True Belligerence or Belligerent Bluster? Tel Aviv and Tehran Go at It Again

In recent weeks, the battle of words between Tel Aviv and Tehran has reached ever more heated levels.  On December 8, 2005, the populist and fundamentalist president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, questioned the truth of the Nazi holocaust and suggested that Israel be moved to Europe.  These comments were made in the wake of previous comments by Ahmadinejad that said Israel should be wiped off the map and “all [Palestinian] refugees [should] return to their homes; [and] a democratic government (be) elected by the people” (“Text of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Speech,” Trans. Nazila Fathi, New York Times, 30 October 2005).  Those remarks were modified later, but the damage had been done and the fear level in Israel raised.  In response to Ahmadjinejad’s remarks on December 8th, Tel Aviv turned up its threats on Tehran.  Israel’s Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz was quoted on December 9th by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as saying that Israel needed to consider other non-diplomatic solutions to ending the Iranian nuclear program.  Then, on December 11, 2005, the Sunday Times of Britain reported that Ariel Sharon had ordered the Israeli military to be ready to strike Iran by the end of March 2006.   By the 12th of December, Sharon’s remarks were being clarified by others in his government, but the threats remained essentially the same.

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Israel's Nuclear Stockpile

It is common knowledge that Israel has a stockpile of nuclear weapons and the devices necessary to use them against its enemies.  These weapons were developed first with the assistance of France and, much later, the former apartheid regime in South AfricaNo one is certain exactly how many such weapons exist in Israel’s arsenal, but according to the Federation of Atomic Scientists (FAS), a watchdog group devoted to promoting humanitarian uses of science and technology, the number is somewhere between 100 and 200.   Back in the 1950s, when Israel was just beginning to look into nuclear energy and weapons development, France secretly provided some of the materials and knowhow.  However, Paris began to have doubts after the Suez crisis in 1956 and attempted to renegotiate its secret deal with Tel Aviv by trading French fighter jets for an Israeli promise to halt reprocessing of nuclear waste materials.  Israel ignored the promise and continued its development.  The United States, meanwhile, did nothing to prevent Israel’s nuclear weapons program.  According to the FAS:

[a]lthough the United States government did not encourage or approve of the Israeli nuclear program, it also did nothing to stop it. Walworth Barbour, US ambassador to Israel from 1961-73, the bomb program’s crucial years, primarily saw his job as being to insulate the President from facts which might compel him to act on the nuclear issue, allegedly saying at one point that “The President did not send me there to give him problems. He does not want to be told any bad news.” After the 1967 war, Barbour even put a stop to military attachés’ intelligence collection efforts around Dimona. Even when Barbour did authorize forwarding information, as he did in 1966 when embassy staff learned that Israel was beginning to put nuclear warheads in missiles, the message seemed to disappear into the bureaucracy and was never acted upon.

Prior to this period, inspectors from the US and other nations allowed themselves to be fooled by Israel’s attempts to hide the military intentions of their nuclear energy program.

While Israel’s nuclear stockpile is general knowledge, the United Nations resolutions demanding that it end that program are not.  Indeed, according to Resolution 51/48,  the UN General Assembly has duly noted that Israel is the only state in the region that has not signed on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has “called upon the only State in the region [Israel] that is not yet party to the Treaty and has not declared its intention to do so, to accede to the Treaty without further delay, and not to develop, produce, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons and to renounce possession of nuclear weapons, and to place all unsafeguarded nuclear facilities under full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards as an important confidence-building measure among all States of the region and as a step towards enhancing peace and security.”  This resolution is but one of many that has demanded Tel Aviv end its nuclear weapons program and its current possession of such weapons.  It is also just one of many that Israel has blatantly ignored all the while crying foul whenever any other nation in the region heads in a similar homicidal direction.

In addition to the General Assembly resolutions, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 687 at the end of the first Gulf War.  This resolution called for several actions that restricted Iraq’s military and demanded the destruction of its WMD.  It took these actions as part of a program “establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery and the objective of a global ban on chemical weapons.”  As the reader knows, Iraq’s WMD were destroyed and it was still invaded and occupied.  Meanwhile, Israel and other US allies in the region continue to build and purchase WMD and delivery systems for said weaponry.

While it is reasonable to assume that Iran may very well be hoping to develop a nuclear arsenal, it is useful to point out that Iran has signed on to the NPT and allows regular inspections of its nuclear facilities.  As recently as December 10, 2005, the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted the country’s atomic chief, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, as saying that Tehran believes that it must begin enriching uranium but will not do so as long as talks around Iran’s nuclear energy program continued.  Uranium enrichment is a process that usually signals a country’s intention to develop nuclear weapons.  In recent years, the regular inspections by the UN’s nuclear inspection agency — the IAEA — have become politicized thanks to Washington and Tel Aviv’s desire to get rid of the regime in Tehran.  However, the inspections have consistently shown Tehran to be in overall compliance.  Israel not only doesn’t allow inspections — she won’t even sign on to the agreement.  Although the statements from Tehran are probably perceived as blackmail by Tel Aviv and Washington, they differ from the nuclear sword of Damocles that Washington holds over the entire planet only in scope.  In a twenty-first century version of Herman Kahn’s nuclear calculus, Tehran’s nuclear potential is a primary factor in the equation that keeps US and Israeli forces from attacking it.  Similarly, it is a much smaller factor than the nuclear threat presented by those countries already in possession of such weapons.

None of the aforementioned facts bode well for the world.  The Iranian president appears to be using Israel as a diversion from Teheran’s failure to address the needs and desires of the Iranian people.  Instead of addressing the poverty that is a constant problem in Iran and the corruption that is apparently rampant on all levels of government, Tehran is instead magnifying the Israeli threat by issuing public remarks that most people find not only repulsive but are also historically inaccurate.  Like governments everywhere, Tehran is choosing to create fear in order to prevent a goodly portion of its population from expressing a freedom it desires.  Tel Aviv is attempting something similar by allowing Defense Minister Mofaz to issue not-so-vague threats against Tehran.   Washington has its “war on terrorism,” Tehran has Israel, and Israel has Tehran.  The existence of an enemy, no matter how imaginary or real, is the perfect excuse to rule by fear and limit personal and political expression.  Plus, it makes it much easier to divert governmental spending from social needs to the military. 

And who benefits from that?  Why, the government and its cohorts in the war industries.  The scenario is the same in all three countries, albeit in different magnitudes.  A small percentage of people benefit from the fear they create amongst a larger percentage of their countrymen.  Unless calmer heads step in, the invasion and occupation of Iraq may turn out to be a mere sideshow to a greater war begun by Tel Aviv and Tehran.

Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch‘s new collection on music, art and sex: Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at <>.