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The Politics of Nuclear War, Part 2

[1]3,375 words

Part 2 of 3

Portuguese translation here [2]

The Zionist and Islamic Bombs

The real focus of Ron Rosenbaum’s How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III [3] is Israel. This is the most interesting and bizarre part of the book. The weaknesses of Rosenbaum’s editorializing style become apparent when he loses his cool whenever the issue of the supposed nuclear threat against Israel comes up. Although I strongly disagree with nearly everything Rosenbaum has to say on the matter, I do agree with him on one point: in the current geopolitical reality, Israel is certainly the world’s nuclear flashpoint.

The book opens with the discussion of a curious incident that occurred on September 6, 2007, when it was reported that Israeli bombers had, without warning, struck a target deep inside Syria. The target was rumored to have something to do with “weapons of mass destruction,” but what made it odd is that neither Israel nor Syria was willing to acknowledge that anything had happened afterwards. Then, a few days later, a new layer was added to the mystery when North Korea issued a formal protest against the raid.

The most disturbing aspect of the story came a month later, however, when the British newspaper The Spectator ran an article[1] in which a “very senior British ministerial source” was quoted as saying that there would have been “mass panic” if the world had known how close we had come to World War III on that day. No specifics were given, but Rosenbaum speculates that what may have happened is that the Russians, who have long been strategic partners with Syria, might have made some sort of a threat to Israel in response to the raid, which led to Israel calling up its friends in the White House, which in turn may have led to some heated words between Washington and Moscow.

Rosenbaum makes much of this incident. I myself am uncertain how dire the situation really was on that day. The fact that the story came from a single, anonymous source is one damning factor. Also, I really can’t imagine that either Bush or Putin would have been reckless enough to risk all-out war over a Syrian WMD program – it just doesn’t seem like a worthwhile gamble for either side. On the other hand, two of the moments when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. nearly came to blows were as a result of nuclear threats made over the issue of Israel, in 1967 and again in 1973. And Rosenbaum notes that, according to a military periodical entitled AirForces Monthly, September 6, 2007 also happened to be the day that the largest Russian incursion into NATO-controlled airspace in recent years took place, involving eight Russian Tu-95 (nuclear-capable) bombers over the Barents Sea, which were intercepted by 20 NATO fighters that flew to within 25 feet of the Russian aircraft – a highly unusual and provocative maneuver. Admittedly, it is quite a coincidence. So perhaps it’s not as far-fetched as I would like to believe. If that is indeed the case, then the next Cuban Missile Crisis might very well come about as a result of a standoff in the Middle East.

As it was, the Syrian incident encapsulated many of the complex elements that factor into the politics of post-Cold War nuclear proliferation. Rosenbaum devotes one entire chapter of the book to an extended explication of the affair, focusing on an April 2008 CIA briefing about it. According to them, the U.S. had gathered evidence in the months before the raid that Syria was at work on a nuclear reactor that could also be used to manufacture enriched nuclear fuel, the most essential component in the construction of a nuclear weapon, and passed the information to the Israelis. The North Korean involvement came about because they were providing the fuel for the reactor, which had been shipped to Syria just hours before the raid. The raid was launched at that particular moment, according to the CIA, because the fuel had been delivered but not yet loaded into the reactor. Syria and Israel decided to refrain from publicly acknowledging the attack to avoid a situation where Syria would feel obligated to retaliate, which would in turn lead to a renewed cycle of violence along a border that had been kept pacified for over 30 years – an outcome both nations were eager to prevent. Interestingly, the CIA denied that the U.S. had had any involvement apart from providing the intelligence. However, in the summer of 2008, it was revealed that the Israelis had approached the White House in mid-2007 for permission to launch the raid and been turned down. As Rosenbaum points out, such denials are usually interpreted as being a tacit green light, since they provide the U.S. with plausible deniability.

