In his role as propagator of the Israeli narrative for the American establishment, New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner recently wrote about Iranian nuclear plans in alarmist terms–"Memo from Jerusalem: Hoping Sanctions Work, But Readying Gas Masks":
Still, for all the agreement between Jerusalem and Washington, there remains a significant difference. It emerged last month when Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, was asked at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy how cooperation was going between Israel and the United States on Iran.
“From America, when you look at a nuclear Iran, you already have, just besides allies like France and the U.K., a nuclear Russia, nuclear China, nuclear India, nuclear Pakistan,” he replied. “North Korea is going toward turning nuclear. So probably from this corner of the world, it doesn’t change the scene dramatically.
“From a closer distance, in Israel, it looks like a tipping point of the whole regional order.”
In other words, as a top Israeli official put it afterward: “For the Americans, Iran is a strategic threat. For us, it’s an existential one.”
But if you read Ehud Barak’s comments at WINEP on Iran, he didn’t say that Israel faces an existential threat; he says pretty flatly that Iran’s not going to use the bomb on a neighbor; "they have quite sophisticated decision-making process and they understand realities," Barak said. He said the chief threat was that Israel will face competition in the region from a rival hegemon. Also that nuclear proliferation means that terrorists will get the bomb in another half generation. (In Ynet today, Barak says the same thing: Iran is not an existential threat.)
The question arises: If this is the real threat, shouldn’t the US be far more worried about Pakistan than Iran? (Not to mention the realist benefits of a balance-of-power with militarist Israel.)
Barak elaborated the remarks the Times quoted in this fashion (emphasis mine):
A nuclear Iran means the end of any nonproliferation regime because Saudi Arabia and probably another two or three members of the Middle Eastern community will feel compelled to reach nuclear capability as well. And it will open the door for any third-grade dictator who has a nuclear ambition to understand that if he is strong enough mentally to defy any kind of threats from the world, he will reach nuclear military capability. I don’t think the Iranians have North Korea as their example – probably some certain example of how easy it could be to defy and deceive the whole world, but basically they probably think of themselves as another Pakistan and probably they started it totally independent from the issue of Israel.
But they gradually adopted us as a major cause for their hegemonic intentions and you have just to listen to what they have said, what Ahmadinejad has just said in public in Damascus; they are looking for a new Middle East, reminding me of Shimon Peres, but their new Middle East – (laughter) – new Middle East, according to Ahmadinejad and his host, is something that should be free of Zionists, free of colonialists. And once again they happen to develop not a Napoleon-style field artillery but nuclear weapons. And we cannot take it too easily and I propose to others not to take it too easily.
It’s not just the end of any nonproliferation regime. I believe that it starts the countdown that was first kind of described by Professor Graham Allison of Harvard in his book “Nuclear Terrorism” that would lead, within another half a generation, to a crude nuclear device in the hands of some terrorist group. And those of you who are acquainted with nuclear
deterrence strategy, please start to think how, what shape can a multi-addresses deterrence against a nuclear attack with no address stamp on it, how can such a strategy might look? And you will realize how intensive, concrete and conclusive we should be in regard to this threat before it materializes. And it’s not just about hegemonic, nuclear capabilities. I don’t think that the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, they are going to drop it immediately on some neighbor. They fully understand what might follow. They are radicals but not total meshuganas. (Laughter.)
… [T]hey have quite sophisticated decision-making process and they understand realities. But it’s not just in the nuclear arena. It’s also in the hegemonic intentions: They might intimidate neighbors all around the Gulf. We might feel very quickly the tailwind that the radicals from al-Qaida to Islamic Jihad to all other Jaish, al-Nabi or whatever will feel, once Iran goes nuclear and what kind of impact it will be – it will have on the assertiveness and self-confidence of the radical players, not to mention the indirect capacity to influence the prices of oil at will.
Thanks to Jim Lobe for spotting this.