Will Israel survive? That is the provocative question posed by Dr Mitchell Bard in the title of his forthcoming book, a question he says he was inspired to try and answer after seeing a number of surveys of Israelis addressing the same issue.
"There's a lot of threats out there," Bard said, during an interview with Ynetnews in Tel Aviv. "The surveys were a jumping off point for the book," he explained.
Bard is Executive Director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE). As a political scientist, he has written extensively about the Middle East and Israel, and provided a valuable resource to Israel's supporters abroad with Myths and Facts, A Guide to the Israeli-Arab Conflict.
Bard has cast a thorough eye over threats to Israel's future, and examined internal secular-religious strife, the demographic challenge posed by Arab Israelis, conflict over water resources, and radical Islam.
The good news is that in most cases, Bard concluded, the "challenges are not insurmountable. These are not real threats to Israel's survival." The bad news is that "the only real threat to Israel's existence is the nuclear threat," he added.
"The other threats are manageable or can be resolved," he stressed.
Currently, the nuclear danger comes "primarily from Iran," Bard said, adding that the Islamic Republic is "the only one that seems to be on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons."
That, however, is only the immediate aspect of the Middle Eastern nuclear problem, Bard emphasized. He urged both Israelis and Westerners to drop their near-sightedness, in order to fully comprehend the nature of the problem.
"Part of what I try to argue in this book is that the Western notion of time is very short-sighted," he said. "The Muslim version of time is in terms of centuries. Looking at the Crusaders, the Muslims say, it took us 200 years to drive them out. Now, it will take us 200 years to drive out the Zionists. We've been trying for 100 years, we've got 100 years to wait," Bard said.
"Fifty years from now, what is the chance that no Arab-Muslim state will have a nuclear weapon?" Bard asked. "I say, there are really no good answers. It's the toughest issue facing the Israeli prime minister, because there aren't any good options. The idea of Israel living under a nuclear cloud is a bad option," he added.
Bard also questioned whether Iran could really be deterred, with its "Mahdi ideology" and glorification of suicide jihad. "Can the Israeli prime minister take that chance? If they do take that chance, will companies open here? Will Jews make aliyah? Will Israelis stay?" Bard asked.
Casting doubt over the prospects of success for the diplomatic approach vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear program, Bard said: "I don't think it (diplomacy) will work. But if it doesn't work, the military solution is not clearly a solution. I'm not sure they can take out nuclear weapons," he added. "If they are successful, it could provoke greater terrorism."
"The Iranian issue is the most difficult," Bard said.
Has the recent Israeli operation in Syria raised your hopes over Israel's abilities to deal with the nuclear challenge?
MB: The strike did send the message that Israel has a long arm... (but) it doesn't erase the Iranian threat. It reminds everyone that Israel does have the capabilities to try and take it (the Iranian nuclear program) out.
Part of your book is aimed at debunking distorted media perceptions of Israel. Are you disappointed that this work has been left to you by what some say is a poor Israeli government public relations campaign?
I'm not a big critic of the government's hasbara. I think it's a bit unfair because there are objective realities which create disadvantage in any debate (for Israel), no matter how brilliant the debaters. The Palestinian argument is simple, and can be summed up in three words: End the occupation. It's a fairly effective argument... the Israeli position can also be summed up in three words: Israel wants peace. I think Israel wants peace, and Olmert responds to all options, such as as the Saudi peace initiative, which is substantively terrible. Everyone recognizes that Mahmoud Abbas is weak... but Olmert wants to negotiate with him. That's the situation Israel has always been in. It can't say no to peace. The real issue for me isn't the media, but rather, does the media make a difference. From the US, I can tell you with a great deal of evidence that anti-Israel bias hasn't had a negative impact.
How has Israel's image in the US changed over the years?
In a Gallop poll conducted in 1967, which asked Americans: who do you sympathize with, Israel or the Arabs? 55 percent said Israel. The last Gallop poll, in February (of this year), saw 58 percent answer Israel. The support is higher than in 1967... in 40 years, there have been settlements, 2 intifadas, and media bias. The (American) public clearly hasn't turned on Israel despite years of bias. The past two administrations have been extremely pro-Israel. Congress has offered almost 100% support. While bias may exist, Israel still comes out ahead.
Can the Walt-Mersheimer book on the Jewish lobby change that?
There's nothing in their book that is new. Two respected university professors wrote a book that is complete rubbish. It's a combination of a comic book and fiction. They know nothing about the Middle East, and they proved that with their book. For people that are already inclined to believe that Jews have a nefarious influence, the book can be potentially dangerous because they will have 'proofs.' Anti-Israel professors will certainly assign it on their courses, and other professors may also list their book on their courses as an alternative view, though falsehood is not another side to truth. The idea that the Israel lobby was behind the Iraq war is preposterous. Recent media reports show how Israelis told the Americans that they shouldn't attack Iraq, that Iran was the main threat. Most US Jews were against the Iraq war.
What is your new book's main message?
The book is optimistic. I believe Israel will survive, and thrive. It is thriving now. I believe Israel will have peace with some or all of its neighbors... I believe peace is possible, though it's not going to be the most perfect peace that we all want.