So here we have all the elements of a drama that has been endlessly repeating itself since 1981, when an Israeli airstrike destroyed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak: a “rogue state” in the Middle East develops a nuclear energy program. The entire “First World” joins hands with Israel in condemning it, saying that the nation in question cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons (while many of them nurse arsenals of their own that number in the hundreds or thousands). Then the U.S. and Israel work together, either covertly, or not-so-covertly as in Iraq, to disarm the nation in question by any means necessary. As a drama, it’s getting boring, but it’s likely to be repeated over and over again, as it is now with Iran, until one of Israel’s enemies finally acquires a credible deterrent, as the Soviets did with the U.S. in the early years of the Cold War.

What makes the current situation different from the Cold War is, first, that the locus of all this turmoil, Israel, has never actually admitted to having any nuclear weapons of its own, even though considerable evidence has been amassed over the years showing that it does; and second, that none of the nations it is in conflict with has any. (One could argue that Pakistan is an exception, being the only Islamic country with a nuclear arsenal. It has even proudly dubbed its arsenal the “Islamic Bomb.” Rumor has it that Israel attempted to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear program in the 1980s but was foiled, either for political or tactical reasons. Regardless, Pakistan will have no interest in picking a fight with Israel so long as it remains focused on its rivalry with India, which shows no signs of abetting. To my knowledge, while relations are cool, neither Israel nor Pakistan has ever threatened to attack the other.) Moreover, from the standpoint of Europe and the United States, no Muslim country has the technological capability for delivering a nuclear device to their territories, even if a Muslim nation were to successfully develop them. So why is dialogue about the nuclear threat from the Muslim world always hysterical in tone?

Rosenbaum doesn’t approach this topic with this question in mind since, according to him, the paranoia is completely justified. As he writes in the book, “I don’t think it appropriate that I pretend to be dispassionate on this subject, considering my Jewish descent and having spent ten years of my life examining the origins of Hitler’s Holocaust.” And he certainly does not pretend. He describes himself as “a secular, liberal, nonobservant, non-Zionist American-born Jew with no immediate family members murdered in the Holocaust.” His tone is consistent with that of the “liberal interventionists” who came to prominence in America in the aftermath of 9/11. Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism, published in 2003, is an explication of their ideology: 1960s-style liberalism at home, but aggressive promotion of democracy and “human rights”[2] abroad, including through pre-emptive war – most particularly, of course, against those nations which are in opposition to Israel. The logic is straightforward: America is the best country in the world, and Israel is the lone outpost of American-style democracy in the Middle East; therefore, anything Israel does to protect its security is justified, and America should unquestioningly support it in all its efforts to do so.

Rosenbaum, however, doesn’t have much to say here about idealistic notions of spreading democracy – only the American public at large needs such justifications. His only concern, as is the Israeli establishment’s, is to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of Israel’s enemies. In their view, anything is justified to prevent this from happening. Rosenbaum quotes an Israeli historian, Benny Morris, who has written, “Sooner or later [Iran] will have enough nuclear weapons for an existential threat if the Israelis (or the Americans) don’t act first. And because the Israelis cannot dismiss the ideology of suicidal martyrdom embraced on a national level by some Iranian leaders, they will act.”[3]

I’ve never been entirely certain why some Israeli leaders and American neocons believe that, if an Islamic nation acquires a nuclear weapon, the first thing it will do is drop it on Tel Aviv, in spite of the fact that Iran’s leaders know that Israel doubtless has the ability to blow them to smithereens (more on that later), or, failing that, that the Americans will likely do it for them (during her 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton promised that the U.S. would “totally obliterate Iran” in the event of a nuclear attack on Israel, which is likely the prevailing view in Washington). I see it as part of the Zionists’ attempt to convince the world that Muslims are inherently unstable and reckless, which helps to whip up support for policies which ensure Israeli dominance of the region, as we have already witnessed with the Iraq War, which was initially framed as an act of self-defense, both for us and the Israelis, before it was reframed as a crusade for spreading democracy. Perhaps the Zionists really do believe their own rhetoric.

Personally, I don’t believe that the people and government of Iran, or any other nation, harbors a collective martyrdom complex. If they do manage to acquire nuclear weapons, it is more likely that they would use it to act as a deterrent against potential invaders. According to Rosenbaum, however, it was the failure of the world to take Hitler at his word in the 1920s and ’30s that led to the Holocaust, and therefore Israel should get a free pass to do whatever it likes against its enemies for reasons that may be real or imagined, and moreover, we should feel obligated to help them.

