Great moments in history require mere politicians to become great statesmen (or stateswomen). This present historic juncture is one of those moments. Israel has faced great challenges in the past, but with this US president and his supporters in the US Congress, the very future of Israel and the world have been put into question. The mother lode of all worst-case scenarios is a Middle East nuclear arms race. This will not only affect the Middle East, but also will involve the distinct possibility of a global nuclear chain reaction to include the entire Eurasian landmass, and with it North America.
A nuclear arms race in as unstable a region as the Middle East can only lead to disaster. But for a country as small as Israel (the size of Joe Biden’s Delaware, if you exclude the unpopulated Negev Desert) one nuclear bomb becomes a serious existential threat. The great Jewish population center of the 21st century stretches along a narrow beachhead one hundred miles long and only nine miles wide. This miniscule strip is a sliver of territory when compared to Iran, Egypt, Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Within this geographic framework, the margin of error through nuclear deterrent strategy becomes literally impossible to project with any semblance of assurance. And although error is less than a commonplace occurrence between nuclear powers, it only takes one error to trigger an apocalyptic exchange. In this type of unstable environment, with a multiplicity of potential nuclear powers, mutually-assured destruction will probably become outflanked by futuristic defensive weaponry, non-communication, and a hair-trigger first-strike capacity.
But error is not the only danger. Nuclear transference, regime fragility through internal instability, direct invasion, proxy war, regional sectarian war, and transnational religious terrorism are also dangers. How would “rational” MAD (mutually assured destruction) work in such an environment? The Middle East is a cauldron of ethnic, religious, and established nation-state instability. Why any politician in his (or her) right mind would risk the introduction of a nuclear arms race into such a region is beyond understanding. Yet this American president and his supporters in Congress are ready to take just such a risk, as long as such a disaster doesn’t happen on their watch. It is called legacy, and it seems so vital to this president. But what kind of legacy is it? What is a mere decade or two in the life of a civilization that is thousands of years old? I guess for a young and adolescent nation like the US (only two hundred and twenty-five years old) a decade or two seems like a lot, but in the Middle East it’s next to nothing.
The Persians are a five-thousand year old civilization. They created Zoroastrianism, which influenced Judaism and Christianity, and they essentially shaped Shiite Islam into their own unique mold. They have an advanced civilization and a population which is forward-looking and quite capable of scientific advancement. However the religious regime which claims to represent this population, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is virulently anti-Semitic and hell-bent on regional domination. Its history of Holocaust denial and its vicious threats to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth” are reasons enough to deny such a regime any nuclear capacity. The regime also proudly boasts that it is in control of four Arab capitals, as its hegemonic tentacles now stretch from Tehran to the Mediterranean. For anyone to allow such a regime to maintain a nuclear program — with all its weapon-making potential intact and ready to be unpacked as soon as the sunset clause kicks in — is nothing short of madness. The President of the United States himself has declared that within a short period of time (ten to thirteen years) Iran will possess a nuclear weapons breakout time of mere weeks.
Israel cannot stop this bad nuclear deal without the help of the US Democratic Party. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s embrace of the Republican Party has backfired. He has badly misjudged the level of partisanship in Washington D.C. But Netanyahu and Israel suffer from their own political divide, and a very narrow right-wing and Orthodox religious government are not going to have the clout to rally the US Congress to override a certain presidential veto. Only through a National Unity government can the appearance of left-wingers convince the necessary US lawmakers that the Obama legacy issue is a gross misrepresentation of Middle East reality. Only unity can save Israel.
The future of the Middle East (and perhaps the entire world) depends on nuclear non-proliferation. Because a potential nuclear arms race leading to consequences unknown and unpredictable might also involve Europe, the Russians, the US and China. Are the great powers certain that a nuclear exchange originating in the Middle East will be contained within that region alone? A second Jewish Holocaust in the time frame of a century would cause untold damage to the psyche of the entire world. But Israel would not take such an attack lying down. After all, Israel has faced existential moments before. In such moments, Israel has indirectly threatened its opponents with nuclear action as they in turn attempted to annihilate the Jewish state. In such a dire scenario, the image of the Biblical story of Samson and the Philistines was used to describe such a conventional-nuclear mutual exchange. In the future such a response could mimic, on a global scale, the very similar notion of this so-called Samson Option. In other words, the concept that nuclear warfare will remain limited to a region is a fallacy. Such an option might enhance deterrence, by involving the territory or nuclear arsenals of other European states. Or the opposite could be true, a Middle East on nuclear alert could work to make the global nuclear first-strike hair trigger even more susceptible to miscalculation.
Only a National Unity government can give impetus to the idea of a regional nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Only a National Unity government could begin to describe Israel’s regional vision of the necessary security architecture to support such a concept. And only a National Unity government could place the terms of Palestinian sovereignty within such a framework. Such a response could be the only criteria for the Likud, Labor and many of their allies to come together.
But without such a move, Israel will grow more and more isolated. Its only hope would reside in the shaky partisanship of both domestic and US politics. However, in the short run this political myopia will not stop Obama’s very bad nuclear deal with Iran. And in the long run such partisanship can only erode the special relationship long established between Israel and the US. In the final analysis, the right and the left in Israel need each other in order to stop a US president whose vision is flawed. Only a dramatic peace initiative can alter the direction of that president’s political party. Israel needs unity.