By- Suzie-Q @ 5:00 PM MST
Israel and the entire Middle East are approaching a stark existential choice: a nuclear holocaust or a nuclear-free Middle East. “Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months,” said Benny Morris, a well-connected professor of Middle Eastern history at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University, in a recent New York Times op-ed. Morris also predicted that should the attack fail, “a ratcheting up of the Iranian-Israeli conflict to a nuclear level” will occur. Indeed, Israel’s air force recently practiced maneuvers for such a strike, and Iran responded by test-firing a missile that can retaliate against Israel. In a desperate effort to assure its local nuclear monopoly, Israel is in danger of courting national suicide.
Can new diplomatic strategies be launched before the hawks take to the air? No question is more important for international security, yet no conventional solution, diplomatic or military, seems likely to resolve it. Even if Israelis did not believe that an Iranian bomb is an existential threat, the consequences of letting Iran proceed with its nuclear weapons program are grim. Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, all wary of a nuclear-armed Iran, are only a few of the nations in the region that have recently shown a renewed interest in nuclear technology.How are the Americans and Israelis going to deal with this threat? Serial bombing? That is an admission of failure, not a foreign policy. It is a prescription for an escalating series of wars that could eventually lead to Israel’s destruction. A solution requires thinking beyond the conventional wisdom. It requires a grand initiative that would fundamentally change relationships in the Middle East.
The key to unlocking a dynamic and comprehensive peace process is Israel’s (unacknowledged) nuclear arsenal. To date its purpose has been to deter an overwhelming conventional attack. But absent radical change, the region will eventually become crowded with unstable, nuclear-armed states. The threat of a Middle East bristling with nuclear weapons should be as terrifying to Arab states as it is to Israel. In such a dangerous environment it is inevitable that Israelis will have diminishing confidence in their deterrent. Under the circumstances, it is prudent to consider what might be done, other than bombing Iran. There are sanctions, of course, but few informed Iran scholars believe sanctions will produce the desired results.
Although the outlook seems dire, Iran’s nuclear ambitions–and Israel’s nuclear arsenal–may have created a diplomatic opportunity. Does Israel’s arsenal have value beyond military deterrence? Can it be traded for the security and stability Israel has sought since its inception? Can Israel formulate a “Grand Design for a Nuclear-Free Middle East” linked to a transformative settlement of the issues that have troubled the region since 1948? Is it possible for Israel to be more secure in a nuclear-free Middle East than it is today? The answer to all of these questions is a qualified yes. It’s difficult to be optimistic about any Middle East peace initiative, but what is the penalty for trying?