Slicing through Netanyahu's rhetoric equating Iran to Hitler, the IDF has revealed the real reason Israeli expansionists like Netanyahu fear Iran. According to Major-General Amir Eshel, head of strategic planning for the armed forces,:
A nuclear-armed Iran could deter Israel from going to war against Tehran's guerrilla allies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli general said on Tuesday. [Haaretz 1/17/12.]
It is not Iranian aggression that Netanyahu fears but the ability of Iran, one day, to prevent Israeli aggression. And that is exactly why Americans, not to mention the people of the Mideast, might be better off actually letting Iran develop nuclear arms. There are in fact many good reasons for opposing the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran or any other country, but if even the IDF can publicly acknowledge that a Mideast nuclear balance between Israel and Iran might lead to an armed peace, then this should give Washington strategic thinkers cause to ponder.
If Tel Aviv were no longer able to rely on military force to achieve its goals, then it might consider alternative approaches, like diplomacy, good-neighborliness, compromise, or even nuclear transparency. One might even imagine the day when a relatively secure Israel and a relatively secure Iran would agree to work together, for the benefit of each, toward a non-nuclear Mideast.
According to the Haaretz report:
Eshel made clear that Israel - widely reputed to have the region's only atomic arsenal - worries that Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia as well as Palestinian Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza could one day find reassurance in an Iranian bomb.
Not spelled out by Eshel was the logical inference that such a situation would compel Israel to consider positive-sum approaches to its strategic situation, such as following Ankara's advocacy of compromise, accepting the right of Palestinians to independence, and terminating its policy of violating Lebanon's borders.
A political system containing a small state that is a military bully and a much larger, rising state that is militarily weak, frustrated, frightened, and determined to achieve its natural role as a major actor and to achieve a reasonable measure of national security constitutes a dangerously unstable system. Each side has motivation for a first strike, and the weak state has motivation for the combination of risk-taking and a massive arms build-up. Even a nuclear standoff might be less dangerous than such an unstable combination of a small, militarily dominant state threatening a much larger and rising state.
Deterring Israel would compel Israel to develop a new strategic policy based not on violence but compromise. Such a policy would surely encompass movement toward justice for Palestinians. This would pull the rug out from under any Iranians tempted to use Israeli subjugation of Palestinians as the excuse for radical Iranian policies in the Levant, push Lebanese Hezbollah further in the direction of becoming just a domestic Lebanese political party and away from war with Israel, and would open the door for Hamas as well to replace resistance to Israeli oppression with domestic governance as its raison d'etre. Such an Israeli strategic shift would also open the door for Arab regimes interested in the economic benefits of cooperation with Israel to follow that moderate road without having to face the rage of their citizens. Taken together, these shifts would transform the Mideast and represent a stunning strategic victory for the Israeli people.