An Inconvenient Truth for Israel

Guest Column: Uri Avnery The legendary Israeli peace campaigner Uri Avnery sent me (and others!) this commentary on the weekend, and he graciously agreed to it being posted on Rootless Cosmopolitan. Avnery argues that the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran is a catastrophic blow to the Israeli leadership, which has been using the “Iran threat” as a political organizing principle at home and abroad. Even when the Bush Administration makes feeble attempts to put the Israeli-Palestinian question on the agenda, the Israelis make sure that it all takes place in the context of a conversation about Iran as an “existential threat” to Israel. So, what are they going to do now?

Although he wouldn’t know it, Uri Avnery played an important part in my journey from Zionism. On Yom Kippur in 1979, as an increasingly skeptical young activist of Habonim, I didn’t bother going to shul; instead I stayed home and read Avnery’s Israel Without Zionism. It was the first time I had encountered an Israeli Jew challenging the fundamentals of the nationalist ideology of “Jewish Statehood,” and I was moved by the fact that, as a participant in those events, he was more than willing to reveal the violent process of Palestinian dispossession in 1948, puncturing the mythology of a “miracle” by which the Palestinians had simply upped and left in response to Arab radio broadcasts. Avnery helped “reassure” me back then, as an uncertain 18-year-old, that it was okay to be Jewish and question Zionism. I’m honored to have him as a guest contributor.
(P.S. If any of you wonder why this post and any comments disappeared for a few hours after originally being posted on Sunday, put it down to the technical incompetence of your host…)

How They Stole The Bomb From Us

By Uri Avnery

It was like an atom bomb falling on Israel.

The earth shook. Our political and military leaders were all in shock. The headlines screamed with rage.

What happened?

A real catastrophe: the American intelligence community, comprising 16 different agencies, reached a unanimous verdict: already in 2003, the Iranians terminated their efforts to produce a nuclear bomb, and they have not resumed them since. Even if they change their mind in the future, they will need at least five years to achieve their aim. ?
Shouldn’t we be overjoyed? Shouldn’t the masses in Israel be dancing in the streets, as they did on November 29, 1947, sixty years ago? After all, we have been saved!

Until this week, we have been regularly hearing that – any minute now – the Iranians will produce a bomb that threatens our very existence. Nothing less. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the new Hitler of the Middle East, who announces every second day that Israel must disappear from the map, was about to fulfill his own prophecy.

A small nuclear bomb, even a teeny-weeny one like the ones dropped on Japan, would be enough to wipe out the whole Zionist enterprise. If it fell on Tel-Aviv’s Rabin Square, the economic, cultural and military center of Israel would be vaporized, together with hundreds of thousands of Jews. A second Holocaust.

And lo and behold – no bomb and no any-minute-now. The wicked Ahmadinejad can threaten us as much as he wants – he just has not got the means to harm us. Isn’t that a reason for celebration?

So why does this feel like a national disaster? ?
A two-bit psychologist (like me) might say: Jews have become used to anxiety. After hundreds of years of persecution, expulsions, inquisition, pogroms and then the Holocaust, we have little red warning lights in our heads, which come on at the slightest sign of danger. In such a situation, we feel at home. We know what to do.

But when the lights stay off and no danger appears on the horizon, we get the feeling that something suspicious is going on. Something is wrong. Perhaps the lights are out of order. Perhaps it’s really a trap!

There is one little consolation in the new situation. While it seems as if the immediate danger of annihilation has disappeared, there is a feeling that we are alone, on our own again.

That is another sign of Jewish uniqueness: We are facing the entire world alone. As in the days of the Holocaust, all the Goyim have forsaken us. Face to face with the Iranian monster which threatens to devour us, we now stand here alone.

All our media are repeating this in unison, like an orchestra which does not need a conductor, because it knows the music by heart.
True, other peoples, too, can derive satisfaction from standing alone. Engraved in my memory is a British poster that was hanging on our walls in Palestine in the dark days after the fall of France to the Nazis, when Britain was left quite alone in the war. Under the grim face of Winston Churchill the slogan proudly proclaimed: “Alright then, Alone!”

