M.K. Bhadrakumar responds to David Goldman

I am not familiar with the writings of Prof. Ephrain Inbar, but the excerpts given here appear strange to me coming from a scholar. They are, regrettably, based on arguments and assumptions that are inherently flawed and arbitrary assumptions and ultimately become propagandistic.

First of all, I seriously doubt the capability of Israel to embark on an “eventual military strike” against Iran without drawing an exceedingly destructive retribution that a country with a population of something like 5 million whose economy depends heavily on American financial support simply cannot afford.

That is, even assuming that such a strike conclusively would destroy Iran’s knowhow and expertise as a “threshold power.”

Let us rule out an Israeli military option from rational discussions. And Israel has no dearth of rational minds.

People like John Bolton may think otherwise, but then, that is nothing to write home about. Bolton and the neocons in the U.S. also had said many alluring things to encourage President George Bush to invade Iraq. I take it as part of America’s dysfunctional political system that it keeps throwing up people like Bolton. Does anyone care for Bolton’s views except the flock to which he belongs?

Second, President Barack Obama is absolutely right that there is no way the U.S. can realize for PM Benjamin Netanyahu his wish to roll back and cap Iran’s nuclear program. So, what do we do? Simply put, the world has to live with Iran’s threshold status. Period. The best way is to allow Iran to be yet another threshold power and to engage it constructively so that it has no reason to develop nuclear weapons to safeguard itself from predatory powers near or far.

The point is, countries embark on the ncuelar path when they come under siege from belligerent nations. North Korea is an example; Israel another: Pakistan yet another. As regards Middle East security, Iran as a threshold power is far better than having a nuclear Iran existing side by side with a nuclear Israel (with a big stockpile of nuclear weapons in its possession.)

As a strategic thinker, Prof. Inbar is at his weakest in bracketing the Israeli concerns with Saudi Arabia or Egypt’s. Put differently, it becomes practically impossible for the U.S. to cater to their basket of so-called “security concerns” for a variety of reasons. Let us take them up one by one.

For Israel, the primary security concern today ought to be the unresolved Palestinian problem. Without a solution to that problem, neither Israel nor the larger Middle East can be at peace. But then, Israel needs to understand there is nothing like absolute security. It should be willing to reach a fair, just solution rather than try to impose a solution over time through a sustained policy of occupation.

Many thoughtful Israeli thinkers are already worried that by harping on the politics of fear and becoming a national security state, Israel itself today has become warped and disfigured in many ways, unrecognizable by the yardsticks of the noble ideals that its founding fathers held. Suffice it to say, Israel has to make up its mind and take a leap of faith toward peace. Israel cannot hope to hold on to occupied lands and treat the Palestinians with such bestiality. It is not only inhuman but it produces a backlash inevitably. That is also at the root of the instability in the Middle East.

Besides, when Israel talks about Iran’s threshold capabilities, there is a degree of dishonesty involved here. Israel was the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East and it is still the only country that keeps amassing nuclear weapons. It has no moral stature to advise other Middle Eastern countries on their nuclear policies.

Increasingly, Israel also lacks the capacity to prescribe to its smaller neighbors insofar as its military superiority is fast becoming irrelevant in meeting today’s security challenges. The manner in which the Hezbollah in Lebanon checkmates Israeli military is a case in point.

Second, when Israel possesses nuclear weapons, why shouldn’t Egypt? To my mind, therefore, the solution lies in a nuclear weapon-free Middle East. Israel should be willing to take to the path of nuclear non-proliferation and become a member of the NPT, as all other Middle Eastern states have been all along.

As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, its angst essentially devolves upon its apprehensions regarding the longevity of the House of Saud. The spectre of Shi’ite empowerment haunts Saudi Arabia and threatens its state ideology. It is unrealistic to expect the U.S. to become the Praetorian Guards of such a decadent regime. The solution lies in reform and peaceful transformation. Surely, it cannot be an Israeli academic’s argument that an impeccably democratic state like Israel would empathize with the existential dilemma of the House of Saud.

President Obama is absolutely right in defining the parameters that might invite a U.S. military intervention – when the territorial integrity of its allies comes under threat, for defending U.S.’s vital interests such as the free flow of oil, for preventing a takeover by extremist forces and so on. The survival of the House of Saud understandably does not figure in Obama’s compass. He is sensible in not wasting the U.S.’s resources to shore up authoritarian regimes – be it in Latin America, Africa or the Middle East.

Finally, it is useful to compare and contrast Iranian and Saudi policies with regard to regional security. Saudi Arabia has a consistent track record of fostering extremist terrorist groups in regions such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, etc. Of late it is also adopting the Israeli path of military aggrandizement – Bahrain, Yemen, for example. What has been, in comparison, Iran’s track record? Or, how do Israeli and Iranian track records compare? I am willing to engage Prof. Inbar in a rational discussion devoid of paranoia.

I find it curious to say the least that Prof. Inbar empathizes with the present-day Egyptian regime, which is repressive, dictatorial and can never stabilize unless it heeds the will of the people. Iran does not pose any threat to Egypt. It is the Egyptian military and intelligence (supported by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states) that undermine the country’s long-term stability by appropriating political power. Israel, actually, should not connive with such a repressive regime. It is not only not in Israel’s long term interests to see that it has such a repressive regime next door to it, but it is also morally repugnant that a democratic country like Israel should stoop to such cynicism.

Where Prof. Inbar is going horribly wrong is the hope he reposes on PM Netanyahu to attack Iran. To my mind, the saving grace in all this is that the Israeli Prime Minister is a hard-headed realist who knows you live only once. He also knows man doesn’t live by rhetoric alone.

In pragmatism, Iranian and Israeli minds come close, historically speaking. By the way, Iranian Jews do not even want to migrate to Israel. Therefore, once the integration of Iran into the international community advances and Iran becomes a ‘normal country’, it is entirely conceivable that it begins to view Israel with greater composure as yet another small country in the Eastern Mediterranean.

To my mind, Israel may even develop a profitable economic partnership with Iran as time passes. When the region is in the cusp of such historic changes, we should not let small minds like Bolton to intrude with discordant notes. The sad reality is that there are vested interests aplenty who would stand to gain from perpetuating yesterday’s confrontational politics. They may claim to be friends of Israel but are actually harming Israel’s long term interests to emerge as one of the most prosperous countries of that part of the world, at peace with itself and its region.



Categories: Chatham House Rules, M.K. Bhadrakumar