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Are Israeli Fears Of A Nuclear Iran Overblown?

By Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett

This week, as we prepare for the release of Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, we are pleased to be featured on
Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish — or, more specifically, on The Dish’s “Ask Anything” video series. As The Dish’s editors note, “During the Iranian uprising of 2009, the Dish continuously clashed with Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, the most well-known skeptics of the Green Movement.” Given that history, we are grateful to Andrew Sullivan and his colleagues for reaching out to us at this critical time in America’s ongoing debate about how to deal with the Islamic Republic.

Video posted January 09, 2013

Strategically, as we’ve argued before, see here, there is no way that a mythical nuclear-armed Iran, much less an Iran enriching uranium at well below weapons grade, poses an “existential threat” to Israel.  In New York, Netanyahu made much of the Islamic Republic’s alleged irrationality, even citing Bernard Lewis that “for the Ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it’s an inducement.”  But countless senior Israeli officials—including the commander of the Israel Defense Forces, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, including even Netanyahu himself, see here and here—have acknowledged, on the record, that it is highly unlikely that Iranian leaders would use nuclear weapons.  (For the record, Iranian leaders have said repeatedly over many years that they don’t want nuclear weapons and, in the assessment of both U.S. and Israeli intelligence services, they have not taken a decision to produce them.  In fact, we believe that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, has taken a clear decision not to do so.) 

The real existential threat to Israel comes from what Israelis see going on around them right now, and which Ahmadinejad so aptly pointed out—the mobilization of Arab and other Muslim populations to demand more participatory political orders. 

For as Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, and other Iranian leaders understand very well, the governments that grow out of this demand will not succumb to American pressure cum blandishments to “make peace” with Israel, even as it continues to occupy Arab land, suppress Arab populations, and flout international law in its grossly disproportionate applications of military force around the region.  Such governments will insist, before they can accept Israel, that it must change its policies in fundamental ways—ways so fundamental that most Israeli elites would see it as an abandonment of the Zionist project.  And over time—perhaps measured in decades rather the merely years—that will persuade most of the rest of the world to demand basic changes in Israel, too.

A round-up of favorable reviews of their new book is here. Watch their previous videos here and here and read more in their new book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran

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