But with us this has almost become a national ritual. As we used to sing in the good old days of Golda Meir: “The whole world is against us / That is an old melody / …And everybody who is against us / Let him go to hell…” At the time, one of the army entertainment teams even turned it into a folk dance.

In the last few years, a broad coalition against Iran has come into being. The Iranian bomb has become the heart of an international consensus, led by America, Queen of the World. With the consent of all its five permanent members, the UN Security Council has decreed sanctions against Tehran.

Now, before our very eyes, this coalition is crumbling. President Bush is stammering. Gone is the excuse for an American military attack on Iran, the dream of the Israeli government and the neocons. Gone is even the pretext for more stringent sanctions. God knows, perhaps even the existing feeble sanctions will be abolished tomorrow. ?
The first reaction of the Israeli leadership was vigorous and determined: total denial.

The American report is simply wrong, all the media proclaimed. It is based on false information. Our own intelligence community is in possession of much better data, which prove that the bomb is well on its way.

Really? All the intelligence in the hands of the Mossad is automatically transferred to the CIA. It is part of the mass of data on which the American report is based. It must be remembered that the published part of the report constitutes only 3% of the complete document.

So the American intelligence agencies must be deliberately lying. There is no escaping the conclusion that murky political motives must lie behind their unequivocal findings. Perhaps they want to make up for the false reports which President Bush employed to justify his invasion of Iraq. Then they overestimated, now they underestimate. Perhaps they want to take revenge on Bush and believe that the time is ripe, since he has become a lame duck. Or they are adapting themselves to American public opinion, which cannot stomach another war. And, besides, their chiefs are, of course, all anti-Semites.

Even if the American intelligence operatives innocently believe that Iran has stopped work on the Bomb, it just shows how naive they are. They cannot imagine that the Iranians are fooling them. Who knows better than us how easy it is to hide an atomic bomb and deceive the whole world? After all, we have been at it for years.

But all this does not change the fact: this report pushes American policy in a new direction and changes the entire international constellation.

The war on Iran, which was to be the defining event of 2008, has turned for the time being into a non-event. ?
What are the results, as far as Israel is concerned? Why have our leaders been in a state of shock since the publication of the report?
The possibility of an independent Israeli military strike against Iran has vanished. Israel cannot wage war without the unreserved backing of the US. We tried once – the Sinai War of 1956 – and then President Dwight D. Eisenhower kicked our ass. Since then we have taken great care to obtain the blessing of the US before every war.

For the military and intelligence services, the report is an unmitigated disaster for another reason too. The Iranian bomb plays an indispensable part in the army’s annual fight for its massive chunk of the budget cake.

For right-wing demagogues, the effect is even more disheartening. Binyamin Netanyahu has built his whole strategy on the Iranian scare, hoping to ride the Bomb right into the Prime Minister’s office.

Furthermore, when the Iranian issue cools down, the Palestinian issue warms up. That is especially true in Washington DC. President Bush is in trouble, his fiascos in Afghanistan and Iraq are still dragging on. Any American effort to install a stable government in Iraq, with its Shiite majority, depends on the backing of Shiite Iran. Bush’s dream of delivering a lightning stroke against Iran and thus leaving his imprint on history is going up in smoke.

What can he do in order to leave any positive legacy at all? The default alternative is Israeli-Palestinian peace. Perhaps he will now give stronger backing to poor Condoleezza. Perhaps he himself will get more involved. Fact: he is soon going to visit Israel for the first since entering the White House.

True, this effort has not much chance of success, but people in Jerusalem are worried nonetheless. That’s just what we need – Bush acting like that anti-Semite, Jimmy Carter, who twisted Begin’s arm and forced him to make peace with Egypt!

So what to do? One can instruct Israeli diplomats abroad to redouble their efforts to convince the governments that the situation has not changed, that one must fight against the Iranian bomb, whether it exists or not. But tell that to the Russians and the Chinese! The world’s governments are happy to see the end of Bush’s pressure – all except that happy couple, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, the new White House poodles now Tony Blair has gone. ?
The new situation poses a thorny dilemma for Ehud Olmert.

