Friday, July 18, 2008

A Loose Cannon at Ben-Gurion University

The mind-set illustrated by this cartoon -- that Iran will surely drop a nuclear bomb on Israel as soon as it can produce one -- lives on, unfortunately. I have written on this subject in an earlier post.

The New York Times today (July 18, 2007) published an Op-Ed piece by one Bennie Morris, a maverick academic at Ben-Gurion University, entitled "Using Bombs to Stave Off War." The gist of the piece is that Israel must get on with it and bomb Iran's nuclear facilities using conventional, non-nuclear weapons. Morris predicts that Israel will in fact do so within the next four to seven months. The rationale is that unless Israel does so there will certainly be nuclear war between Israel and Iran, "either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb." The four to seven month time frame is designed to assure that it happens during the waning days of the Bush administration which "ensures that Israel will have support from a lame-duck White House."

Morris' argument proceeds in steps introduced by statements such as "Every intelligence agency in the world believes," "everyone knows that," "Western intelligence agencies agree" .... All this self-evident information "leaves the world with only one option if it wishes to halt Iran’s march toward nuclear weaponry: the military option, meaning an aerial assault by either the United States or Israel."

The best outcome of this recommendation, in Morris' view, is that Iran will come to its senses and give up its nuclear ambitions. Morris does not, however, believe that will happen, so he staunchly accepts that this is but a prelude to the eventual nuclear war between Israel and Iran. Iran is, of course (as everyone knows), undeterrable because it is ruled by fundamentalist muslims: "Thus an Israeli nuclear strike to prevent the Iranians from taking the final steps toward getting the bomb is probable."

Bennie Morris

As if this eccentric Op-Ed piece were not evidence enough that Morris is a very odd duck, his academic career is further illustration. Initially he was regarded as an Israeli who was sympathetic to the Palestinians. He even refused to do military service in the West Bank. Over the years he has come so far from that starting point that he has actually argued in favor of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. In the 2004 interview in Haaretz wherein he made this statement he was described by the interviewer (Ari Shavit) as follows:
But sitting in his armchair in his Jerusalem apartment, he does not don the mantle of the cautious academic. Far from it: Morris spews out his words, rapidly and energetically, sometimes spilling over into English. He doesn’t think twice before firing off the sharpest, most shocking statements, which are anything but politically correct. He describes horrific war crimes offhandedly, paints apocalyptic visions with a smile on his lips. He gives the observer the feeling that this agitated individual, who with his own hands opened the Zionist Pandora’s box, is still having difficulty coping with what he found in it...

It thus appears that Bennie Morris is only an isolated crank and is not here sending out an authorized feeler on behalf of the Israeli government. That is comforting. We can nevertheless wish that the New York Times had done deeper due diligence on Morris before publishing his reckless piece. We can also recommend to the Academic Senate of Ben-Gurion University that it is time to tighten up their academic standards.

As Morris himself acknowledges in his Op-Ed piece Israel is a nuclear power (a fact Israel itself has never officially admitted.) He fails to acknowledge, however, that by most estimates Israel has between 150 and 200 nuclear weapons, supported by aircraft, missile and submarine delivery capabilities. Against this arsenal are we really to believe that Iran is going to send the first bomb off its assembly line to Israel and suffer the civilization-ending consequences?


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