Brewing calamity

Ted Lapkin

Courier Mail – April 24, 2006

“The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”
Sound familiar?
But these are not the genocidal rantings of crisis-present uttered by Iran’s Jew-hater in chief, President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad.
Rather, they are the genocidal rantings of crisis-past uttered by Egyptian government radio. And precisely 39 years ago they helped to ignite a regional war that totally reshaped the political landscape of the Middle East.
The brewing calamity that is being triggered by Iran’s nuclear aspirations might well turn out to be a blast from the past: both metaphorically and literally. The flow of current Middle Eastern events resembles nothing quite so much as the reign of error and miscalculation that led to the Six Day War.
Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser lit the fuse on May 16, 1967 by ordering the eviction of a UN peacekeeping force stationed along the Sinai border with Israel.
Further fuel for the fire was added by President Rahman Aref of Iraq, who declared in a radio address: “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy that has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map.”
And these bellicose words were matched by equally belligerent action. Nasser violated maritime law by threatening to sink Israeli merchant vessels sailing through international waters at the Straits of Tiran.
He signed a military alliance with Jordan and moved the bulk of Egypt’s army into the vacated UN positions adjacent to the Jewish state.
But Israel was disinclined to give its Arab neighbours the leeway required to bring these threats to fruition. And on June 5, 1967, Israeli fighter pilots destroyed Nasser’s air force on the ground during a pre-emptive attack against Egyptian airbases.
By the time the dust settled, Israeli troops stood on the Golan Heights, on the West Bank and along the banks of the Suez Canal. The armies of Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq stood decisively vanquished.
A lot of water has flowed under the Jordan River’s Abdullah Bridge since the Six Day War. But when it comes to existential danger, the Jewish state is no more willing to temporise now than it was then.
The Arab sabres being rattled in 1967 were of the conventional military variety – tanks, planes and artillery pieces. But an operational Iranian nuclear program will place weapons of infinitely greater lethality in the hands of an infinitely more fanatical regime.
Earlier this month Ahamadinajad issued the latest instalment in his ongoing campaign of annihilationist threats against Israel.
Speaking at a pro-Palestinian conference, the Iranian president declared: “Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation. The Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm.”
The Iranian leader’s fire and brimstone rhetoric was bad enough on its own demerits. But his comments took on a half-life of their own when mushroom storm clouds of the type Ahmadinajad had in mind were sighted just over the horizon.
Last week Teheran proudly announced that its scientists successfully had jumped one of the most important hurdles on the path to a complete nuclear fuel cycle – uranium enrichment.
Iran’s newly enriched uranium is not yet weapons grade, so this development may be only one small step for the mullahs’ program to wipe Israel off the map.
But anything that constitutes progress towards Iranian nuclear self-sufficiency is a giant leap backward down the slippery slope towards military confrontation.
Professor Christopher Layne of Texas A&M University argues that the problem of a nuclear-armed Iran can be managed through Cold War diplomatic principles.
But deterrence only works when the people on both sides of the table share common values.
The Iranian “mullahcracy” and the West aren’t even reading from the same playbook, much less being on the same page.
Ahmadinajad’s apocalyptic rhetoric seems to embody a chiliastic yearning for the global catastrophe that is a necessary theological precursor to the return of the Mahdi – the Islamic messiah.
It is highly doubtful that the logic of high-stakes brinkmanship will apply to the jihadists who are at the helm of the Iranian state.
And with nuclear weapons in the mix, the stakes are far too high for such a level of doubt to be acceptable. The unholy conjunction of genocidal intent with practical means of implementation is not something that any nation would tolerate.
Israel was prepared to wage war four decades ago to protect itself against Egyptian armoured divisions perched on its doorstep. And no one should doubt the willingness of the Jewish state to secure its self-preservation today.
The mullahs in Teheran would do well to remember the admonition of Harvard philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
If the present crisis is to end, not with a bang, but a whimper, the Iranians must be dissuaded from their nuclear folly.
Ted Lapkin is director of policy analysis at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council