4 Things more Dangerous to Israel than Iran’s civilian Nuclear Enrichment

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s strident and continual harping on the alleged dangers of Iran to Israel’s security has become like an old song. Netanyahu has raised this issue repeatedly over the past 20 years, often predicting that Iran was as little as a year away from having a nuclear warhead. Decades later, it does not, and Israel is still there. Many observers believe that Netanyahu is performing as a magician does, trying to make the audience take its eye over the real sleight of hand by pointing in the direction of a distraction.

There are, in fact, more pressing dangers to Israel than Iran’s nuclear reactors,

Extensive and years-long investigations of Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program by the International Atomic Energy Agency have never revealed any evidence that Iran has a parallel nuclear weapons program. Only a couple of years ago, the Israeli defense minister was publicly admitting that Iran had not made a decision to weaponize its nuclear program.

Iran is just doing what Japan, South Korea, Germany, Ukraine, Sweden and Spain have done– develop nuclear reactors to generate electricity. By doing so, Iran can save its oil and natural gas for export to earn foreign exchange instead of eating its own seed corn. None of the countries just mentioned, who have their own nuclear energy programs, has a nuclear bomb, and no one is particularly worried about them getting one. As the former Israeli defense minister admitted, Iran would have to kick out the UN inspectors before it could turn its civilian enrichment facilities toward bomb-making. No country under active UN inspection has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

Here are genuine dangers to Israel, about which Netanyahu won’t be saying anything today:

1. Israel’s continued program of flooding its own citizens into the Occupied Palestinian West Bank is a serious war crime for which the country may yet be charged at the International Criminal Court. The illegal colonization of the West Bank sets the Muslim world, of 1.5 billion persons, against Israel. The Muslim world won’t be weak and ineffectual forever, and Netanyahu is undermining Israel’s future by constantly increasing the number of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land.

2. Israel’s continued de facto opposition to Palestinian statehood leaves Palestinians stateless and without the rights of citizenship, or indeed, any basic human rights– to their own property, to freedom of movement to hospitals or shopping, to water and other resources, to peaceable assembly and protest– in short, to basic human rights. This holding of the Palestinians as stateless chattel even as their landed property is being taken from them has deeply alienated European states and civil society from Tel Aviv. Sweden has recognized Palestine, and the French and Italian parliaments have called for such recognition on a short timetable. A third of Israeli trade is with Europe, and Israel depends deeply on scientific and technical exchanges with Europe, which could gradually be closed off as boycotts and sanctions spread.

3. Israel now has al-Qaeda on its border in the Golan Heights. The rebel Jabhat al-Nusra or Support Front, which holds the Golan, has declared allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda central. Mr. Netanyahu does not seem perturbed by this development, even though al-Qaeda is a brutal and highly destructive terrorist group that killed nearly 3,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians. In fact, the Israeli military has targeted the enemy of the Support Front in Golan, Lebanon’s Hizbullah, but hasn’t hit al-Qaeda with air strikes. If al-Qaeda is holding territory and it is bordering Israel, I’d say that is a security issue. Iran is very far away and has no plausible means of attacking Israel, and even in the unlikely scenario where it developed a bomb, would no more be able to use it than the Soviets were able to use theirs against the US. In fact, Israel is massively well armed by the US and has its own nuclear arsenal, and isn’t really threatened by a guerrilla group like the Support Front, just as it isn’t really threatened by Iran. What Netanyahu wants is continued Israeli hegemony, which Iran’s nuclear enrichment program threatens symbolically.

4. Syria and Israel share a long common border. Syria is in civil war and governmental collapse, and half of Syrians have been displaced from their homes, four million abroad. The potential for radicalization here is enormous, as the rise of ISIL demonstrates. Yet Israel has done nothing, repeat nothing, to ISIL. An organization that France and Britain see as an existential threat to Europe has elicited only yawns in Israel’s Ministry of Defense. If Syrian civil and ISIL aren’t a threat to Israeli security, it is hard to think of what could be.

These are the real security threats Israel faces, which are in the present. Netanyahu does not want to do the right thing with regard to the Palestinians, and he is unconcerned by the Syrian developments because he holds the incorrect theory that Israel is better off if the Arabs are busy with one another. Israelis of European background often seem blithely unaware that they are smack dab in the Middle East and that its troubles are their troubles. A normal state like Iran, which has fair order and a return address should it attack Israel, is much less a security concern than the 4 unpredictable issues above.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: Protesters clash with Israeli troops near West Bank separation barrier

14 Responses

  1. All that Prof. Cole, and Netanyahu is sucking up the air in the room, by throwing a tantrum about the negotiations going on right now with Iran and other nations. Everything is under control over there, and it is strange that Netanyahu ignores what is happening in his own backyard, to make a spectacle of himself in the US.

