The Iranian nuclear question, Yom Hashoah and the controversy surrounding a recent poem by Gunter Grass, were the backdrop for a recent long interview Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave to the German newspaper Welt am Sontag.
In the interview, published on April 22, Netanyahu explained to the German audience what offended Israel most about Grass’ poem “What Must be Said” – which depicted Israel as a potentially genocidal aggressor against Iran. Under questioning, the Prime Minister also defended his positions on the risks of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Later in the interview, he rebuffed claims that the continued existence of West Bank settlements are harming the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.
On Grass, he stated:
Welt am Sonntag: In a strange reversal of history Israelis today seem to be much less critical about Germany than Germans are towards Israel. Just take the issue of Günter Grass. His poem was rejected by most of the German media, but his words seem to have resonated more widely in the German public. How do you explain that?
Netanyahu: First of all I think what Grass says is an absolute outrage. That it comes from a German Nobel laureate and not from a teenager in a Neo-Nazi party makes it all the more outrageous. And it demands a very strong response. I think what Grass has said shows a collapse of moral clarity.
He has created a perfect moral inversion where the aggressor becomes the victim and the victim becomes the aggressor. Where those who try to defend themselves against the threat of annihilation become the threat to world peace. And where the firefighter and not the arsonist is the real danger.
Here is a simple fact that apparently has eluded Mister Grass: Israel doesn’t seek to destroy Iran, Iran seeks to destroy Israel and openly calls for it and works for it by building atomic bombs for that expressed purpose.
The Prime Minister put German society on the defensive by judging them on how they respond – collectively and individually – to Grass’ poem.
Netanyahu: [The controversy over Grass’ poem] touches on the basic reversal of the truth. And coming from someone with Grass’ stature in Germany is very upsetting, very disconcerting. Now the question is: do people accept this or not?
People have to respond to this. A lot of Jews ask themselves: ,If I had been in the Holocaust, how would I have acted? What would I have done? Would I have responded? Would I have organized to save ourselves?’ Every Jew asks himself this question.
Welt am Sonntag: And every German asks himself the other question.
Netanyahu: And every German must ask himself the question: How would I have behaved? Would I have raised my voice in opposition, would I have acted silently in other ways to obstruct the Nazi machine or would I go along with it? And today the issue is not the attacks on the Jews but the violent attack on the Jewish State which is accompanied by the same vilification, the same slanders. Where you believe anything about Israel even though it is easily verifiable that it is false.
Today what has happened is that the most violent attacks on the Jews have been replaced by the most violent and absurd attacks on the Jewish state. And the real question that people have to ask themselves is: Would I have believed those vilifications and slanders about the Jewish people at the time because that vilification always precedes complicity.
And those now who agree with Günter Grass about the Jewish state should ask themselves if they wouldn’t have agreed with the slanders against the Jewish people in the time of the Holocaust.
In the interview, Netanyahu also defended his decision to invoke comparisons to the existential threat to Jewish life posed by pre-Holocaust Nazi Germany and today’s Iran in recent speeches at the AIPAC conference in Washington as well on Yom Hashoah in Jerusalem.
Welt am Sonntag: In your speech for the opening ceremony of Holocaust Memorial Day you seemed to speak almost more about Iran than about the Holocaust. And in the last few months you and other Israeli politicians and officials have with increasing frequency and urgency warned that time is running out on this issue. Has this become so urgent that it keeps you up at night?
Netanyahu: Well, it certainly keeps me busy and sometimes busy at night as well. Let me first tell you what the similarities are and what the dissimilarities are: The similarities are the calls for the destruction of the Jewish people. In the 1930s we were powerless to act, we were powerless to speak up against it. We had no representation among the councils of the nations. Well, today we do. This of course is where the similarities end.
Then there was a call of our destruction by some insane ideology of a master race and today there is a call for our destruction by an insane ideology of a master religion. But the difference is that today we have the capacity to defend ourselves. Defend ourselves also in the court of public opinion – which is what I’m doing right now. And defend ourselves physically – if the need arises. That’s my number one task and mission: To defend my people. So that the horrors of the past cannot be repeated.
