Paris, January 24, 2012 – The obsession of the American
foreign policy community, as well as most American (and a good many
international) politicians, with the myth of Iran’s “existential”
threat to Israel, brings the world steadily closer to another war in
the Middle East.
The debate over Iran takes for granted that the country
soon will have nuclear weapons, and would use them. The same debate
back in 2002-‘03 over Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of WMD's
did the same. After the United States had gone to war against Iraq
no such weapons were found to exist.
The actual winner of the war that followed the American invasion of
Iraq was Israel, which saw Iraq, its principal regional rival,
destroyed at no cost to itself. The military victor of the war, but
politico-strategic loser, was the United States, which destroyed
Iraq, a country in no position to harm the United States, at a
trillion-dollar cost, enormous human suffering and waste, and the
effective transfer of Iraq to Iran’s zone of military and strategic
The present debate over Iran’s nuclear program, like the pre-2003
debate concerning Iraq’s non-existent WMD program, has never extended
to the most important question in the matter. What difference would
it make if Iran did have nuclear weapons? What could it do with
them, considering the nuclear deterrent force possessed by Israel,
generally thought the fifth or sixth largest and most sophisticated
nuclear power in the world?
Between the start of the nuclear era to the end of the
Cold War, tens if not hundreds of thousands of earnest scholars,
strategists, pacifist activists, journalistic commentators,
politicians, and prospective victims of nuclear war brooded over how
nuclear weapons might be used in war or cold war. So far as I know,
the only conclusive answer we found (I was, on occasion, one of those
people) was that they were only useful as a threat to deter someone
else from aggression. They cannot stop the aggression, but they will
exact a serious penalty for it.
The best known of these thinkers was undoubtedly my late colleague
Herman Kahn. He made a professional career of lecturing to military
staffs, scholars, politicians, and concerned laymen about how in the
last analysis nuclear weapons had no real military or political-
strategic utility against another nuclear-armed power, other than
when one actor possessed an absolute monopoly of these weapons, as
was the case of the United States in 1945.
The U.S. used its monopoly to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki and put
an end to the Second World War. (Over-used its monopoly -- one would
have been enough; indeed the Army Air Force might have dropped a
nuclear bomb on an unoccupied island or deserted atoll, and told the
Japanese to watch, or to go afterwards and take a look at the hole.)
Kahn’s characteristic conclusion was that the only future
constructive use for nuclear weapons lay in creating a Doomsday
Machine, the Ultimate Deterrent. It would be a thermonuclear device
that would destroy the entire earth if a nuclear weapon were ever
exploded anywhere in the world or in surrounding space.
The Iranians, a highly intelligent and well-educated people, know all
of this perfectly well. If they intend to produce nuclear weapons,
it is to possess a deterrent to foreign aggression. The Israelis,
another highly intelligent and well-educated people, also know
nuclear history. Their present policy is not based on fear of a
nuclear attack by Iran (or by an Iranian proxy). It is calculated to
prevent the United States from imposing on Israel a solution to its
relationship with the Palestinians. They do not wish a permanent
legal frontier dividing them from some new and recognized Palestinian
state -- a frontier sponsored and also guaranteed by the United
States, as well as by international law.
Such a border, and such an internationally guaranteed Palestinian
state, would stop further Israeli expansion into Palestinian
territory, and possibly reverse the expansion that already has taken
place. Continuing expansion is the present Israeli government’s
policy, as President Binyamin Netanyahu stated in the presence of the
international press at Davos, at the start of the first Netanyahu
government in 1996.
The propaganda concerning Iranian nuclear weapons is deliberately
promoted by Israel and its allies in order to inspire an attack on
Iran by the United States, or more likely, to rationalize such an
attack by Israel itself. An attack, by either government, would
undoubtedly provoke Iranian retaliation against American troops,
ships, and installations in regions neighboring Iran. It would also
distract the United States from the Palestinian issue.
This explains recent efforts by the American military to dissuade
Israel from such an attack. At the same time, others in the American
government, and all but one of the present Republican candidates for
the presidential nomination, irresponsibly promote such an arrack,
against the interests of their own nation.
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