On the way back from Annapolis, he uttered some amazing statements. If the “two states solution collapses,” he declared, “the State of Israel is finished”. Nobody in the peace camp has yet dared to go as far as that.

Does he believe what he says, or is it just a new spin? That is the question that is now dominating the discourse in Israel. In other words: is he just trying to win time, or is he really going to work for a peace settlement?

All indications suggest that he is in no position to take any step whatsoever. If he tries to carry out the first phase of the Road Map and dismantle some settlement outposts, he will face not only the determined opposition of the settlers and their supporters, and the silent (but highly effective) opposition of the military, but also obstruction by his government colleagues. Before the first outpost is dismantled, his coalition will break apart.

Olmert has no other coalition handy. Ehud Barak has been trying again and again to outflank him on the right and cannot be relied upon in a crisis. The Labor Party is a chaotic, spineless and unprincipled body. The shrunken Meretz party has a faction of only five Knesset members, four of whom are competing with each other for the party leadership. The ten members of the Arab factions (that’s what they are generally called, even though one Hadash Knesset member is a Jew) are outcasts, and no “Zionist” government could be seen to rely openly on their support. And in Olmert’s own faction there are several extreme-right members who would obstruct any peace effort.

In such a situation, the natural tendency of a real politician like Olmert is to do nothing, to issue pronouncement left and right (in both senses) and try to gain time.

This week, the government announced plans to build 300 new homes in the odious Har Homa settlement, near Jerusalem. For someone like me, who has spent many days and nights demonstrating against the building of this particular settlement, that is bitter news indeed. It certainly does not indicate a turn for the better.

On the other hand, I have heard an interesting thesis from one of Olmert’s inner circle. According to this, knowing that he is going to lose power, Olmert may tell himself: if I must fall, why not enter history as somebody who has sacrificed himself on the altar of a lofty principle, instead of just vanishing as a good-for-nothing political hack?

If he has no other way out, he might choose this solution – particularly as his immediate family is pushing him in this direction.
I would evaluate this possibility as “unlikely” – but stranger things have happened.

In any case, perhaps the peace forces should overcome their understandable reservations and try to influence public opinion in a way that would help Olmert turn in this direction. ?
Either way, one thing is certain: that son of a bitch, Ahmadinejad, has screwed us again.

He has stolen our most precious possession: the Iranian Atomic Threat.

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27 Responses to An Inconvenient Truth for Israel

  1. FredJ says:

    Actually, the Israeli leadership seem to be doing just fine. The new NIE is kind of ambiguous, not really clearing Iran. And the intelligence agencies of Britain, Israel and France have all come out with grave skepticism about the new evaluation.

    And if it turns out to be true that Iran is delayed in it’s nuclear quest, or stopped completely, then so much the better for Israel. And the Israeli leaders can spin it that way. The Minister of “Strategic Threats” can spend his time in office reading the news.

    What will they do now? More of the same.

  2. Tony says:

    Fred, you ought to know better than any one that Israel has revealed just how seriously it ever took the Iran “threat” by appointing as the minister to deal with it a certain Avigdor Lieberman, better known for being the subject of criminal inquiries and for his incitement for the completion of the ethnic cleansing of 1948…

  3. Matthew says:

    The air is really out of this balloon. Who are we going to be afraid of next: Belize?

  4. billy says:

    “…grave skepticism about the new evaluation.”
    There’s a fascinating cognitive dissonance among the politically energised in the English speaking world.
    Consider: In every area of modern society the work of the intelligence services – their cunning, their courage, their dedication – is lauded to the hills. These people are the cream of the educational crop. And yet how easy it is to for the politically disadvantaged to suddenly write them off as hacks the moment they don’t like the analysis!
    At least with the Iraq WMD scare, the astute sceptic could clearly point to the existence of contrary information, and could clearly divine the political intervention at work subverting the work of the intelligence community. But now, for all this scepticism, where is the merest shred of rational dissent? Anything. Just give me one verifiable fact that casts doubt on the NIE report. Verifiable fact, mind, not just absence of belief acquired in service of a political argument.