Welt am Sonntag: From your speech one could get the impression that the moment Iran has acquired a nuclear bomb, you are certain they will attack Israel. Do you believe Iran is actually actively planning this?
Netanyahu: There is no question they are committed to our destruction. There is no question they will do everything in their power to do this. Look at what they’re doing without nuclear weapons: They’ve engulfed us with two poisonous tentacles: Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon. They’re supplying them with tens of thousands of rockets, thousands of which have already been fired on our cities, our homes.
They’re putting in more and more sophisticated weapons there and are developing more and more deadly weapons in Iran. And they’re quite open about their express purpose of wiping Israel off the face of the earth. They also say this is the first stop. We are the small Satan, America is the great Satan. And they attack us because we represent this liberal, to them hedonistic and free western civilization.
After all they stone women, they hang gays – this is a backward, dark medieval regime that imposes its tyranny on its own people. Shoots them on the sidewalk, goes into theirs homes, culls the internet, takes people away at night. This is the regime that Günter Grass has elevated to the victim in his so called poem. This is moral clarity? This is absurd! This is absurd!!! This should ring a bell….
I’ve been talking about this for 16 years. In fact, when I first became prime minister I was invited to a joint meeting of the US-Congress and in the speech I said that the greatest threat facing mankind was the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons.
Some people raised eyebrows there. Now, in the 16 years that have passed Iran has moved closer and closer and closer to achieving, to developing atomic bombs and hasn’t changed its ideology. The world will change harshly for Germany and for all of us if Iran has nuclear weapons, also because of the ability to choke the oil markets.
Not only because of the ability to attack us – which, I believe, is their propensity to do. That has already been proven. But also because they will embolden militant Islamists everywhere in the world to believe that history changed and this backward and apocalyptic creed that they have actually has a chance of materializing. So you´ll see terrorism on a much greater scale than before.
Finally, and in ways the Prime Minister has rarely spelled out in public, Netanyahu knocked back the interviewer’s assertion that it was unimaginable that Iran would act in a self-destructive fashion and attempt to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon.
Welt am Sonntag: Iran might be a vile regime but it hasn’t proven to be a suicidal regime… German Dolfin submarines give Israel second strike capability. Why should Iran use an eventual bomb against Israel and risk getting destroyed in a counter attack?
Netanyahu: The great scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis form Princeton, he has said in one of his writings that for Iran’s clerical radical leadership the possibility of mutually assured destruction is not deterrence but an inducement. They have a peculiar and bizarre belief that the hidden Imam, a religious leader who disappeared a thousand years ago, would come back just about now in a hail of fire where a catastrophic exchange is required for his reappearance. And I would not bet on the rationality of this regime.
Remember, this is a regime that was born by violating one of the ancient rules: You don’t attack embassies. They attacked the American Embassy, they murdered diplomats worldwide, they support terrorism worldwide, they give weapons of great destruction to their proxies, they threaten to block the straits of Hormuz. They’re in Yemen, in the Horn of Africa, in North Africa, in Afghanistan where they’re helping kill Nato soldiers. They’re in South America.
This is what they’re doing, before they have nuclear weapons, imagine what they’ll do with nuclear weapons. I wouldn’t rely on the notion that deterrence works with people of this militancy. Because there is a big difference between them and the communists, who were also committed to world domination. But the Soviets were very different: They always put their survival before their ideology. Always!
Militant Islam produces battalions of suicide bombers. They blow themselves up in busses, they smash themselves into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon. You cannot be sure in the case of Iran that they wouldn’t reverse the order and put their ideology before their lives. They perfected the technique of suicide bombers.
Is there such a thing as a suicidal regime? You can’t rule it out. I would say that the greatest threat, the greatest challenge right now to world peace is the marriage of a militant Islamic regime with nuclear weapons: Either that a militant Islamic regime will meet up with nuclear weapons or the nuclear weapons will meet up with a militant Islamic regime.
The first danger is called Iran and the second danger is called a Taliban takeover of Pakistan. Either way, it will be a hinge of history: History will change, and for the worse.
For the rest of the interview, click here.