In this provocative and deeply informed book, Goodman shares his clarifying analyses both of recent political events and of Israel's strategic position. He shows how the country's obsession with dangers posed by outside forces has obscured the harder issues facing it from within ever since its leaders disregarded Ben Gurion's advice to leave the territories captured during the Six Day War. By yoking itself to the demographic timebomb of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel propelled itself towards an invidious choice: democracy or Jewish identity. Now, Goodman argues, Israel's survival is jeopardized more by the competence of its leaders and fissures in its social and political system than by any outside threateven the apocalyptic-sounding ones from Iran.
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About the Author
Hirsh Goodman is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University where he directs the Bronfman Program on Information Strategy. Prior to joining INSS, Goodman was the vice president of the Jerusalem Post. In 1990 he founded The Jerusalem Report and served as its editor-in-chief for eight years. Between 1986 and 1989 he was the strategic fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and four children. This is his fourth book.
Read an Excerpt
Of all the existential threats Israel faces, other than civil war, common wisdom has it that Iran is at the top of the list. Iran is maniacally dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and says so on every occasion, in every language, and at every opportunity. By now even the parrots in the Teheran zoo can repeat the mantras of hatred calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, its people sent back to Poland, Palestine liberated, for the cancer to be removed from Arabia, and the West’s agent of evil, Israel, crushed and expelled.
Not since Hitler have the Jewish people theoretically faced such a threat. Half of the world’s Jewish population currently lives in Israel. Now, like then, the Jews actually have very little to do with the problem, but provide a convenient whipping boy for the Iranian regime and its aspirations of regional hegemony and control of the Gulf. Israel has no unavoidable disputes with Iran once you get past its right to exist—no common borders or contested resources. The two countries’ armies have never clashed. Yet it is ostensibly because of Israel that Iran is rushing to attain nuclear weapons and expending considerable amounts on missile and satellite programs, among the other weapons it is amassing for its day in the field with the Jewish state. Or so Teheran says.
A nuclear Iran, it is now recognized, is not Israel’s problem alone. It possesses missiles that bring the Gulf states, Egypt, Turkey, Europe, and Russia all within reach. A nuclear Iran would be transformative, a country not easily gone to war against, and one that will have considerably more power on the regional stage. And if Iran goes nuclear, it is almost certain that Turkey and Egypt will accelerate their own programs and Saudi Arabia would buy an off-the-shelf bomb from Pakistan. Libya agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in December 2003. The international crisis that broke out with Colonel Qaddafi’s regime in March 2011 would have looked very different had Qaddafi had the bomb.
A nuclear Middle East is in no one’s interest; therefore, opposition to the prospect is wide. The United States, China, and Russia have imposed sanctions on Iran in the hope of impeding the bomb. Israel and Saudi Arabia find themselves on the same side of the fence.
But Iran is Israel’s problem most of all. No other country is existentially threatened by Iran, in a position to suffer irreparable damage if attacked with nuclear weapons. Those imposing sanctions and locked in diplomacy to try to resolve the problem are involved in global power play, not a life-and-death situation. Iran is not calling for the destruction of Turkey or Saudi Arabia, and if America, China, or Russia loses the game, as they indeed might, it is not their heads that will be on the chopping block.
For Israel, there is no margin for error. Over 70 percent of Israel’s population, one-third of all the Jews in the world, and its ports, airports, refining capacities, and industry are located along the coastal plain, 161 miles long from north to south and some ten miles deep, about the size of an average game park in Africa. I took a helicopter ride recently, taking off from the Herzliah airfield just north of Tel Aviv. Hardly six hundred feet in the air and you see it all in the palm of your hand, from Ashkelon shimmering in the south to the Haifa bay and Acre in the north, the cities of Holon, Rehovot, Nes Tsiona, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ramat Gan, Kfar Saba, all packed together like eggs in one basket.
Along the coast are the chimneys of power stations and desalination plants, ports and tourist areas. The highways to either side are packed with afternoon traffic and the new office and residential towers that have sprouted up between Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, glowing in the sunset. In one glance you can see five of the country’s major universities, all of its ports, its major international airport, highways, railways, and the center of its business life. I remember the pictures from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and think of what happened there. Imagine the devastation of a bomb five, ten, a hundred times more powerful in an area as dense as this one, humming with traffic and life underneath. If attacked with nuclear weapons it would be, to use a phrase attributed to Moshe Dayan, “the destruction of the Third Temple.” Everything would be lost. There would be no second chance.
