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Israelis Think War with Iran is Inevitable

Argues Yossi Klein Halevi in ‘WSJ’ op-ed

Hadara Graubart
October 30, 2009

In an op-ed the Wall Street Journal titled “The Return of Israel’s Existential Dread” (whether it ever really left is debatable), journalist Yossi Klein Halevi parses the growing sense among Israelis that war with Iran is inevitable. He sees this zeitgeist shift reflected in everything from Sabbath dinner conversation to a postcard demarcating how long residents in different parts of the country would have to seek shelter if attacked. He notes that the public remained discomfited by the possibility of Iran signing on to the proposed U.N. deal for shipping its uranium abroad—“If Iranian leaders are prepared to sign an agreement, Israelis argue, that’s because they know something the rest of us don’t”—which is probably for the best, as Iran officially rejected the proposal this morning.

Halevi gives several good reasons (besides being a militarized society that has faced near constant threats to its existence over its short 60 year history) why Israel might be falling into the state of mind characterized by a phrase from early in its history: “Ein breira, there’s no choice.” One is the nature of Iran, which, particularly under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has established itself as near-impossibly unreasonable. As Halevi puts it: “A regime that assembles the world’s crackpots to deny the most documented atrocity in history—at the very moment it is trying to fend off sanctions and convince the international community of its sanity—may well be immune to rational self-interest.”

Another is a question “Israelis have been asking themselves … with increasing urgency: Should we attack Iran if all other options fail?” If all other options have failed, then, presumably, the only alternative to war would be suicide; and, while Jews have fallen back on that last resort in dire historical circumstances, it’s definitely antithetical to the Israeli psyche. But what happens when the populace starts to think of war as inevitable, even as no one wants to see it happen? Does the territory implied by the words “all other options” widen to include innovative and marginal ideas in an attempt to stave off disaster, or does everyone resign themselves to gritting their teeth and pulling the trigger as quickly as possible?

Hadara Graubart was formerly a writer and editor for Tablet Magazine.