  5. ww says:

    heh, billy, he who calls for the wind will suffer stifling disappointment.

  6. Jorge says:

    “Israel cannot wage war without the unreserved backing of the US. We tried once – the Sinai War of 1956 – and then President Dwight D. Eisenhower kicked our ass. ”

    There’s plenty to dispute in this article, but let me start here.

    GW is no DD. GW would applaud Israel if it took on Iran on its own. The US Congress might bark, but not too loudly if it wants Jewish support in ’08. So I wouldn’t rule out a unilateral attack by Israel – except for the fact that Hezbollah took Israel to task in ’06.

    Secondly, the WHOLE problem is with the presumption that IF Iran had the bomb it would use it willy-nilly against Israel.

    It would not. And anyone who thinks Iran would use the bomb without provocation is simply wrong.

    The real reason Israel and the U.S. (and other countries) do not want Iran to have the bomb is because of the respect factor. That’s what the bomb gives third world countries. It’s the same factor that prevented us from unilaterally going into Pakistani territory to catch Osama bin Laden. Not that we really wanted to catch him, anyway. He’s better “Wanted” than “Dead or Alive.”

    The bomb represents “respect.” It’s that simple. And no one is willing to give Iran respect – least of all Israel and the U.S.

    So Israel’s preoccupation with the Iranian bomb should always be placed in this context. Any other interpretation is simply wrong.

    Regardless of the harsh rhetoric from the Iranian leadership, the Iranian leadership would never risk its very existence by dropping the bomb on Israel. Israel knows it and it should be held accountable with respect to this view. Israel should not allowed to invade Iran based on its own stated fears of a threat posed by an Iranian bomb.

    Again: NEVER EVER buy into the premise that Iran wants the bomb so that it can destroy Israel. That to me is a ruse. Iran wants the bomb so that it can garner the respect it NEVER gets. It’s time to give Iran (and other third world nations) respect without the bomb. By doing THAT, those who might consider wasting billions of dollars that could be used to help their country would not waste their time.

    Final note: Thanks to Tony for his courage.

  7. Joshua says:

    Parts of the Israeli leadership has already described this latest trend as to the equivalent of “America’s reaction to Auschwitz”, ie the Holocaust. They never miss a beat.

  8. warren schaich says:

    Israel will not be satisfied until they complete the genocide in Gaza much like the Nazis did in Poland for example. “Do to others what has ben done to you”

  9. Pat S. says:

    Jorge, the respect issue exists in a way, but it’s not like we’d be ushering in the great new era of respect for the Third World if more and more countries go nuclear. No nuclear state exists in a vacuum; Iran getting the bomb (which admittedly is a response to Israel’s bomb and American pressure) will lead to Saudi Arabia and perhaps Jordan following suit, and now all of a sudden you have four times the opportunity for an accidental or misprovoked missile launch that takes out one or more cities with millions of casualties. It nearly happened several times between the U.S. and Russia, and those are two of the world’s most advanced militaries with multiple institutional checks on nuclear strikes.

    There is a lot to the argument that mutual nuclear capability deters war between states, but to say that greater proliferation should only be viewed as a race towards world respect — in which the logical extension is that it’s a good thing for a country to possess nuclear weapons and thus gain that respect — is a pretty naive statement that ignores the greater capacity for very deadly misunderstandings.

  10. Alex says:

    And what do you think of the very popular view by a leading Israeli analyst Obadiah Shoher? He argues (here, for example, www. ) that the Bush Administration made a deal with Iran: nuclear program in exchange for curtailing the Iranian support for Iraqi terrorists. His story seems plausible, isn’t it?

  11. Matthew says:

    I’m confused. If Iranians destabilize Iraq, they are terrorists? But if America destabilizes Iran, what are we?

  12. Nell says:

    “…the [Israeli government offficials] make sure that it all takes place in the context of a conversation about Iran as an “existential threat” to Israel. So, what are they going to do now?”

    If they’re like Bush, they can just go on as they were, as if nothing had happened. I’m interested to see if that is more or less politically possible to do in Israel than here.

