Israel on the “Day After” will be a different country. The weeks, maybe even months, after an Israeli assault on Iran will be grueling. On the other hand, the Day After a nuclear Iran will not only be grueling — it will be unbearable. Anyone who thinks that it will be possible to live with an Ayatollah state that possesses missiles that can destroy Tel Aviv, is closing his eyes to the far-reaching strategic repercussions of an atom bomb in the hands of a state whose core ideology is the destruction of Israel. Not only will our regional reality change dramatically, but the economic result will be catastrophic. The atmosphere here will be of living over the abyss of an existential threat. We will carry the heavy burden of constant fear.
We are living today in a global village, a world without borders. But the existence of a nuclear Iran may well cause Israel’s ejection from the global village, outside the fence.This is not just a pessimistic nightmare scenario. In order to understand what lies in wait, let us just press the re-wind button and view Ahmadinejad’s speeches in which he repeats his threats to eliminate Israel, only this time let’s imagine that he has the means to launch a nuclear warhead toward Gush Dan (the Tel Aviv area). Life under threat of the bomb will have severe implications for our daily lives. The dream of Iran’s leaders to strike a mortal blow to the Zionist entity may come to pass, even without having to press the button.
The international repercussions would be immediate. All the self-righteous hypocrites around the world who today call on us for restraint and forbearance, will run away from here like from a poisonous snake. We are likely to remain bereft of international global investments; the foreign capital invested today in Israel is likely to be withdrawn; and global companies will avoid activity here since the risk-level will be too high for them. The multinational pharmaceutical companies may stop allocating resources to the local R&D; foreign institutional entities will avoid investing in Israeli funds; global companies will avoid joininginfrastructure projects in Israel; our credit ratings will crash. True, we will also endure an economic crisis on the day after the bombing of the Iranian nuclear development facilities, but that will be temporary. The return-to-normal period might take time, but the crisis will be temporary.
The question we face is not if, but when. Should we enter the fray alone, or wait until the day that Washington may go to battle? It seems to me that Jerusalem is concerned that if we refrain from the difficult decision to attack alone now, we will be left without the ability to do so in the future. There's no doubt that Israel must make every effort not to act alone. The military and political advantages for a campaign led by the United States, or at least an Israeli campaign with full American backing, are clear-cut and evident.
Our starting-point is that while we do have the tools to cause significant damage to Iranian capabilities, these tools are certainly considerably inferior to the American strategic attack systems. The question is: what will be our fate if we refrain from taking action now, if we wait until the day that the United States makes the fateful decision. If that decision will be late in coming, we will no longer have the power to inflict significant damage on the Iranian nuclear capabilities. Our window of opportunity, what Defense Minister Ehud Barak calls the “zone of immunity” — the window that allows us to deal an effective blow to Iran’s capabilities — will be closed.
Currently, the United States has avoided giving Israel clear guarantees. In light of the Israeli concern — if President Barack Obama is, indeed, determined to act only at the timing that is appropriate for him and the United States — there is justification for an Israeli request from Washington to sign a defense treaty with a commitment for an attack plan in Iran, including a clear timetable. This defense treaty must be a bi-partisan commitment with congressional backing.
Alternatively, the United States must provide Israel with special weapons that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) does not currently possess. These special weapons will allow us to effectively strike the Iranian facilities, even when these facilities will be beyond our current military capabilities. This is the absolute minimum that is required. Even if Netanyahu and Obama had shared a warm, close relationship, we could not content ourselves with less than this. Without an agreement for strategic components for Israel, we may find ourselves with American diplomatic proclamations alone. If these promises are not fulfilled — the ensuing catastrophe will be irreversible.
The public discussion taking place today, is one of the most difficult and fateful debates we have ever known. It must be free of extraneous political calculations. Even those who are not supporters of Netanyahu and Barak must listen carefully to their arguments and weigh what is best for the entire nation, not for the Prime Minister and Defense Minister. The arguments against the decision to attack — assuming we lack a clear understanding with the United States — are also weighty. We must listen carefully to the positions and rationales attributed to IDF commanders and heads of security agencies, present and past — these must be carefully considered. The majority of present and past Israel security agencies’ heads and IDF commanders are standing against a solo Israeli strike on Iran. Again, we must address these issues in a relevant way, without extraneous political considerations.
I have not talked to Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak before writing these lines. I have not heard their world-views in first person. I advised them to initiate a verbal cease-fire between Jerusalem and Washington: without briefings, media leaks and spins on both sides. What is needed at this time is a quiet gathering out of the public eye, in which the sides will make a last-ditch effort to come to an understanding on the Iranian issue without thinking about tomorrow’s newspaper headlines. I suggest to place one unusual document on the discussion table: Martin Gilbert’s book, Auschwitz and the Allies.
During the last months of the war in which Nazi Germany’s “death factories” worked overtime and it was still possible to save at least Hungarian Jewry, the Allies refrained from bombing the railways and the gas chambers. True, there are many differences between then and now. Today’s United States is not the same as then, Iran is not Germany of the Third Reich, the circumstances are completely different and the Jewish state is alive and well. But the lessons must be drawn. The existence of our state cannot be dependent only on others. Every stone must be turned to reach understandings with the United States and the European countries. But in the absence of such understandings, we are left to choose between an acute but temporary crisis, and a horrific catastrophe that we may never be able to recover from.
The author served in the past as Israel's cabinet secretary and health minister, and is now head of an investment fund.
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