Last month I did a piece on LobeLog about a talk given by Richard Bulliet, a Columbia University professor, who’d gone to Israel and was surprised at the dearth of serious academic discussion on Iran. He wondered if this didn’t contribute to the wild-eyed paranoia in Israel — particularly in its policy-making — about the Islamic Republic (ruled by a “messianic apocalyptic cult,” etc.). We always hear from Israel that Iran must be considered as a fundamental annihilationist state and simply can’t posses nuclear weapons under any circumstances.
I received a few reactions from Israelis complaining that their national academic discourse on Iran was just fine, thank you. Questioning it was clearly not welcome.
Iran may indeed go nuclear one day. Yet in an article in the Jerusalem Post, you’ll find Dr. Boaz Ganor — deputy dean of the Lauder School of Government at IDC Herzliya, one of the most influential Israeli universities in the sphere of security — in essence telling the United States: “Fine!, if you won’t bomb, you’ll need to create a ‘second-strike nuclear alliance’ that will obliterate Iran the second it uses a nuclear weapon.”
More amazing than the nuclear revenge pact is the far-fetched conclusions about what a nuclear Iran would do. Ganor writes that the Islamic Republic has been trying, since its very inception, to export the revolution and build its global clout. With a nuclear arm, this exportation of revolution would not only be stepped up — it it would work. Iranian proxies and allies would be untouchable by their opponents, and Iran would become a “radical Islamic nuclear superpower.”
Here’s the problems (or at least a few of them):
1) If Iran is exporting the revolution, they’re doing a damned poor job. In an apparent three decades of relentless efforts, the Islamic Republic has built revolutionary clout only in Southern Lebanon and, freed up by the U.S. invasion, in Iraq. Neither case, however, is a done deal. Shia Republicans control neither country, though both play a role in government. (Though, hilariously, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, changed its name after the U.S. invasion to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI. Get it? The Revolution already happened! Thanks, America!)
2) Speaking of Iraq — although this is one of the two places where some tiny bit of Revolution has maybe been exported, Ganor still lists it as a place where “Iran will not hesitate to use vassal terror organizations…to promote its interests.” Ummm… So I guess that’s one other country we have to take off the list for now. That leaves only Southern Lebanon! Next Ganor says Iranian forces will quickly overrun every oil field in the Mid East , including Saudi Arabia. Continuing, he adds: “Under the Iranian nuclear umbrella, [its proxies] will be immune to reprisal.”
This may be true of some of Iran’s other regional adversaries. But can anyone seriously think that Israel, if threatened in any manner whatsoever, will hesitate even a second before it attacks, drops bombs, snatches-and-grabs, or anything else it feels necessary to defend itself, whether or not Iranian has a nuclear bomb? I doubt it.
3) “A radical Islamic nuclear superpower” — puh-leaze! I mean, one could say “regional power,” and it’d be hard to argue against. But “superpower”? Flinging these words around to serve the paranoid fantasies of one Israeli academic devalues the term. The hyperbole is astounding. (I’ll note that Ganor’s primary policy recommendation to prevent a nuclear Iran is by “a sweeping military operation,” and “only one country has the power to take on an operation of this scale.” That, naturally, is the good ‘ole U.S.A. This must be the reason for the line that this will make “the Cuban Missile Crisis look like child’s play.” So perhaps this is why he throws around “superpower” — to appeal to the vanity of another “superpower.”)
Despite these three very hollow points, he goes on to say: “This is not a worst-case scenario, but a completely reasonable estimate of what will happen from the moment Iran achieves nuclear capability.”
So here’s my question for my Israeli friends and colleagues: Does anyone take seriously the war-mongering of this academic from “one of the leading schools of public policy, diplomacy, foreign policy and strategy in Israel?” Do Israeli academics laugh this off? Write letters to the editor? Petition their bosses that this guy is not an Iran expert and needs to be pushed back?
One of my friends who does NGO work described her conversation with a prominent Israeli politician from Meretz, the left-wing Zionist party in Israel. She asked why the party wasn’t more out in front of the Iran issue — working to build a coalition around opposing the overheated Israeli rhetoric that would, in her view, make a disastrous war with Iran inevitable. The politician said the party wasn’t capable, and that the Israeli stream of hostility to Iran was too difficult to swim against.
Are Israel’s academics liberated from — or swimming with — this stream? Inquiring minds want to know.