  13. Jorge says:


    Your comment doesn’t deny that nuclear proliferation is a race towards respect, only that it is a race with potentially disasterous results. On that point, I agree.

    But you have to admit, these (third world) nations do not have much of a choice. Even after learning that Iran had stopped it’s research four years ago, the Bush administration was still very eager to insult Iran and antagonize world peace.

    Do you really think that the Bush administration (or even most of the people in the U.S. government, for that matter) is really going to respect a nuclear-free Iran?

    To paraphrase Michael Corleone, “Now who’s being naive, Pat?”

  14. Y. Ben-David says:

    Tony-Have you ever heard of “innocent until proven guilty”? Lieberman (whom I am no fan of) has been under investigation for something like 12 years, yet no charges have ever been brought against him. Olmert has also been under investigation for a long time, Haim Ramon has been convicted of a sex crime, even Shimon Peres has been investigated (“criminal investigations” are carried out in Israel NOT in pursuit of “justice” but rather as political harassment-hardly any of the investigations are ever brought to trial).
    Can you show me any place where Lieberman has called for the “ethnic cleansing” of the Israeli Arab population?
    AFAIK he has called for having the Arab populated areas of Israel being put under Palestinian sovereignity…but your friend Uri Avnery advocates the same thing for the Arabs of Jerusalem and I assume you don’t think of him as an “ethic cleanser”.

  15. Pat S. says:


    Certainly a nuclear-armed Iran is a far bigger deterrent to war than otherwise, and we see from North Korea that such a situation forces the Bush team to accommodate reality rather than its usual faith in the power of bullying. While studying the subject as a student, I once thought it would be a good thing if nearly every conflict point featured nuclear-armed sides to prevent war in the first place: Japan and China, Germany and Poland, Serbia and Croatia, Israel and the Arabs (though that one will be fully two-sided should Iran go nuclear). Yet as I said before, the prospect of accidental launch becomes higher and higher to the point that the possibility of an urban nuclear detonation within the next 50 years is near 100%.

    Your comment struck me as minimizing the situation: “The bomb represents “respect.” It’s that simple.” It isn’t that simple. There are Americans with higher-minded motives than simply keeping the rest of the world down, such as preventing the spread of such deadly weapons based simply on their destructive nature. You can blame the Bush Administration for eclipsing this motive because of its preference for naked power calculations — I certainly do — just as you can blame them for turning Khamenei and crew into the good guys in the eyes of the world. But if Iran someday explodes a nuclear weapon in the Caucasus, I’m hardly going to be cheering for the underdog.

  16. William Burns says:

    So, Y. Ben David, how’s that innocent until proven guilty thing working out for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails?

  17. Jorge says:

    “There are Americans with higher-minded motives than simply keeping the rest of the world down…”

    On that I agree. Unfortunately, too few of these Americans are calling the shots in big business and in high offices of our government. And it predates the Bush administration. It’s been the case since the so-called “purchase” of Manhattan.

    From the American perspective, land can be bought, people can be moved, people can be displaced, people can be segregated for the greater good of … take your pick: “democracy,” “capitalism,” “freedom,” or whatever number of label American advertising wants to put on American “self-interests.”

    I’m not at all advocating that any nation spend the billions it costs to develop a nuclear weapon. Neither do I believe it is desirable to have every nation armed with the bomb. But I understand the desire on the part of those nations to garner the respect they deserve from the U.S. and other world powers.

    Unfortunately, that respect is not likely to be given freely by the U.S.

    Perhaps you believe that the U.S. is more than willing to give that respect freely. In doing so, you deny all of our recent history – never mind all the rest of our history as a nation. You deny the U.S. support of Pinochet, the Shah, Marcos, Bautista, all of the Mexican presidents who rode off on a white horse gift from the U.S., and all of the other puppets who did the U.S.’s bidding.

    If a bomb is successfully tested by Tehran, I, for one, will not cower in fear. I will understand it as the logical progression of what we have created. You can only hold people down for so long. It’s inevitable, in any relationship, for BOTH sides to desire “freedom.”

