Charles Darwin wrote that “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
It is a lesson that has gone unlearnt in Israel.
We continue threatening to use force and opting for military solutions as we always have. As if nothing changes. As if the Middle East hasn’t been turned upside-down by the so-called Arab Spring and Syria isn’t imploding on our doorstep. As if an Islamic country, Pakistan, doesn’t already have nuclear capability and the entirety of Israel isn’t within the range of thousands of missiles from far and near.
The only change to which we appear to be responsive is the minutiae of political and diplomatic developments in Washington. When it comes to Washington, our feelers are exquisitely sensitive, quivering wildly at every whisper and nuance. But, even there, our actions are true to type: we badger, we subvert administrations if we don’t like them and, if we don’t get what we want, we resort to blackmail. Just as we’ve always done.
Iran is the latest Darwinian challenge to Israel’s ability to react to change.
Despite the dramatic rhetoric of the prime minister and his dummy the defense minister, the current bout of war hysteria has nothing to do with imminent danger from Iran. No-one with half a brain honestly believes that Iran is going to attack Israel with nuclear weapons – not now, not next year and not in the conceivable future. Bibi doesn’t believe it and even Ehud Barak, the man who turned paranoia into an art form, doesn’t believe it, though it serves his self-aggrandizing purposes to pretend he does.
Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program at this stage. No-one knows if or when it will have such a program, let alone when it will have an actual weapon and the ability to deliver it. And even if all that were to come about, the historical record is clear: except for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, when the effects, capabilities and ramifications of the weapons were unknown, no country has ever used a nuclear weapon against another country.
The US and the Soviet Union refrained from using nuclear weapons against each other throughout the 45 years of the Cold War. And that, despite the existence of war-mongering maniacs on both sides (remember Curtis LeMay?) They preferred to test their ideological differences in conventional ways, more often than not by deploying proxy armies. Mutually assured destruction has the capacity to concentrate minds, however riddled they are with ideology, nationalism or religion.
The deliberate war talk of Israel’s leaders right now is about far more down-to-earth issues – getting the US to commit to supplying Israel with new and sophisticated weaponry, growing the Israeli defense budget in the face of a public that is increasingly militant on social issues, deflecting attention away from the government’s inability to formulate a policy regarding the Palestinians and, above all, the threat to Israel’s strategic superiority in the region.
Israel’s strategic doctrine is simple: no regional power or power grouping shall be allowed to get to the point that it poses an existential threat to Israel. It doesn’t have to actually take any warlike action or even threaten to take such action; Israel will not accept strategic parity with any other country in the region. Israel is determined to hold and retain strategic superiority.
That superiority has been underpinned by Israel’s undeclared but widely acknowledged nuclear arsenal for the past five decades, if not more. As long as Israel is the sole nuclear power in the Middle East, its existence is assured and – just as important – its freedom of action is undiminished. It can install a Maronite Christian as the president of Lebanon, bomb a suspected nuclear facility in Syria and bulldoze its way through Palestine with impunity. No-one can stop it.
That is what is now under threat from Iran’s nuclear program. The problem is not Iran’s using the bomb; the problem is Iran’s having it. An Iranian bomb, even if unused, will consign Israel’s strategic doctrine to the rubbish heap. Israel will no longer be able to piss wherever it wants. There will be another alpha male in the neighborhood and Israel will have to take that into account when dealing with Hizbollah, Hamas and all the other regional nuisances.
That’s what all the huffing and puffing is about. A nuclear Iran would be a strategic counterweight to Israel; it would change the balance of power and the balance of fear in the region – and that’s something that Israel is not prepared to accept. Even if the Iranian regime was not as noxious and pernicious as it is, Israel would not countenance its achieving strategic parity.
Darwinians might argue that Israel needs to adapt its strategic doctrine. That a nuclear-free Middle East – with Israel, Pakistan and Iran all foregoing their nuclear programs – might be a better guarantor of Israel’s survival than a nuclear arms-race and an unprovoked war. They might even have the chutzpah to argue that perhaps, just perhaps, the Iranian nuclear program is a response to Israel’s own nuclear capability – and that transparency and disarmament negotiations might be the best way of getting both countries out of their mushroom clouds.
But that’s not how Bibi Netanyahu sees it, of course. Such namby-pamby, leftie talk leaves him cold. For him, Israel’s decade-old doctrine of strategic superiority is the torah from Sinai and he’s willing to start a war – to risk the destruction of Tel Aviv – to maintain it.
2 replies on “There’s only room for one alpha male around here”
this is really good roy. you keep me sane and cynical. (‘s all right. the cynicism wears off)
Hi – clear, penetrating and many truths (as well as some debate material).
Enjoyed reading it. Ren