Larry Snider

Is Netanyahu a “Madman?”

I’ve thought and read a lot about Middle East Peace and slowly reached some conclusions. I’ve heard security stated as a rational for everything you can imagine and some things it would do you well not to.

The existential stuff appears to be self-evident. Or is it? Politicians and pundits here in America as well as in Israel have been known to stretch the usage of the term existential threat to cover all kinds of situations from the death of civilians in Libya to the ability of Iran to manufacture and deliver a nuclear bomb. The later appears to get the attention of almost everyone. But then again people focus on things like cost/benefit analysis and the projected number of casualties involved in launching a pre-emptive strike.

Recently, Yuval Diskin, the former Director of Shabak characterized Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak as messianic in their feelings toward Iran:

“I have no faith in the prime minister, nor in the defence minister,” Diskin said in the remarks broadcast by Israeli media on Saturday. “I really don’t have faith in a leadership that makes decisions out of messianic feelings.” Reuters April 28, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about this particular existential threat and how it has superseded the peace process and become the elephant in the room overwhelming almost all other considerations regarding the welfare of the State of Israel.

Before Diskin spoke Israeli Military Chief of Staff General Benny Gantz gave an interview to Amos Harel of Haaretz that has been used to convey a variety of messages. The critical quote in its entirety is as follows:

Iran, Gantz says, “is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn’t yet decided whether to go the extra mile.”

As long as its facilities are not bomb-proof, “the program is too vulnerable, in Iran’s view. If the supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants, he will advance it to the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, but the decision must first be taken. It will happen if Khamenei judges that he is invulnerable to a response. I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people. But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.” Haaretz April 25, 2012

It must be said that the Prime Minister has been focused on this threat for a long time: On November 13, 2006 he spoke before an audience of the United Jewish Communities in Los Angeles and said:

“It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany and it is arming itself with atomic weapons. Can we do anything to stop it? Yes we can.”

And then Netanyahu ended his speech by saying:

“Iran’s nuclear ambitions must be stopped. They have to be stopped. We all have to stop it now. That’s the one message I have for you today.”

He has remained on message for a long time because he unmistakably believes that a nuclear Iran represents an existential threat to Israel, the Middle East and the entire world. Is it necessary to strike Iran first as Israel did to Iraq’s Osiraq Reactor in 1981? Can Israel do enough damage to cripple Iran’s nuclear program or only cause it to re-double its efforts with the added support of additional anti-Zionist anti-Western nations? Can it do it alone? What will be the response of Iran and its proxies? Would the Iranians strike at international targets? What would Israel’s allies do in the aftermath of a pre-emptive attack and counter attack that included international targets? What about sanctions? Is it still possible to stop Iran by applying increasingly tough sanctions?

These are all hard questions and the answers I’ve seen not only represent multiple views but a wide variety of acceptable and unacceptable outcomes that nobody can frankly be sure of. It seems to me that the greatest good is accomplished by putting the nuclear genie back in the bottle and building a system of carrots and sticks that Iran simply cannot afford to ignore and will be required to respond to in a manner that disposes for the foreseeable future of the threat. That’s a tall order with the clock ticking and the international community moving slowly. I believe that just maybe there is a positive translation of Diskin’s diagnosis of his former bosses: Some forty years ago Nixon and Kissinger devised a theory to scare the heck out of the North Vietnamese and the Chinese and get them to the negotiating table that he nicknamed “the Madman Theory.”  It was that Nixon had his finger on the nuclear trigger and you never know whether he’ll push the button to end the Vietnam War. Is it possible that Netanyahu and Barak are working overtime to convince the Obama Administration and other leaders that they are ready and willing to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran so that the leaders will take them seriously enough to impose a truly heavy sanctions regime and offer something positive that the Iranians want/need in lieu of opening Pandora’s box and allowing the consequences of a conflagration? What choice do they have?


The words here represent the beliefs of the author and should not be construed as the policy of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace.

About the Author
Larry Snider was President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace a non-profit based in suburban Philadelphia. Today he lives in New Jersey and is a Board Member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey.