by Ali Gharib
Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem nearly two weeks ago, the Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon invoked the American decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan in World War II in response to a question about “dealing with a threat like Iran.”
At the conference, organized by the right-wing Israeli legal activism group Shurat HaDin, Yaalon defended Israel’s decisions in several of its recent wars that critics have said showed a disregard for civilian life.
Although not addressing Iran specifically, Yaalon suggested that Israel may take extraordinary measures that would endanger civilians if “surgical operations” don’t present a viable alternative for accomplishing military objectives. He then raised U.S. President Harry Truman’s decision to use a nuclear weapon in World War II as an example of such a measure, adding, “We are not there yet.”
Here’s a transcript of the question — which was asked as part of a bundle of questions after Yaalon’s prepared speech — and the full response, beginning with a reference to the specific question and ending just before Yaalon glances at his notepad and starts addressing a subsequent query:
QUESTION: …[T]o the question of whether democracies are at a strategic disadvantage. Is dealing with a threat like Iran something democracies are not structured well to do?
YAALON: There are those who claim that this battle is not fair because democracy can’t fight back [against a] tyrannical regime — not talking about terror organization. I don’t agree with it. Certain cases, we might take certain steps that we believe that these steps should be taken in order to defend ourselves. I mentioned the discussion about the interception of the rockets positions on civilian houses. We decided to do it.
I can imagine some other steps that should be taken. Of course, we should be sure that we can look at the mirror after the decision or the operation. Of course, we should be sure it is a military necessity. We should consider cost and benefit, of course. But, at the end, we might take certain steps.
I do remember the story of President Truman was asked, How do feel after deciding to launch the nuclear bombs [at] Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing at the end the fatalities of 200,000 casualties? And he said, When I heard from my officers that the alternative is a long war with Japan, with potential fatalities of a couple of millions, I saw it was a moral decision.
We are not there yet. But that [is] what I’m talking about. Certain steps in cases in which we feel like we don’t have the answer by surgical operations or something like that.
The response wasn’t quite a threat to use nukes. But perhaps invoking the use of an atomic bomb to end a war isn’t such a wise move for a country with a covert arsenal of nukes seeking to rally the world to its side against Iran’s nuclear program.