Ram: "Israel and the Iranian Threat"
Haggai Ram writes in a guest editorial for IC:
Before, during and after the recent UN General Assembly meeting, the Israeli government, much like Sisyphus, who was condemned to repeat forever a meaningless task, once again stepped up its campaign against Iran’s nuclear program. The immediate objective is patently clear: to push the United Nations Security Council to expand sanctions against Iran and perhaps also to lay down the justification for a future Israeli preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The tactic used is not new either. It consists of a well known, well orchestrated endeavor to conjure up a radioactively reified picture of Iran as a Nazi Germany-like power obsessively bent on making good on its alleged pledge to have the Jewish state “wiped off the map.” Thus, on a recent trip to Russia Israeli President Shimon Peres described the prospects of an Iranian nuclear bomb in ominous terms as “a flying concentration camp”; and Netanyahu, while on a trip to Germany, warned Iran that Israel will not allow “those who wish to perpetrate mass deaths, those who call for the destruction of the Jewish people or the Jewish state, to go unchallenged.”
In assessing the Jewish state’s unrelenting recourse to drawing analogies between Iran and Nazi Germany, one should not dismiss the genuine feelings of vulnerability among Israelis stemming from the trauma of the Jewish Holocaust during World War II. This explains, in part, why despite Israel’s overwhelming military superiority and its own nuclear arsenal, Israeli Jews today are deeply concerned about the likelihood of an impending “second” Holocaust. However misplaced and exaggerated, the reality of such feelings, their importance, must be recognized.
Persistently voicing venomous anti-Israel rhetoric and allegedly pursuing nuclear weapons capabilities, the Iranian government, no doubt, has not been helpful in reducing these misplaced anxieties. To these we should add the reverberations of the electoral earthquake that has shaken the Islamic republic to its core since last June. Indeed, the fraudulent presidential elections and their aftermath have demonstrated to the Israelis the brutal force which that government is prepared to unleash — even against its own people — in order to ensure its survival.
Yet one should also not ignore the dubious dividends that the Israeli government now expects to reap from producing such tenuous analogies. It is no secret that the Obama administration has been exploring ways to bringing about the resumption of the long-stalled Middle East talks. To that end, it has mounted pressure on Israel to agree to a partial freeze on the construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian land. By playing up the purported genocidal threat issuing from Iran, the Netanyahu government thus hopes to avoid making any concessions that are likely to bring about a meaningful breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. "The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not," as an Israeli official recently told The Guardian.
In my recent book, Iranophobia (2009), I have demonstrated how the Jewish state has time and again (ab)used the specter of the “Iranian threat” in order to cover up, and divert attention away from, both domestic oversights and the continuing apartheid regime in the Palestinian territories. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s incumbent Foreign Minister, is a case in point. When asked in the wake of the devastation that the Israeli military had sown in Gaza last year, “What you think is the first most strategic threat to Israel,” Lieberman responded: “Iran, Iran, Iran… As long as there’s no solution to the Iranian problem we will deal with neither the settlements nor the settlers… Only after we will have taken care of … Iran it will become possible to talk about… the problem in Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights.”
These fanciful expressions concerning the existential threat posed to Israel by Iran are misleading for two reasons: First, because when compared to the extraordinary misery and depredation which the Iranian government has exacted on its own people, the actual threat which it poses to the Jewish state pales into insignificance; and second, because such expressions have thus far enabled the Jewish state to exacerbate, rather than help to alleviate, the Palestinian problem. It is this yet-to-be resolved problem — and not Iran — that presents the Jewish state with the most serious challenge to its survival.
Haggai Ram teaches the history of the Middle East at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. His most recent book is Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession (Stanford University Press, 2009).