  2. A close friend was with the US State Department for many year, chiefly in the Middle East. I asked him — what’s the core of the problem? He replied that there were workable solutions but the leaders did not want a solution. Constant fear mongering improved their own statuses. (Even dictators seek to be popular with the citizenry — and of course elected leaders need the vote.)

  3. “he is unconcerned by the Syrian developments because he holds the incorrect theory that Israel is better off if the Arabs are busy with one another”

    Absolutely agree. The reigning strategy of the Israelis for some time has been that chaos in the region is a good thing. Division, disharmony, and weakness among neighbors means that they’re distracted elsewhere and so their “threat” to Israel is lessened. Chaos in the region also helps to keep ordinary Israelis preoccupied with potential external problems rather than internal ones like rising costs of living, a housing crunch, the Palestinian problem, etc.

    Until Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS turn their attention to Israel, the politicians and the IDF are quite happy to let them weaken the Assad regime. Likewise, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS are busy consolidating their position in the region and do not want to throw their own survival into question by inviting Israeli retaliation. Hizb Allah is already established in S. Lebanon and the Bekaa and so could stand to be “weakened” through Israeli attacks.

    Of course, this detente feeds into conspiracy theories about ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra as Israeli proxies. But you don’t have to look for conspiracies to make sense of what’s happening. Unfortunately, the current situation is simply part of the Israelis’ long-term but short-sighted strategy.

    The Israeli gov’t. and much of the citizenry no longer even imagine the possibility of a peaceful co-existence with stable Arab neighbors. The casual, everyday racism of many Israelis towards Arabs is a dead giveaway that we’re well past the stage when anything but a siege mentality in the face of real and perceived threats makes sense to them.

    In some ways, the bigger threat that Iran poses to Israel is its interest in the stability of its neighbors as currently constituted. Turkey and the GCC want stability (and ISIS and al-Qaeda neutralized) too but only after the political reconfiguration of the region. And people wonder why current US regional policy is so schizophrenic! When your “allies” are ginning up war and your “enemies” are trying to tamp down the flames, it’s hard to formulate a consistent policy.

    • There is a “slight” problem with the theory that having the Shia and Sunni fighting each other just keeps them from bothering Israel.

      One of these days, the people of the Mideast are going to solve their post-colonial power restructuring and when they do, Israel will be screwed. By that time, the Mideast will be unified against Israel, have lots of battle-hardened troops, very good military officers and lots of modern weapons with the knowledge on how to use them most effectively.

      Basically these power restructuring wars are a great training system to ensure that the Arabs resoundingly defeat Israel when the time comes.

      One of these days, the Saudis will have a leader that understands that fighting with Iran is stupid and that with careful negotiations, Iran and Saudi Arabia can share power in the Mideast like the countries in Europe mostly share power (and when Europeans disagree, they negotiate).

      As for those that believe the myth of IDF “superiority,” they should consider how poorly the much better US military did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and how poorly the extremely brutal Soviets did in Afghanistan. Israel does not have and will never have any “magic” weapons. All weapons are based on basic technology and as Friedman has correctly noted, the world is flat when it comes to technology. Every nation that wants technology can get it.

      Israelis are totally lacking in any long term perspective. I think it is because if they are forced to think long term, their short term actions become very bad and it causes them to feel bad.

  4. I’d say the demographic timebomb and helping to create a viable Palestinian state should be his biggest concern if he wants to preserve any kind of majority Jewish and democratic Israel in good standing with the international community.

  5. In his condescending speech that belittled the intelligence not only of the US Administration but of all the other five leading countries that are negotiating with Iran, Netanyahu accused Iran of collaborating with Al Qaeda. Yet it seems that the reverse is true, and indeed it is Israel that supports Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. This is just one example of such collaboration with al-Nusra Front: link to lobelog.com

  6. The Bibi & Boehner Show was about electioneering and fund raising, Iran is just handy.
    They had Adelson and Newt in the balcony just in case someone in Congress forgot how Newt got to win South Carolina and who showers Millions on Bibi.
    This was all to get Bibi re elected and start a “who loves Israel more” money fight in Congress. And by making Obama look weak and foolish it will harm Hillary and help Republicans.
    The fact that Bibi is a War Criminal who brags of terror bombing woman and children in Gaza just doesn’t seem to matter to any of the important people.

  7. Rather than labeling as conspiracy theory the possibility of Israeli coordination with ISIL and al-Qaeda we should be digging deeper. How many actions has al-Qaeda carried out against Israel? al-Qaeda is a convenient club to use against nervous Americans, convincing us to pour billions into Israel, but how much of a threat has it been to Israel? ISIL may serve the same purpose. Not conspiracy theory, just questions about very peculiar coincidence.

  8. Supposedly the Dimona reactor is in pretty bad shape, and an accident there seems like a more likely threat to Israel than the Iranian nuclear program.

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