The Iranians know this; hence the temptation, the dream, that it could be done, even knowing that Iran would suffer terribly as a result. But with a population ten times that of Israel and a country seventy-five times as large, Iran reckons that no matter how harsh the punishment meted out in return for attacking Israel, it would be mauled, not killed. In this context, none of the symmetry and deterrence that kept the Cold War cold applies, and there is none of the diplomatic pragmatism that even the most repressive Soviet leaders possessed. Iran’s regime is based on brute power; its calculations cannot be put into a rational context. From Israel’s point of view, they must be taken at their word. To do otherwise would be to invite catastrophe.
Yet of all Israel’s major problems, the Iran one is “simplest” to deal with. It carries none of the contention of a potential settlement with the Palestinians, or even with the Syrians if Israel has to give up the Golan Heights in return for peace. There is no internal debate in Israel as to how to approach the Iranian issue, or whether too much money is spent on countering it. It is not an electoral issue, and it crosses all political boundaries. No pro- Iran lobbyists are to be found in the Knesset, even among the most vocal Arab opponents of the Zionist Jewish state. What the Iranians may not know and appreciate is that, in a very strange way, Israel actually owes them a debt of gratitude. Their threats and capabilities have forced Israel to focus its mind like never before, with an end result that keeps Israel at the cutting edge of technology, and its economy vibrant and productive, though poor in natural resources and even water.
Israel has deep respect for the Iranians. It has watched with awe as the regime has sent thousands of graduates through universities in the West, many returning to work in the Iranian military industries. Israelis have seen the Iranians dance around UN bureaucrats in Vienna and other locations, attempting to slow down their march toward nuclear independence through an inspection regime that was almost laughable. They have defied the “great powers” and thumbed their nose at successive American administrations, weaving and dodging and playing one side against the other. Though regressed, they have overcome attempts by the Mossad, CIA, and others to quietly sabotage their program, and have taken great care to make their assembly lines as protected as possible. Even after the supposedly devastating STUXNET computer virus attack that hit its enrichment plants, Iran managed to keep 5,200 of its 8,000 centrifuges spinning and producing fissile materials.
The regime has managed to buy materials and components for bomb-making from an astounding array of suppliers, often without the seller knowing, or caring, who the end party was. They have done this through a network of companies that make a spider’s web look uncomplicated. They move their secret headquarters around often to avoid detection by Western intelligence agencies, like in 2008 when the nuclear research center in central Teheran was leveled to become a public park, leading the CIA to announce that year that the Iranians had closed down their military nuclear program, and Israeli intelligence chiefs to pull out their hair in frustration, knowing that it had been reopened across town. “Don’t they understand that while buildings can be destroyed, all they have to do is move the brains down the road in a bus and open up again?” said then Israeli intelligence chief Amos Yadlin at a meeting on the subject one afternoon.
There is also no question that the Iranians have parallel programs in operation. The world’s attention was, and is, focused on Bushehr, but in September 2009, a second nuclear facility was revealed to the world by Israeli intelligence, the evidence reportedly being brought to Washington and Russia personally by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, which showed the enrichment plant deep in the mountains at Fordo, just twenty kilometers from the holy city of Qom, with the capacity to produce one bomb a year and growing.
“Have respect for your enemy” is one of the oldest maxims in the Israeli army, and Israel knows the Iranians well. Tens of thousands of Jews left Iran and now live in Israel, and, until the 1979 revolution that saw the demise of the shah and his repressive regime, and the takeover by the ayatollahs and an even more repressive regime, Israel and Iran had close ties. The shah provided Israel with oil, and Israel provided him with military assistance that included conventional weapons, as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles, code-named “Jericho,” and perhaps advice on how to develop Iran’s nuclear program, started under the American “Atoms for Peace” initiative in the 1950s, into something more “meaningful.”
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, is often portrayed in the Western media as an almost ludicrous figure, with his histrionic rants against Israel and risible efforts to prove the Holocaust never happened. But he is no fool. On his watch he has moved over Iran’s core assets to the control of the Revolutionary Guards, fervently loyal to the regime, including stateowned industries, key security units, and elements of the Iranian armed forces, like the nuclear program and the missile forces, which do not fall under the purview of the chief of staff. The Guards also control the anti-aircraft units in case air force officers, considered generally more secular and educated and thus less trustworthy, were to decide to stage a coup. Ahmadinejad has managed to contain bread and fuel riots, and cut subsidies, something previously thought politically impossible, and steal an election in 2009, when his opposition disappeared into dark dungeons as the results came in.
Iran spends only 2.5 percent of its GDP on the military, yet it has managed to move into the space age with satellites and provide its military with an impressive arsenal of advanced ballistic missiles and sophisticated command and control systems, and its people with Soviet-style military parades from time to time, often accompanied by endless television footage of visits to the country’s nuclear facilities and the smoke trails of missiles as they streak off into the air.
