Eiran, Ehud and Martin B. Malin. “The Sum of all Fears: Israel’s Perception of a Nuclear-Armed Iran.” Washington Quarterly 36.3 (2013): 77-89.
Four do’s and four don’t’s for policymakers in the United States and beyond flow from this analysis:
First, don’t bet on Israel’s next move. The fears expressed in Israel’s domestic debate are real and rooted, but so are divisions over how to respond. It is anyone’s guess who will prevail in the struggle over how to respond to Iran.
Second, don’t believe everything you hear. Politicians make statements for many reasons. Not every comparison of Iran and Nazi Germany needs to be heeded. Although Israeli fears may be genuine, the Holocaust analogies are deeply flawed and not a sound guide to policy. Although Prime Minister Netanyahu does draw on Jewish history as a compass, he has also used the framing of threats (terrorism, Iran) as a tool to garner political support.
Third, don’t walk away. If Israel feels a growing sense of abandonment, it could cause an escalation of fears and precisely the kinds of responses that could be most destructive for Israel, U.S. policy, and the region.
Israel’s elected officials may favor an attack, but its military leadership shuns one.
Finally, don’t feed fear. Talk is not cheap. U.S. officials, particularly members of Congress, should stop echoing the worst Israeli hyperbole about Iranian capabilities and intentions. At the same time, it would help if Iranian officials stopped making ridiculous statements denying the Holocaust and declaring their desire to see the Zionist entity wiped from the pages of history. Israeli leaders should avoid boxing themselves into making unnecessary choices by giving voice to their deepest fears.
If policymakers avoid these pitfalls, what positive steps should they take to help rein in fears in Israel and across the region? First, the United States should quietly help Israel and its neighbors realize their common interests vis-à-vis Iran and build upon them—not so much to deepen Iran’s isolation but to enable coordinated action in resolving the stalemate with Iran. The United States could facilitate, for example, a quiet exchange between security officials from Israel and other regional players to clarify their respective approaches to the emerging security environment and to discuss the kinds of transparency and oversight measures that might ultimately provide reassurance about Iran’s nuclear intentions.
Second, the United States should continue to coordinate its policies toward Iran with Israel. Despite the reported tensions between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu during the former’s first term in office, relations between the professional policymaking establishments of the two countries have never been closer; this coordination will continue to reassure Israel and to encourage Jerusalem to act with restraint.
Don’t bet on Israel’s next move; it is anyone’s guess.
Third, the United States should support cooperative frameworks which would allow the states of the Middle East to begin to discuss, face to face, principles of regional security. The proposal to convene a conference on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East may be a vehicle for initiating such discussions. The architecture for regional coordination and management of security in the Middle East does not exist today, and is difficult to imagine, but it will remain elusive unless the United States pushes like-minded states into discussions of the shared challenges they face. These discussions will eventually need to address the challenge of banning all weapons of mass destruction in the region.
Finally, and most urgently, the best way to address Israeli fears of Iran is for Washington to break the logjam in its bilateral relations with Tehran, enable Iran to clarify its past nuclear activities, accept negotiated limits on its nuclear activities, and move beyond the years of confrontation which have both undermined regional security and defined Israeli–Iranian relations.