August 17, 2012
Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
Maintaining Israel’s independence of action – in face of Iran’s nuclear threat – is consistent with Israeli/Jewish history, with common sense, regional stability and with the enhancement of vital US national security interests. On the other hand, surrendering Israel’s inalienable right of self-defense would undermine Israel’s sovereignty, erode its posture of deterrence, jeopardize its existence, fuel regional chaos and undermine US interests in the Middle East.
On June 3, 1967, President Johnson pressured Prime Minister Eshkol against preempting the pro-Soviet Egypt-Syria-Jordan military axis, which threatened the survival of moderate Arab regimes (e.g., Saudi Arabia) and Israel’s existence. Johnson advised that “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go alone. We cannot imagine that [Israel] will make this decision.”
Johnson warned that a unilateral Israeli military preemption could trigger severe regional turmoil, transform Israel into a belligerent state, and preclude assistance by the USA. Johnson refrained from implementing the 1957 unilateral and multilateral guarantees issued to Israel by Eisenhower. He insisted that Israel should rely on the diplomatic-multilateral option.
Eshkol defied Johnson. He preempted the anti-US Arab axis; devastated a clear and present danger to vital Western interests; rescued the House of Saud from the wrath of Nasser; expedited the end of the pro-Soviet Nasser regime and the rise of the pro-US Sadat regime in Egypt; dealt a major setback to Soviet interests; and demonstrated Israel’s capability to snatch the hottest chestnuts out of the fire, without a single US boot on the ground. He transformed the image of Israel from a national security consumer (a client state) to a national security producer (a strategic ally).
Eshkol realized that a defiant national security policy – in defense of the Jewish State – yielded a short-term political and diplomatic spat with the US, but resulted in a long-term national security upgrade and dramatically enhanced strategic respect.
From time immemorial, the Jewish People has faced powerful adversities in asserting its sovereignty over the Land of Israel, and by undertaking unilateral national security actions. Conviction-driven defiance of adversity has earned the Jewish People deep respect.
Israel’s contemporary history demonstrates that dramatic national security enhancement requires unilateral actions, in defiance of regional and global powers.
For example, in 1948/9, Prime Minister Ben Gurion declared independence, annexed Western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, initiated wide construction in Jerusalem and refused to end “occupation” of the Negev and absorb Arab refugees, in defiance of a US military embargo, the threat of US economic sanctions and significant domestic Dovish opposition. Ben Gurion’s steadfastness led General Omar Bradley, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs-of-Staff in 1952, to recommend reconsideration of Israel as a major ally in the Middle East.
In 1967, Prime Minister Eshkol reunited Jerusalem and launched construction projects in eastern Jerusalem, in the face of US, global and domestic opposition.
In 1977, Prime Minister Begin’s initiative to negotiate directly with Egypt, circumvented President Carter’s initiative to convene an international conference, which intended to focus on the Palestinian issue and Jerusalem.
In 1981, Prime Minister Begin concluded that the cost of a nuclear Iraq would dwarf the cost of preempting Iraq. He realized that diplomacy would not stop Iraq’s nuclearization, and that most Arab/Muslim countries considered a nuclear Iraq to be a lethal threat. Therefore, he preempted, destroying Iraq’s nuclear reactor, in spite of the US threat of a military embargo and a nasty diplomatic US reproach, worldwide condemnation and vocal domestic opposition, especially by national security circles.
Begin’s daring unilateral initiative in 1981averted regional chaos, sparing the US a nuclear confrontation in 1991, which would have devastated vital US human, economic and military concerns.
In 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu is aware that sanctions against Iran are inherently ineffective due to non-compliance by Russia, China, India, Japan and some European countries. He recognizes that sanctions provide Iran with extra-time to develop/acquire nuclear capabilities. He knows that sanctions did not prevent Pakistan’s and North Korea’s nuclearization. He concluded that Iran’s time-to-develop/acquire is unpredictable and uncontrollable. He realizes that a nuclear Iran would doom the pro-US Gulf regimes; would traumatize the supply and price of oil; would accelerate nuclear proliferation; would provide a tailwind to Islamic terrorism and scores of sleeper cells in the US; and would entrench Iran’s military foothold in America’s backyard – Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Mexico. He understands that a military preemption – with no boots on the ground – is a prerequisite for regime change in Iran. Just like Begin, Netanyahu is convinced that the cost of a nuclear Iran would dwarf the personal, diplomatic, political, economic and military cost of preempting Iran.
Just like the aforementioned Prime Ministers, Netanyahu is cognizant of the cardinal Jewish proverb: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If not now, when? (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14).”