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The Other Existential Threat (Commentary Magazine article)

September 30, 2010

In August, two pieces of news about Iran’s nuclear ambitions were revealed almost simultaneously. The first was that Iran had fired up its first nuclear reactor. The second, delivered in an ostentatious leak to the New York Times, was that the Obama administration had determined that Iran was at least a year away from a dash necessary to complete a working nuclear weapon and that the White House had succeeded in convincing Israel that there was no imminent threat.

The reactor news suggested the seriousness with which Iran was pursuing its nuclear ambitions. The story suggested the degree to which the United States was determined not to view the working Iranian reactor as a crisis requiring immediate and determined attention. Despite the Times article’s sense of certainty that Israel’s leaders had achieved a state of sangfroid about the approaching danger, the August news unquestionably accelerated the sense inside the Jewish state that action against Iran would be unavoidable, and that Israelis would not be delivered from the overwhelming burden of taking action themselves.

It is critical to explain precisely the danger posed to Israel by a decision to strike Iran without question the most difficult, complex, and perilous military mission in the state’s 62-year history. One need only recall the universal condemnation of Israel’s 1981 attack on the Iraqi reactor at Osirak and the more muted, but still palpable, criticism of Israel’s destruction of Syria’s nuclear-reactor-in-progress in 2007 to imagine the scope of the worldwide outrage that would follow Israeli attacks on Teheran’s nuclear facilities and infrastructure likely causing in the process far greater civilian casualties than did either of those previous missions. The claim that Israel had to act to prevent a nuclear attack on its cities would be quickly dismissed: With an appreciable nuclear arsenal of its own, Israel has second-strike capabilities that would almost certainly have prevented Teheran from attacking first, it will be said. And, many would insist, why didn’t repeated American assurances that the U.S. would resoundingly punish any attack on Israel stay the Jewish state’s hand? What possible justification could there be for Israel’s precipitous military action?

What must be understood is that the threat toIsrael is not that Iran will one day�use the bomb. No, Iran merely needs to�possess the bomb to undermine the central purpose of Israel’s existence and in so doing, to reverse the dramatic change in the existential condition of the Jews that 62 years of Jewish sovereignty has wrought. The mere possession of a nuclear weapon by Iran would instantly restore Jews to the status quo ante before Jewish sovereignty, to a condition in which their futures would depend primarily on the choices their enemies and not Jews themselves make.

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