By **Juan Cole**
A 2007 cable from then U.S. ambassador to Israel to Secretary of State Condi Rice shows a) that the Israeli leadership did not want the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq and b) that Israeli politicians think that even if Iran never used a nuclear weapon, just for it to have one would doom Israel.
Since the U.S. is in fact withdrawing from Iraq, and will be mostly out by next year this time, we may conclude that the Israeli leadership is very nervous about Tel Aviv-Baghdad relations. That the new government being formed by Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki depends deeply on the support of Muqtada al-Sadr and his Sadrist movement, the most anti-Israel political force in Shiite Iraq, must petrify Prime Minister Netanyahu and his security cabinet. The likelihood of the Sadrists further coordinating with Lebanon’s Hizbullah party-militia is high. So the fall of Saddam did not in fact take away the Iraq file from consideration in Israel’s future.
As for Iran, U.S. intelligence still cannot find evidence of a nuclear weapons program, and the UN inspectors again certified spring, 2010, that no nuclear material has been diverted from the Natanz facility to non-civilian purposes.
But the cable shed light on the thinking of high Israeli officials about why Israel cannot, as many U.S. analysts have suggested, just live with an Iranian bomb if one is achieved. They believe that such a development would create a psychological nervousness in the Israeli public that would likely doom it as a Jewish state.
In polling, a third of Israelis say that they would emigrate if Iran got the atomic bomb.
What is being implicitly referred to is the expectation that if the Middle East turns even more dangerous for Israelis, such that they lose their status as the sole nuclear regional superpower, then Israeli Jews may well simply emigrate in large numbers. Over time, this development would ensure that Palestinian-Israelis, now over 20 percent of the population, become a plurality and even a majority.
At some point the Palestinian-Israelis and those Jewish Israelis tired of the increasing boycotts and constant wars may just vote to give citizenship to the Palestinians outside the green zone, creating a binational state. This process, which is likely whether Iran gets a bomb or not, resembles what happened to the Maronite Catholics of Lebanon, who were a majority in the nineteen twenties when the French created the country, but whose high rates of out-migration and low population growth rates reduced them to about 22 percent of the population (if you count the children) today. Israel will likely be Lebanonized over the next five decades, in any case.
Natan Sharansky has admitted that the days of mass migration of Jews to Israel are over, and only eighteen thousand are likely to come in 2010. In one recent year, 2005, over twenty-one thousand Israelis emigrated out, almost all of them Jews or ex-Soviets, and they had not returned by 2008. Because thousands of expatriates do return, there is not a net outflow at the moment, but obviously immigration no longer gives Jewish Israelis a demographic edge.
In polling, a third of Israelis say that they would emigrate if Iran got the atomic bomb, so the Israeli officials are not imagining things. Here is how the cable reported the sentiment.
…the very fact that Iran possesses nuclear weapons would completely transform the Middle East strategic environment in ways that would make Israel’s long-term survival as a democratic Jewish state increasingly problematic. That concern is most intensively reflected in open talk by those who say they do not want their children and grandchildren growing up in an Israel threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran…
The Israelis and their U.S. supporters lobbied to destroy Iraq because of similar fears. Now they are pulling out the stops to get up a U.S. war on Iran. But given that the al-Maliki government called for the diplomatic isolation of Israel during the Gaza War in 2008-2009, the policy of having hostile neighbors’ legs broken by Washington has not actually worked out very well. There is no guarantee that a post-Khomeinist government in Iran will be friendly to Israel. And, Israelis who worry so much about the Bomb are losing sight of the real dangers of modern warfare-asymmetrical movements and micro-weapons.
Here are the relevant passages:
“Monday, 08 January 2007, 16:38
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 000064
EO 12958 DECL: 01/05/2017
TAGS PREL, PTER, PGOV, IS, KWBG
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR THE SECRETARY’S JANUARY 13-15
VISIT TO ISRAEL
Classified By: Ambassador Richard H. Jones, Reason 1.4 (b) (d)
…4. (S) While Israeli anxiety over a possible dramatic shift of U.S. policy as a result of the Iraq Study Group’s report has been allayed by statements by you and the President, there continues to be deep uneasiness here that the Baker-Hamilton recommendations reflect the shape of things to come in U.S. policy. Israelis recognize that U.S. public support for the Iraq war is eroding and are following with interest the President’s upcoming articulation of the revamped policy, but they are deeply concerned that Israeli-Palestinian issues not become linked in American minds to creating a more propitious regional environment for whatever steps we decide to take to address the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
5. (S) Iran’s nuclear program continues to cause great anxiety in Israel. Given their history, Israelis across the political spectrum take very seriously Ahmadinejad’s threats to wipe Israel off the map. Olmert has been quite clear in his public comments that Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, a position stated even more emphatically by opposition leader Netanyahu, who compares today’s Iran to Nazi Germany in 1938. Despite the worst-case assessments of Israeli intelligence, however, there is a range of views about what action Israel should take. The MFA and some of the think tank Iran experts appear increasingly inclined to state that military action must be a last resort and are taking a new interests in other forms of pressure, including but not limited to sanctions, that could force Iran to abandon its military nuclear program. The IDF, however, strikes us as more inclined than ever to look toward a military strike, whether launched by Israel or by us, as the only way to destroy or even delay Iran’s plans. Thoughtful Israeli analysts point out that even if a nuclear-armed Iran did not immediately launch a strike on the Israeli heartland, the very fact that Iran possesses nuclear weapons would completely transform the Middle East strategic environment in ways that would make Israel’s long-term survival as a democratic Jewish state increasingly problematic. That concern is most intensively reflected in open talk by those who say they do not want their children and grandchildren growing up in an Israel threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Copyright 2010 Juan Cole
This post originally appeared at Juan Cole’s blog.
Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and director of its Center for South Asian Studies. He maintains the blog Informed Comment. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).