"The year is 1939 and Iran is Germany" - I heard Prime Minister Netanyahu say at a Jewish conference in Los Angeles in 2006. This statement sounded to me anti-Zionist because it raised the question of whether we really are in the situation we were in 1939 before there was a Jewish state with the strongest army in the region. So, does Zionism justify itself?
In addition, I wondered how this apocalyptic message is consistent with the attempt to bring American Jews to visit Israel and invest in it, and with us Israelis to raise our children in a country on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. I do not intend to diminish the Iranian strategic challenge and the importance to prevent Iran from achieving military nuclear capabilities, but a more rational and less hysterical perspective would benefit Israel.
This alarmist approach was one of the reasons for the conflicts the Netanyahu Government had with the Obama – Biden Administration. A new perspective would benefit the ability of Israel to work jointly with the Biden Administration on a coordinated approach.
The prevailing axiom in our area is that Iran poses an existential threat, and that its efforts to achieve the ultimate weapon require us to use any means possible to prevent it. As part of our zigzagging between paranoia and hubris, we hear that Iran is a strong power that threatens the future of the Middle East, and the next day that Iran is on the verge of collapse if only we take one step or another. Both statements are far from reality. I would like to present a more balanced approach to Iran and the threat posed by it.
There are many similarities between Iran and Israel. According to foreign sources, Israel achieved military nuclear capabilities in the 1960’s and was the sixth country in the world to do so. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the five permanent members of the Security Council (USA, Russia, Britain, France, China) have recognized nuclear weapons, but since then - India, Pakistan and North Korea have already declared nuclear weapons in their possession. Iran is not on the list, and even if it will be, Iran’s abilities are a long way from ours.
Iran's motivation to acquire nuclear weapons, which is presented to us mainly as an aspiration for regional hegemony, is not different than Israel's motivation, which stems from existential anxiety and the goal of defense and deterrence. Iran is surrounded by enemies, represents a hated Persian minority in an area where an Arab and Turkish majority and represents an outcast Shi’ite minority in an area with a vast majority of Sunnis. Iran was traumatized by the war with Iraq, in which about a million Iranians were killed and wounded. As you may recall, the West supported Iraq.
Iran has chosen Israel as a target for its rhetoric because it pays off in terms of Iran’s status in the region, but Israel is not the reason for Iran's motivation to acquire nuclear weapons.
As in Israel, the Iranian public is one of the most educated and creative in the world. The Iranian people, from all over the Muslim world, are most similar to us Israelis.
The governments of Israel and Iran are similar in the disproportionate influence of religious leaders and the lack of separation between religion and state, as opposed to liberal democracies. Israel often talks about the lack of democracy in Iran, but in the global ranking of democracies, Iran is ahead of Saudi Arabia, which we see as a moderate country. In Iran, it is remembered that the West supported the tyranny of the Shah and that the United States assisted in a coup that brought the Shah to power instead of a semi-democratic Mosaddegh
regime. Israel, on the other hand, is in the process of declining in the democracy index.