their build-up of Iran as the latest bogey is only going to bring about the very emigration they fear. Even if they take refuge in the haredi birthrate (average 7 children per woman) that wouldn’t help as it will drive all the secular Israelis into exile. Why don’t they just give everyone the vote and guarantee every person and every group rights and freedoms that can’t be torn up irrespective of who is the majority? And why count votes into ethnic blocks when half of Israelis will never vote for the guys with the big beards, whoever’s “side” they are on.

  16. link to jafi.org.il

    Immigration to Israel falls to 18 year low
    LOD, Israel – Immigration to Israel hit its lowest in 18 years in 2006 due to a drop in the number of Jews arriving from former Soviet states, although immigration from North America edged higher, figures showed on Wednesday.

    Some 21,000 made “aliya”, the Hebrew word for immigrating to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, which promotes immigration. The 2006 figure was the lowest since 13,000 in 1988. A total of 22,657 people moved to Israel in 2005.

    The agency said it was getting harder to bring immigrants out of countries that made up the former Soviet Union, from where more than one million people moved to Israel in the 1990s. The number for 2006 was 7,300 — about 23 percent down on 2005.

    The top news, photos, and videos of 2006. Full Coverage “These people are no longer running away from something,” said Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency, explaining the decline.

    The agency played down suggestions that the war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas during the summer had a negative impact on immigration — which had grown recently after a sharp drop following the start of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.

    The government places great significance on immigration amid concerns in Israel that without an influx of foreign Jews the country’s Arab minority, which has a higher birth rate, could eventually outnumber the Jewish population.

  17. “The Israelis and their US supporters lobbied to destroy Iraq because of similar fears. Now they are pulling out the stops to get up a US war on Iran.”

    This may seem like an obscure point to make but I think it needs to be addressed because it’s quite misleading. The legitimacy of the threat Iraq and Iran pose Israel are not anywhere close to being in the same stratosphere. Iran is much farther along in the timetable to achieving nuclear warheads than Iraq ever was, and thus the Israeli encouragement behind the Iraq invasion was almost muted compared to their current wishes of (not an invasion) but a surgical air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

    - James

  18. May Israel be focusing on Iran’s nuclear program (and its potential for developing nuclear weapons) so that the world does not focus on Israel’s nuclear program and then pressure Israel to agree to a nuclear weapons free middle-east? A nuclear weapons free middle-east seems like such an obvious and constructive solution. Such a pact could lead other nations to follow suit (India and Pakistan perhaps) and may encourage Israel to rely more on its neighbors for peace and secuirty and less on its military might.

  19. You say “Israel will likely be Lebanonized over the next five decades, in any case”.

    I think that is likely too, although I’d say another 7, 8 to 10 decades – 50 years might be a bit too optimistic.

    There could have been a very large majority-Maronite State created in Mount Lebanon in 1920, easy, but the political and religious leaders of the Maronite society convinced the French and British governments to “borrow” the Bekaa Valley, plus Syrian cities of Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and add them to a “Grand Liban”; that was what led, primarily, to first the Maronites, then late the Christians as a whole, losing their majroity in the following five decades.

    You can see that happening with Golan, Old Jerusalem and the other areas invaded by Israel in 1967 and since then progressively incorporated into the “Grand Israel”. The reality is that another 7 or 8 decades – i.e. once the Arab tyrannies of Kuwait, Bahrein, Jordan, Egypt etc. become pluralistic, democratic societies like Indonesia, Turkey and other advanced Muslim societies … (it is hard to have any hope for Saudi Arabia!) at that point you can imagine that the “non citizens” colonised in the Israeli territories since ’67 will win the right to vote for the Knesset and to become citizens. And that democratic state will of course extend the Law on the Right of Return to anyone that aligns as either Jewish or Palestinian, including those poor people under embargo in Gaza!

    Be a good thing too. Good for everyone – but it is years away, and it won’t happen until the neighbouring tyrannies are thrown “into the dustin of history” – as they will be, just as the generals no longer run Indonesia or Turkey…

  20. “Since the US is in fact withdrawing from Iraq, and will be mostly out by next year this time, we may conclude that the Israeli leadership is very nervous about Tel Aviv – Baghdad relations. ” Not clear to me who in Tel Aviv the Israeli leadership is concerned about. Meanwhile, having grown up in USA during cold war, I think the claims of Israeli exodus due to Iranian bomb are exaggerated. Exodus due to demographics, economy, corruption, theocracy, “too right”, “too left”. I can believe, but not “the bomb”.

  21. “… a democratic Jewish state …”

    The Zionists even lie to themselves about the nature of their state. In other words, they are delusional. Ever try to negotiate anything with a delusional opposite? It is a total waste of time as whatever is agreed to will be refuted or worse by the deluded actor. This sort of delusion leads to a schizophrenia embodied by the exceptionalism deployed to maintain the delusion, which is what the US Empire hase done for decades. The state thus enters the realm of dystopia, which will eventually cause its destruction.

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