This is a sinister regime that works in sinister ways. It uses terror, surrogates, and subterfuge with impunity around the world. It took twelve years but in 2006 it was conclusively proved that Iran was responsible for the attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994. In this, Argentina’s most deadly bombing, eighty-seven people died and over one hundred people were injured, many of them passersby. The Islamic Jihad took responsibility, as it did for the March 1992 bombing in the same city that left twenty-nine dead, many of them children at a school in a nearby church. The truth was known well in advance of 2006, but obfuscated by investigators of questionable reliability, some reportedly paid off by the Argentinean government itself, then deep in nuclear collusion with the Iranians.
Since then, however, Iran has developed ever more subterfuge. It has created entire legions abroad, openly identified with the regime in Teheran and totally committed to doing its bidding. Hezbollah in Lebanon is one such example. Iran very neatly stepped into the vacuum created by the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Teheran sent in a contingent from the Revolutionary Guards who with skill and dedication managed to train, fund, arm, and bring together a political party, Hezbollah, the Party of God. Within a decade, Hezbollah’s own private army would become the most powerful force in a country once known as the Switzerland of the Middle East, where Saudi princes came to gamble and whisper French into the ears of professional ladies, and eat from forbidden fruits.
After years of tensions, cat-and-mouse games, and mud-hurling at each other, in 2006 Hezbollah provoked a war with Israel, both sides eventually coming off somewhat mauled: Hezbollah, and parts of Lebanon with it, were pounded into the ground, the south of the country left deserted, Lebanon’s oil and other infrastructure destroyed, and Hezbollah’s stronghold in the Dahieh quarter of Beirut reduced to rubble in which over 1,000 people were killed. The Israelis suffered many fewer casualties and physical damage, but the psychological damage was immense. Suddenly the whole country became a battlefield as rockets fell freely on major cities like Haifa and close to the country’s main petrochemical refineries in the Acre bay area. No longer was war a distant reality: Israel’s cities were now exposed to the whims of paramilitary forces controlled by an enemy thousands of kilometers away.
Since 2006, with Syrian help, Hezbollah has gotten back on its feet. It has two wings—civilian and military—and wields much power in Lebanese politics through its parliamentary delegation, and in the field with its force of 15,000 men under arms and an arsenal of 45,000 rockets able to reach deep into Israel, presumably in part to deter Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. In January 2011 Hezbollah showed the full extent of its power when it ousted the government of Saad Hariri and installed Najia Mikati, a pro-Syria billionaire, in his place. Hariri had threatened to go ahead and cooperate with a UN investigation into the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik, the findings of which would have implicated both Syria and Hezbollah. Both Hariris had been popular with the people and tolerated by Hezbollah as long as they toed the line. The minute the Iran-backed militia wanted them out, however, they found themselves on the street with much sympathy from the world but powerless to wrest the fate of Lebanon from the hands of Hezbollah and its Iranian minders.
Lebanon is not the only country to feel the reach of Iran’s long arm. It is involved in Afghanistan, where its diplomats have been documented handing over wads of cash to the Karzai government through Umar Daudzai, the president’s most loyal aide, in the hope of driving a wedge between the Afghan government and its American supporters. In March 2011 British special forces in Afghanistan intercepted a convoy of three trucks, deep in the Nimruz province, which contained forty-eight 122mm rockets destined for the Taliban. This was the latest of over sixty such interceptions in three years, ranging from ammunition and small arms to mortars and rockets. And Iran’s involvement in Iraq is deep and consequential. In 2010, Iranian weapons and instructors of how to use these weapons were discovered hard at work in Africa. Major Iranian arms shipments were intercepted on their way to rebels in Nigeria, Gambia, and Senegal. But in Gaza, its takeover through Hamas, and specifically the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which reports directly to the Iranian secret service, has been total, creating an entire country, a mini-Iran, on Israel’s southern border, an ideal base from which to shell not only Israeli settlements to the east and north but also Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona, the symbol of Israeli survival and resistance, its doomsday weapon.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
One The Cutting Edge 1
2 New Jew, Old Problem 27
3 The Melting Pot 37
4 Entanglement 47
5 Death to the Peacemakers 53
6 Israeli Politics in Transition 69
7 The Red Light 85
8 The Ball of Thorns 99
9 The Threat from the North 115
10 Israel's New War: Legitimacy 131
11 Red, Blue, and White 159
12 Jerusalem 185
13 Israel Internal: A Narrow Bridge to Cross 201
14 Gone the Phantoms of the Ghetto 229