Rosenbaum doesn’t quote the rest of Benny Morris’ essay, but some of it is worth reproducing here:

[Ahmadinejad] is willing to gamble the future of Iran or even of the whole Muslim Middle East in exchange for Israel’s destruction. No doubt he believes that Allah, somehow, will protect Iran from an Israeli nuclear response or an American counterstrike. He may well believe that his missiles will so pulverize the Jewish state that it will be unable to respond. And, with his deep contempt for the weak-kneed West, he is unlikely to take seriously the threat of American nuclear retaliation. […]Israel’s leaders most likely will grit their teeth and hope that somehow things will turn out for the best. Perhaps, after acquiring the bomb, the Iranians will behave ‘rationally”? […]But the Iranians will launch their rockets. And, as with the first Holocaust, the international community will do nothing. It will all be over, for Israel, in a few minutes.

This passage can only be described as hysterical, since it has no basis in reality. The first untrue statement is that Ahmadinejad would order an attack on Israel. Even if Iran had nuclear weapons, the President has no authority to use military force – that power is reserved for the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Khamenei, who issued a fatwa in 2005 stating that the possession and use of nuclear weapons is contrary to Islamic law. (Moreover, Ahmadinejad’s term as President ends in June 2013, and he is ineligible to run for a third term.) It is also a fact that Iran has never launched an aggressive war in modern times. Then Morris attempts to convince us that Ahmadinejad is a loon, a typically cheap trick used by Zionists.

Then, as if this were not enough, he accuses the U.S. of not being a strong enough ally of Israel (and his essay was written in 2007, when Bush was still President). How anyone could cast aspersions on the willingness of the U.S. to back up its threats, after it has already toppled three Middle Eastern governments in recent years and is actively working against several others, is beyond me. It has always been apparent, when their rhetoric about America being their best friend is set aside, that Zionists don’t really have much respect for America or the American people, but know that they rely on our massive financial and armament subsidies for their continuing survival – but it’s rare that they make their sentiments known in such a blatant manner. I suppose Morris hopes that it will shock Americans out of their “lethargy” regarding Israel – and, tragically, most Americans, after decades of conditioning, will not see it for the insult that it actually is, but feel sympathetic.

As for the last sentences, they are yet another appeal to the fact that it should be obvious that Iranians are innately irrational and homicidal, and another rebuke against the rest of the world for not being even more blindly supportive of Israel. I’m sure many Americans who read his piece merely shook their heads at the incredible injustices that continue to be heaped upon the poor, innocent Israelis.

But Morris isn’t finished yet. He also writes:

Israel’s deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, has suggested that Iran doesn’t even have to use the bomb to destroy Israel. The nuclearization of Iran will so overawe and depress Israelis that they will lose hope and gradually emigrate, and potential foreign investors and immigrants will shy away from the mortally threatened Jewish state. But my feeling is that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his allies lack patience and seek Israel’s annihilation in their lifetime.

That’s right – even if Iran does build a bomb, but doesn’t immediately launch a suicidal attack, the end result will still be the same: the destruction of Israel. The moral we are supposed to get from this story is that no one in the Middle East can be trusted with nukes, even if they aren’t actually used, apart from the Israelis themselves, of course. (If Israeli morale is really so low that the mere fact of Iran possessing nuclear weapons is enough to make them pack up and leave, then I’d say they’re already done as a nation.)

Whenever Zionists and their supporters want to prove that Iran has genocidal intentions towards Israel, they repeat the mantra that, at the “World without Zionism” conference in October 2005, Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” This was actually a mistranslation perpetrated by the Israeli intelligence agency MEMRI, which exists solely to present highly inaccurate and biased translations of statements from Muslim leaders that are then used to prove that the world is out to get them.  In fact, Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan has convincingly argued that Ahmadinejad never said that, since there is no idiom for “wiped off the map” in Farsi. Quoting Cole: “[T]he actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. […] [I]t is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that ‘the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.’ It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.”[4]

Rosenbaum doesn’t mention the fact that there is disagreement about these translations. He accepts them at face value. He sympathetically quotes an Israeli jurist, Justus Reid Weiner, who wrote in 2006, “And yet there has been no effort to prosecute the incessant incitement to genocide – to a second Holocaust – of the Jewish people. No one outside Israel, and the U.S. has suggested that any of the Iranian leadership, or the leaders of Hamas, be prosecuted under international law for incitement to genocide.” Apparently Rosenbaum and Weiner feel that the draconian “hate speech” laws that are already in place in Western Europe should be applied globally, at least in reference to Jews.