    President Reagan and the Republicans have preached for years that all people want to be free. Yet the Republicans are the first ones that want to support dictators that do OUR bidding.

    Can we really say Iran is free when even after it “obeys” the world’s wishes it gets a hand full of dirt tossed in its face by the U.S. – followed by silence from the world community?

    Anyone who answers that question honestly can then clearly understand WHY Iran wants the bomb.

    Is it right? Is it good? Of course not, but after a while it is the only way out for Iran.

  18. Y. Ben-David says:

    Jorge-there is one problem with your analysis….the US with its nuclear arsenal isn’t going around threatening anyone in particular with them…the Iranians are always talking about eradicating countries they don’t like. and so we can only logically conclude that if they get “the big one”, they might use it to further their aims. Their Arab neighbors certainly seem nervous about it.

    Tony-I am still waiting for your list of instances when Avigdor Lieberman talked about “ethnic cleansing”.

  19. William Burns says:

    There has been open discussion in the US of using nuclear weapons on Iran in the form of “bunker busters.” And as long as we’re on the subject of lists, Y. Ben David, do you have a list of the occasions on which the Iranians have talked about eradicating countries they don’t like, or are you just relying on the same tired Ahmadinejad quote about Israel?

  20. Y. Ben-David says:

    Well, Mr Burns, let’s look at it this way. Suppose, you had a neighbor, a Mr Smith, and Smith keeps telling all your other neighbors how vile a person you, Mr Burns, are , how you are a lethal danger to all your neighbors, how you are going to “disappear”, how you have no right to exist, and then Mr Smith then says he is going to go out and buy a shotgun. Wouldn’t you, Mr Burns, be at least, a little bit nervous about Mr Smith’s intentions? Or would you agree with other neighbors who accuse you of being paranoid?

  21. William Burns says:

    In other words, you don’t have a list. Or look at it this way. You Mr. Ben-David, have noticed that the two houses on either side of you have been invaded by an armed gang. The leaders of this armed gang have terrifying weapons. They consistently refuse to rule out the possibility of using them on you, Mr. Ben-David, who they frequently denounce. They then loudly demand that you don’t acquire the same weapons yourself, while making noises about taking over your house themselves. Do you believe that their intentions are good?

  22. Y.Ben-David says:

    What is ironic is that the two states Mr Burns mentioned that the US intervened in (or, invaded, if you like) had regimes which were bitterly anti-Iranian (Saddam’s Iraq and the Taliban’s Afghanistan) so maybe the Iranians view the American’s overthrowing the previous regimes as a good thing. So I don’t know how good your analogy, considering both regimes in power in those countries want good relations with Iran, just like America’s other ally, Turkey, has, among other countries.

  23. William Burns says:

    Who cares what the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan want? What’s important to the Iranians is what America wants. If the American leadership wants to go to war with Iran, do you really think Karzai and whoever the current puppet is in Iraq are going to stop them?

    And “invaded” is the correct term.

  24. Matthew says:

    Subsumed in YBD’s nonsense is the rock-ribbed belief that some countries (Israel and the USA) can threaten other countries with impunity. Please note that Israel was threatening Iran long before Ahmadinejad became president.

  25. zed says:

    “Can you show me any place where Lieberman has called for the “ethnic cleansing” of the Israeli Arab population?”

    There’s this:

    “In May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel’s one million Arabs would “have to find a new Arab entity” in which to live beyond Israel’s borders. “They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost,” he said.”

    “So, Y. Ben David, how’s that innocent until proven guilty thing working out for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails?”

    Well, it could be worse. “Innocent until proven guilty” Lieberman has called for the drowning of all Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea.

    “In 2003, Ha’aretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to take them there.”
    (same source)

    But, please, don’t jump to the conclusion that Lieberman is a hateful racist, just because he says all sorts of hateful racist things. You’ll hurt Ben-David’s feelings, and his strong sense of fairness and justice ( for Israeli bigots only).

  26. yo ppl i cannot wait for the expendables the movie to come out! Its going to be awesome!

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