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Who's Got the Nukes? | The Nation

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William Greider

William Greider

The fragile and faltering state of American democracy.

Who's Got the Nukes?

Israel’s prime minister is provoking another political dust storm over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but US news stories once again fail to mention awkward facts that are the true linchpin for this threatening crisis. Israel itself already has the Bomb. It developed its own nuclear weapons several decades ago, but has never officially admitted as much. And unlike other nuclear powers, Israel has never signed anti-proliferation treaties, nor has it submitted its nuclear arsenal to regular inspections by international authorities.

Everyone knows this, at least the government officials on all sides do. Yet there seems to be a media taboo against sharing the information with the American public. Americans have a huge and dangerous stake in the matter. If things go wrong and Israel launches a pre-emptive unilateral strike against Iran, it would probably provoke retaliatory war-making by Iran. Like it or not, the United States could be pulled into yet another war in the Middle East to defend our ally. Shouldn’t people hear the whole story before the shooting starts?

Don’t take my word on this. Check out newspaper accounts in which Israeli officials complain that the United States has not been tough enough with Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blisters President Obama for failing to draw a bright “red line” against Iran’s efforts to develop a Bomb of its own. Netanyahu even accuses of Washington of “moral” failure for not standing up to the mullahs. His patrons in the Republican Party are grateful for the political intrusion.

But why does the press routinely ignore Israel’s nukes and its obvious military superiority? Perhaps because that would complicate and weaken Israel’s moral claims of self-defense. Furthermore, it could help explain why Iran might be eager to join the exclusive club of nuclear nations. Iran might say—if it ever told the truth about its motivations—that it is the nation in need of self-protection.

Without a nuke of its own, Iran and other neighboring Muslim nations will always see themselves as vulnerable to bullying and the threat of unilateral attack from Israel (as Israel is now again threatening). The claims and counterclaims on both sides are subject to dispute, but honest debate is unlikely to occur unless everyone acknowledges the same set of facts.

The media taboo was broken this week by columnist Bill Keller of the New York Times, formerly the Times executive editor. His op-ed asked polite questions and sought reasoned answers. Instead of demonizing the Iranian ayatollahs as crazed and suicidal, Keller concluded that it seems very unlikely a nuclear-armed Iran would use its nukes to destroy Israel. He did not say so explicitly, but he seemed to think Iran wants the Bomb to neutralize Israel’s superiority. It is a plausible conclusion.

“The regime in Iran is brutal, mendacious and meddlesome, and given to spraying gobbets of Hitleresque bile at the Jewish state,” Keller wrote. “But Israel is a nuclear power, backed by a bigger nuclear power [the United States]. Before an Iranian mushroom cloud had bloomed to its full height over Tel Aviv, a flock of reciprocal nukes would be on the way to incinerate Iran. Iran may encourage fanatic chumps to carry out suicide missions, but there is not the slightest reason to believe the mullahs themselves are suicidal.”

Keller has proposed an excellent subject for public debate. In this conflict, on which side does insanity reside?

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