Human history has given rise to countless “fateful decisions” where a limited number of people – that is, leaders – changed their fate of nations and along with it the fate of the whole world.
Some decisions were taken rashly, out of stupidity or foolish boldness, while other difficult decisions were taken after many sleepless nights, based on concern and sound judgment. One way or another, none of the leaders involved predicted the expected results.
The State of Israel has been facing a complex strategic problem for more than a decade now: The Iranian nuclear project. The “decision time” that started somewhere in the late 1990s has been stretched endlessly, along with the unstable nerves of Israeli news consumers.
Every year, the public is being told that the prime minister is about to make a decision on the matter, because the Iranians are about to reach the point of no return. Yet then we see the year end, and the fateful decision moves on to the next year.
Yet as every historical saga has a beginning and an end, we can assume that in respect to the Iranian story as well there will come a day where everything will end – either we’ll get Iran as a nuclear power, or Iran that is distancing from acquiring nuclear capabilities.
Generally speaking, world leaders had and still have various ways for taking decisions – starting with the will of the nation, and ranging from the will of allies to personal benefit. The most prominent leaders made their decisions via historical lenses, while looking into the distant future.
After long years of futile attempts to influence Iran economically, Israel’s leadership too can look into the future in a clearer and bipolar manner. On the one hand we have the continuation of the current policy, until the story ends and is stuffed into history’s drawers; on the other hand we have the option of a military strike.
The end product of the first possibility can be created tomorrow morning, in a year, or in three years. The timing doesn’t matter, as the implications are identical. The day Iran possesses offensive nuclear capabilities will prompt a strategic big bang – a regional arms race, regional terror groups with growing confidence, and mostly existential danger for the State of Israel.
We can debate the meaning of the term “existential” and the scope of the danger, and we can also discuss Israel’s defense capabilities and an Iranian logic that would not allow it to launch a nuclear strike against a state that maintains (based on foreign reports) developed nuclear capabilities of its own.
However, we cannot ignore the assumption that there is a chance (even if a slim one) that the State of Israel will be facing an existential threat the kind of which it has not faced since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The immense difficulty here, beyond the risk inherent in a strike, is that any Israeli decision to strike in Iran will certainly lead to war. Israeli citizens, just like any citizen in the modern Western world, are
(justifiably) repulsed by wars, fatalities, and mostly the loss of one’s sense of security. The days where war was perceived as the “father of all,” to quote Heraclitus, and a period of human elation have ended.
A war with Iran and its allies would cause Israeli fatalities; hundreds of soldiers and citizens may be killed and the pain will be immense. Yet despite this, such war will not jeopardize the future and will not put the State of Israel’s existence to the test. The continuation of the current policy indeed produces a safe present for us citizens, yet it blurs the existence of such future.