Gordon and Noah have been duking it out below about Charles Krauthammer’s bold call for a presidential “Holocaust statement,” in which the President would declare that any nuclear attack on Israel would be seen as an attack on the US, and that there would be no “second Holocaust.”
Today’s New York Times carries an op-ed by Zev Chafets, a former advisor to Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It’s really worth reading. Chafets accepts Krauthammer’s opening premise, that Bush has reneged on his commitment to preventing Iran from going nuclear. Yet he sees Krauthammer’s conclusion–that we should move all our thoughts towards how to deter an already-nuclear Iran–as premature.
Chafets lays into Bush’s non-response to Iran’s claim of having put online another 6,000 centrifuges, calling it “the abashed silence of an American president whose bluff has been called in front of the entire world.” But his real point is that the ball is now in Israel’s court. He writes:
I’m not questioning American friendship. But even friendship has practical limits. Presidents change and policies change. George W. Bush, the greatest friend Israel has had in the White House, hasn’t been able to keep a… commitment to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It is a good thing that Israel didn’t build its deterrence on that commitment.
What’s more, it is fair to say that Israel is not a weak country. It has developed a powerful set of strategic options. In the best case, it would be able to act on its own to degrade and retard the Iranian nuclear program as it did in Iraq (and, more recently, Syria). In a worse case, if the Iranians do get the bomb, Iranian leaders might be deterred by rational considerations. If so, Israel’s own arsenal — and its manifest willingness to respond to a nuclear attack — ought to suffice.
If, on the other hand, the Iranian leadership simply can’t resist the itch to “wipe Israel off the map” — or to make such a thing appear imminent — then it would be up to Israel to make its own calculations. What is the price of 100,000 dead in Tel Aviv? Or twice that? The cost to Iran would certainly be ghastly. It would be wrong for Israel to expect other nations to shoulder this moral and geopolitical responsibility.
Chafets cites Begin’s example: In 1981 the Prime Minister ordered the bombing of the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq, an act universally denounced at the time, but with hindsight proved to be crucial in preventing a nuclear Saddam. In Begin’s view, the true lesson of the Holocaust was that Jews should never be dependent on others, even good friends, for their fundamental security. Now, Israel faces a possibly much graver threat, and again will have to bear the burden all on its own. As Chafets puts it, “Sovereignty comes with a price. Israel’s willingness to pay it is the only Holocaust doctrine that it can really rely on.”