Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is it really better for Israel if Ahmedinejad is elected?

Maybe it's that I have the perspective of an American, not an Israeli, but I am finding it very odd how little coverage there is of Iran in the Israeli press and radio. I've been listening to Reshet Bet (the news station of Israel Radio) and most of the news and discussion is about internal Israeli issues. I would expect this at normal times, but these are not normal times. Last night I watched the Channel 1 news, and the reporting on Iran was very superficial. Iran was not the first news item, which I expected it to be. And some of the analyses that I've read in the Israeli press strike me as truly misguided, for example the article by Amos Harel in Haaretz a couple of days ago:
And in this case, paradoxically, it seems that from Israel's point of view the victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is actually preferable. Not only because "better the devil you know," but because the victory of the pro-reform candidate will paste an attractive mask on the face of Iranian nuclear ambitions.

So it's better for Israel that Iran be led by a Holocaust-denying antisemite than by someone whom the majority of Iranians believe would improve their lives? At least Aluf Benn, in yesterday's Haaretz, had something more sensible to say:
The prize for this week's most stupid remark has to go to the officials, officers and experts who described Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the candidate Israel prefers to win the election in Iran, and were even happy he did. It is hard to think of a more blatant manifestation of the narrow horizons of Israeli strategic thinking.

1 comment:

  1. "...Iranian nuclear ambitions"

    That phrase conflates several disparate things that it's terribly important to disambiguate. There's no doubt that Iran is pursuing enrichment of nuclear fuel. Of course, they're perfectly entitled to according to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and enrichment to 3%, the amount necessary to fuel a reactor, is perfectly harmless. There's no good reason to object to Iran doing this, and most Iranians understandably see it as a national sovereign right because it is.

    Then there's enrichment to the 90% or so level you'd like for a nuclear weapon. Well, that's somewhat alarming, but it's still not at all the same thing as designing, and assembling, a weapon. Let alone constructing a weapon that can fit on a missile, which is very tricky.

    I think it's counterproductive to object to Iran's enrichment of uranium simply for fuel for a reactor. I think concern about their enriching uranium to weaponized levels is warranted, but still not something to panic about. Given all the statements from the leadership about nuclear weapons being forbidden by Islam, I think they'd have a tough time going back on their rhetoric. Whereas I find the idea that they'd like to go to the level Japan has long been at: able to weaponize uranium, have a nuclear weapon design, and be in a position where they could assemble one within a few weeks or months, but not actually doing it.

    This would serve the purpose of deterrence -- a perfectly rational goal, especially for a country that has a history of having its government overthrown by us -- without violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty, nor violating their own stated policies against having nuclear weapons.

    All the stuff about how the leadership is apocalyptic strikes me as almost entirely unfounded in fact. I don't see any good reason to believe Iran is any less deterrable or irrational about using nuclear weapons than the Soviet Union was, or Mao was.

    In short, I find the general alarmism over Iran in Israeli rightwing, and other rightwing, circles, to be highly over-wrought. When they've actually detonated a weapon, I'll think it's time to be somewhat alarmed, but even then not so much.

    And, as I mentioned, the idea that Iran could fly a plane over Israel and drop a bomb seems highly unlikely. And even if we put aside their rhetoric about nuclear weapons being forbidden, they'd have to kill a lot of Palestinians if they smuggled a weapon into Israel, and then have to expect to be nuked in return. And, as I said, designing a nuclear weapon that fits on a missile is much more complicated than merely building an atomic weapon, which actually isn't all that hard. It all seems extremely unlikely.

    None of this makes Ahmadinajad or the regime nice people, but that's not the point. Mao was extremely un-nice, but we negotiated with him just fine.