The number of distortions regarding Iran’s nuclear program are so massive, and also publicly available, that it is amazing to me that more people aren’t aware of the wool being pulled over their eyes. The Christian Science Monitor published a timeline last year of the number of times that it has been claimed that Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons.  The U.S. and German governments have been making this claim since 1984, it turns out. Israel, and Netanyahu in particular, has been doing it since 1992. Indeed, on that occasion, he claimed that Iran was only 3 to 5 years away, and that their program had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”[5] Given his statements during the recent presidential election, it seems he hasn’t yet changed his tune. And yet Rosenbaum himself seeks to remind us in his book, “There are a few people on the planet who sincerely don’t believe Iran is seeking the ability to produce nuclear weapons. The stone age tribesmen of Papua New Guinea, for instance, are perhaps blessedly unaware of the possibility.” When logic fails, emotional appeals to the supposed obviousness of the matter are the last refuge of a debater who realizes he has failed to make his case.

He also doesn’t hesitate to engage in fiction to persuade the reader. He speculates about what the outcome of an American strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be. “Iran would retaliate, in the Persian Gulf, taking out U.S. aircraft carriers and battleships with Chinese Silkworm missiles, obliterating shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, destroying the Saudi oil refineries and with them much of the West’s energy supplies, not to mention – depending on the time frame – sending a Shehab-3 ballistic missile or two or more heading toward Israel, Western Europe, and, for all we knew, the Western Hemisphere as well.” I’m no expert on the matter – his scenario for the Middle East might well be accurate, but what caught my eye was his statement that the Iranians might launch missiles towards the U.S., considering that the Iranians possess nothing even resembling an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) at this point. The Shehab-3 that he specifically mentions has a stated maximum range of 1,200 miles (and some experts have claimed even that may be an exaggeration) – just barely enough to hit Israel, but far, far short of Europe or North America. But still, a reader who doesn’t bother to follow up on this will come away from it believing that Iran has the capacity to attack the U.S. on its own soil, which is simply not true and is unlikely to become true anytime soon.

The thing that really incenses Rosenbaum, however, is the fact that the U.S.’s 2007 National Intelligence Estimate stated that Iran halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. According to him, this was completely inaccurate. Rosenbaum cites some members of the intelligence community who have subsequently said that this only related to warhead design, but that Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear fuel enrichment and longer-range missiles were continuing. That’s interesting, but it still seems difficult to imagine how Iran will fulfill its supposed dream of wiping out Israel without a functional warhead.


[1] James Forsyth and Douglas David, “We came so close to World War Three that day,” in The Spectator (October 3, 2007), available at www.spectator.co.uk/features/222736/we-came-so-close-to-world-war-three-that-day/ [4].

[2] This ideology has been skewered in two of Arktos’ recent “New Right” publications, Alain de Benoist’s Beyond Human Rights (2011) and Pierre Krebs’ Fighting for the Essence (2012).

[3] Benny Morris, “The Second Holocaust,” in The New York Sun (January 22, 2007), available at http://www.nysun.com/opinion/second-holocaust/47111/ [5].

[4] Juan Cole, “Hitchens the Hacker; And, Hitchens the Orientalist And, ‘We don’t Want Your Stinking War!’”, at Informed Comment (May 3, 2006), available at http://www.juancole.com/2006/05/hitchens-hacker-and-hitchens.html [6].

[5] Scott Peterson, “Imminent Iran Nuclear Threat? A Timeline of Warnings Since 1979,” The Christian Science Monitor (November 8, 2011), available at www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/1108/Imminent-Iran-nuclear-threat-A-timeline-of-warnings-since-1979/Israel-paints-Iran-as-Enemy-No.-1-1992 [7].