The Age online – October 16, 2009
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is playing a dangerous game. If he’s not careful, he may find his country embroiled in military conflict.
Why? Because history is filled with people making threats against Jews and then attempting to carry them out. But these days, Jews defend themselves.
Iran’s nuclear program, its frequent missile tests, its fiery anti-Israel rhetoric and its constant Holocaust denials are making Israel very apprehensive.
Apprehensive not only of Iran’s actions, but also because the world isn’t doing much about them. This is leading Israel to a realisation that it may have to act alone to ensure its survival. The world should be doing everything it can to avoid such an outcome, but it’s not.
Clearly, the world hasn’t learned last century’s lessons.
In the 1960s, Egyptian president Gamal Abd al-Nasser sponsored cross border attacks to kill Israeli soldiers and civilians. In May 1967, he positioned 80,000 troops next to the Israeli border, demanded UN peacekeepers there leave (tellingly, they did) and closed the Red Sea to Israeli shipping (an act of war). He crowed that Israel would shortly be wiped out.
Had the peacekeepers stayed, war would not have been inevitable.
Rather than wait for Egypt to finish its preparations for Holocaust Mark II, Israel acted first; the Six Day War was the result.
Some academics contend that Nasser didn’t intend to go to war. They suggest his fiery rhetoric and troop build up was more about staking his claim to leadership of the Arab world than it was about destroying the Jewish state.
These academics claim that Nasser didn’t actually think the peacekeepers would leave as requested. They claim he knew his forces weren’t strong enough to defeat Israel.
All this may be true (though it doesn’t explain why Nasser closed the Red Sea to Israeli shipping, which Israel had stated time and again was a casus belli). The point, however, is one of perceptions.
Israelis, with memories of the Holocaust (in which a country threatened to wipe out the Jews, then proceeded to do so because no one tried to stop it), was faced by another country declaring its aim to do the same thing. Israelis saw this country preparing militarily to act on its promises of genocide. They saw the international community, embodied by the UN, scurry out of the way to avoid getting its hands dirty by preventing war (which is why the UN was created). They perceived no one would save them but themselves, and that inaction would mean death. And so they acted. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or, it should be.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made a career out of his fiery rhetoric demanding Israel be destroyed and takes great delight in denying the Holocaust occurred. That’s one historical parallel with Nasser’s Egypt.
Iran arms, trains and funds organisations that launch cross border attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. In 1964, Egypt oversaw the creation of the PLO. In 1982, Iran oversaw the creation of Hezbollah. Today, Iran is also the principal sponsor of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have fired thousands of rockets into Israeli towns.
Iran is developing a nuclear program, and keeping key nuclear facilities from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Schematics showing how to create a nuclear warhead have been found in Iranian possession. Much of the world, including Israel, believes Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran has developed and is continually testing missiles capable of both carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching Israel. Like Egypt in 1967, it is readying and deploying the tools needed to act on its threats.
Finally, like 1967, the international community today talks and talks, but takes no concrete action to prevent the coming violence. In 1967 that meant keeping peacekeepers on the ground. Today it means imposing meaningful sanctions. We all recently witnessed the hundreds of thousands of Iranians that took to the streets over fake election results. Iranians aren’t happy. Imagine their reaction if meaningful sanctions were imposed with a single condition – end your illegal nuclear activities. The regime’s choice would be losing its nuclear program or losing its grip on power. Either result is good.
Only Israeli concerns have been dealt with here. But Arab countries are equally terrified of Iranian intentions. Iran is Shiite and Persian (that is, non-Arab). The Arab countries are mostly Sunni, and are frantically lobbying the US to stop Iran. Some of these countries, notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have recently announced their own “peaceful” nuclear programs, in preparation for a possible future that includes a nuclear Iran. A nuclear arms race in an already instable region, and location of oil reserves still vital to the world’s economy, would be disastrous for the entire world.
There are those who still insist that Iranian actions are not threatening; that it’s all a big misunderstanding. And there are those who still insist that Nasser was misunderstood in 1967, and that his statement: “We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand; we shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood,” meant no harm to Israelis.
People with their heads in the sand will be surprised and duly outraged if Israelis realise, once again, that no one will protect them but themselves, and decide to act.
I don’t want another Middle Eastern war. Nor does Israel. But, as we saw in the 1930s and ’60s, if the world doesn’t prevent a genocidal regime from pursuing its stated intentions, war becomes unavoidable. It’s time for the world to act and stop Iran.