As this is written, according to Barak Ravid’s report in Ha’aretz, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will “publicly harden his line against Iran during a meeting with President Barak Obama in Washington on March 5.” According to Ravid there is “mistrust” between the United States and Israel, each claiming that the other is meddling in the other’s home politics.
One wild card in this deal is Sheldon Adelson, an American billionaire casino owner and a close ally of Netanyahu. Nation columnist and historian Eric Alterman says Adelson is “reported to be under criminal investigation for official bribery and has been accused of having widespread ties to organized crime” (Feb. 27). Adelson is bankrolling Newt Gingrich’s campaign, and Gingrich, says Ravid, is expected to address the AIPAC conference two days after Obama and accuse Obama of being “weak on Iran.”
Netanyahu and his American backers want the United States to hand Israel a blank check, to back their attack on Iran. Meanwhile polls in Israel show that only 19 percent of Israelis would approve a bombing without America’s backing, while 42 percent would back it if they had approval from the United States. Roughly 51 percent expect the war to go on for months (Politico, Feb 28). The American ecumenical Jewish publication Tikkun, whose motto is to “heal, repair and transform the world,” is raising funds to place an ad that would argue that the “terrible regime” in Iran cannot be overthrown by Israel or the United States and that the first strike, or so-called “preemptive strike,” is “a violation of international law, a war crime, and is both immoral and self-destructive.”
While all this is going on, too little attention has been paid to the reports in the New York Times (Feb. 25) and Los Angeles Times (Feb 23) that American intelligence analysts have determined that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb. This report is consistent with a 2007 conclusion that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier. Clearly Iran, surrounded by nuclear powers—Pakistan, India, China and Israel, which has had nuclear weapons for years—wants to become a nuclear power; but it must be persuaded to harness nuclear energy for the common good without the bomb. Indeed, Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared last week that to produce, possess, use or threaten to use a nuclear weapon is “futile, harmful, dangerous, and prohibited as a great sin.” In Geneva, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar called for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.
Inevitably the positive news about Iran is offset by skeptics. “They have no plans today” is answered with, “They’ll build a bomb tomorrow.” David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and international Security, told the Los Angeles Times that Iran could enrich enough uranium to make a bomb in six months; but it would take three years to fit a warhead on a ballistic missile. Meanwhile, Israel has assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists, and, as Iran threatens to retaliate, Israel’s drumbeat for the bombing of Iran gets louder.
In the long run, the only answer to this kind of saber rattling and dangerous bluffing is an international agreement outlawing the use and possession of nuclear weapons. Somehow the United States seems to have forgotten that the United States is the only nation to actually drop an atomic bomb, and our country's arsenal is loaded with nuclear weapons we have professed ourselves ready to use. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declared when she was running for president that the United States would “obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel. It is time for that kind of talk to end on both sides. The expression that “all options are on the table” implies that we are ready to nuke our opponents again.
Two things should happen. President Obama should tell Israel publicly that the United States will not support it if Israel bombs Iran. Second, the American Catholic hierarchy should consider leading a peace offensive, dust off its 1983 pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace, and preach its conclusion that only deterrence justifies owning a nuclear weapon, and deterrence must be allowed only as a step toward general disarmament (par. 189). Macho posing may play well with voters in an election war; but it can also lead to disaster.
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.