Who is going to bomb whom first? Israel or Iran? Listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s almost daily warnings of an Iranian secret plan to build a nuclear bomb makes one wonder if doomsday is really near.
Since the negotiations were launched between the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, Russia, China + Germany) and Iran — following the victory of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the 2013 presidential polls — over Tehran’s nuclear programme, Israel has significantly intensified its campaign with a view to disarm Iran of its capability to produce a nuclear bomb.
This would include options of attacking nuclear facilities in Iran as Israel had done to Iraq’s nuclear reactors in 1981. Netanyahu has ever since maintained his stance that ‘any deal’ with Iran is a ‘bad deal’, repeatedly claiming that Tehran’s intention is to build the bomb.
Iran’s interest in developing nuclear capability is not new. It began with direct help from the US long before its former monarch, the Shah, was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution in February 1979.
Netanyahu began talking about Iran’s nuclear programme only since 1996. This has developed in the later years into a systematic campaign and has been whole-heartedly welcomed by Republicans in the US. This campaign reached its peak when Netanyahu delivered his controversial address to the Republican-dominated American Congress earlier this month.
Netanyahu’s speech and the exceptional honour bestowed upon him by the majority Republicans in both House of Representatives and in the Senate were considered an unprecedented insult against a sitting president in US history. Both the decision to invite Netanyahu and the actual invitation were taken without consulting US President Barack Obama, in defiance of protocol. This is the third such occasion when Netanyahu has been granted the opportunity to address the US Congress — this time on an invitation from the House Speaker, John Boehner, following the footsteps of only two leaders before him: Former British prime minister Winston Churchill (during and after the Second World War) and former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Though there is no immediate indication as to which direction Israel will take in dealing with Iran’s nuclear arsenal, many believe a Netanyahu-led government or a new Right-wing coalition may push Israel towards military action against Iran. With both Houses of the US Congress now fully under the control of Republicans, who are ready to embarrass Obama, an Israeli prime minister may find it reasonably tempting to hit Iran’s nuclear installations at some point in the near future.
Israel had rehearsed this more than three decades ago when its F-15 and F-16 fighter jets attacked the Osirak nuclear plant near the Iraqi capital Baghdad in June 1981, on the orders of the then Likud leader, Menachem Begin, who later said in a statement, justifying the attack, that the French-aided Osirak project represented “a mortal danger to the people of Israel”. In fact, Netanyahu has, on several occasions, used similar statements to describe Iranian efforts to build nuclear reactors.
However, two weeks after the Osirak attack, Israel admitted it had the capability of developing its own nuclear weapons. Subsequently, five years later, a former Israeli nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, was found guilty of espionage after he revealed in 1986 to the London-based newspaper, Sunday Times, that Israel had its own nuclear arsenal.
Amid all the fuss and noise currently emanating from Israel and its strong backers in the Republican-led US Congress about the “imminent” nuclear threat from Iran, the only country in the Middle East that is known to own fully operational nuclear weapons is Israel.
Therefore, it is quite legitimate and logical to question Israel’s present and future governments about their intention of using its real arsenal in the coming weeks and months. Will the Israeli government decide to bomb Iran? It is not unlikely and we should consider the latest appearance of Netanyahu in the US Congress as an encouraging sign for him to do so. The only explanation that one could derive from these persistent statements by the Israeli premier on the Iran nuclear issue is that these are aimed at preparing the ground for an attack on Iran.
Two full-page ads in New York Times on March 2 and in the Washington DC-based newspaper the Hill, on March 3, signed by 2,600 Jewish American personalities, were significantly published in protest against such an eventuality.
The ads, organised by the San Francisco-based Jewish ‘Tikkun’ peace project organisation, called on Netanyahu to stop messing with American affairs and drag the US into a completely undesirable war. “No, Mr Netanyahu,” the ads run, “the American people do not want a war with Iran, and American Jews do not support your efforts to undermine the Obama Administration’s negotiation with Iran.” Finally, any attack on Iran may delay its nuclear programme, but it will not necessarily curtail its ambitious plans to assert further its regional influence.
Mustapha Karkouti is a former president of the Foreign Press Association, London.