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Ira Sharkansky


Netanyahu campaign urges Israel to bomb
Iran's nuclear facilities, but this is not Iraq of 1981, December 5, 2005

By Ira Sharkansky
Yesterday's radio talk dealt almost exclusively until 11:30 AM with Iran's nuclear program. Benyamin Netanyahu focused his primary campaign for the leadership of Likud on a one sentence solution: act like our party hero Menachem Begin, and destroy Iran's nuclear option before it can produce a weapon. It does not deter the man of simple notions that Iran had learned from Begin. Its nuclear program is distributed among numerous sites, some of them buried deep underground. 

Experts countered Netanyahu with thinly veiled ridicule: what worked in 1981 was not a model for 2005. Israel can probably do no more than delay Iran's program, and even that at a considerable cost in international politics and by further elevating Iran's animosity. With an Egyptian running the UN effort against Iran, and Russia selling to Iran, Israel (along with Europe and the United States) may have to live with a nuclear-equipped Iran, just as Iran will have to live with Israel and others equipped with nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu changed his tune at 11:30. His response to the suicide bombing in Netanya was, I told you so. The disengagement from Gaza encouraged terrorist groups to get more land by killing more Israelis. The radio gave him little time. It focused on the routine coverage of a terrorist incident: interviewing eye witnesses against the background of sirens, reporting on the incidence of dead and wounded, later asking emergency rooms physicians about the injured, and reporting the announcement of Islamic Jihad that identified the bomber.
Television coverage showed footage from security cameras, with arrows pointed to the bomber as he walked toward the shopping mall, and then the dust cloud caused by his explosion. Pictures of the scene showed large splotches of blood on the walls of the mall entrance, up to the level of the second floor.
The evening meeting of government ministers concerned with security and key professionals put us back on autopilot, along the course we could have recited before the meeting. There will be a closure of the West Bank, a renewal of targeted assassinations, more intense sweeps by security forces through areas that supply the killers and support their organizations. There was a condemnation of the Palestine Authority for not acting to counter the violence, and a cancellation of meetings designed to coordinate progress with the Authority.
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazan) condemned the terror as usual. He said it would harm Palestine, and ordered his security forces to move against Islamic Jihad. Later we heard of clashes between those forces and Islamic Jihad, and saw Islamic Jihad activists marching with their weapons, apparently as a sign of their victory against the efforts of the Palestine Authority.
You can expect pictures of autos destroyed by missiles fired from Israeli helicopters, mass participation at the funerals of those who had been passengers in the cars, and daily counts of the fighters and managers of Islamic Jihad and other groups rounded up and put in Israeli prisons.
Meanwhile, someone is still firing missiles from Gaza against Israeli towns. They have not killed anyone recently, so Israel has limited itself to firing artillery shells into empty fields and bombing empty buildings. Israeli rhetoric against the missiles is escalating. Officials are talking about extending the area to be shelled, of course after warning Palestinians to leave the sites to be targeted.
All this will come along with United States and European Union cautions about overreaction, and condemnations of targeted assassinations.
For those with doubts, I admit that we are not perfect, but conclude that we are not doing badly given the constraints. Our record at minimizing casualties is arguably better than Americans in Iraq, but the comparison may not be fair. Our professionals have been dealing with the problem all their working lives, and learned from two or three earlier generations who also spent their careers on the problem. Syria and Iran are mucking around in Palestine as well as Iraq, but it is more difficult for them here. Some American politicians are no less simple minded than Israeli counterparts, so in both places the domestic conflict will be as ongoing as the violence.  I fear Israel is due for more of the same by virtue of its location. The United States is due for more of the same by virtue of its power. This is not fatalism, it is realism. Life is tough. But it is better than the alternative.

Sharkansky is a member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem