Thursday, November 3, 2011

On the 'Begin Doctrine'

By Uri Heitner in Israel Hayom:-

Stick to the Begin Doctrine

Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin received a surprising letter after the Persian Gulf War. The letter, signed by a group of Knesset members, thanked Begin for his decision to destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak a decade earlier.

The surprise in the letter was that among those who signed it were MKs who had been firmly opposed to the decision before the strike, and critics of it afterward. In retrospect they had all realized the justification of Begin's decision. They understood the grave significance of having weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a radical tyrant like Saddam Hussein, and appreciated the leadership, bravery and decision-making skills that Begin displayed. Begin arrived at his brave decision to bomb Osirak despite opposition from many officials, among them members of the security establishment. In hindsight, they too realized his justified belief: A prime minister's ultimate and utmost priority is to ensure Israel's existence.

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According to the Begin Doctrine, as it has since been coined, Israel will make every effort to ensure its enemies do not procure nuclear weapons. It is according to this doctrine that then Prime Minster Ehud Olmert made, "according to foreign reports," the all-important decision to destroy the Syrian nuclear reactor.

This doctrine is all the more relevant today concerning Iran, which is ruled by Islamic fanatics. Letting Iran get its hands on nuclear weapons constitutes a threat to world peace, but first and foremost a perilous risk to Israel's security. An Israeli prime minister who does not stick to the Begin Doctrine - who does not do everything in his power to prevent a nuclear Iran - is a prime minister shirking his duties.

The question is how to prevent it. It does not necessarily mean an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear reactors. Military action is the last resort, and so as long as crises can be averted diplomatically and through sanctions, they should be. The Iranian threat is global, and as such it should be the free world, spearheaded by the U.S., that leads the fight in preventing a nuclear Iran. And if it still remains that the only viable solution is Israeli military action, no government has the moral right to avoid such a course, despite the risks.

Of course it is imperative to ensure that military action would be effective, as well as to take into account the price Israel might pay as result. But such discussion should not be held in a public forum, as media speculation dilutes Israeli deterrence and gives Iranian leaders the feeling that Israel has eschewed the military option. If Iran comes to the conclusion that Israel will not strike then nothing will stop the ayatollah's regime in its quest for nuclear arms.

The public debate raging in Israel over a possible attack on Iran is rash and irresponsible. Thanks to reckless leaks of information, the Israeli public is being worked into a frenzy that delegitimizes military action against the Iranian nuclear project. Israel's highest duty, which is to defend its citizens, is being depicted as an adventurous game being played by two irresponsible men who must be reminded not to play with fire.

In Iran, it would be easy to see the nature of the debate as Israel's renunciation of military action, thus dealing a harsh blow to Israeli deterrence. Such damage could cement Iran's procurement of nuclear weapons as a done deal.

Iranian nuclear weapons are an existential threat to Israel. Even if not used, their very existence could change the balance of power in the Middle East, effectively turning the region into the Iranian regime's hostage.

Public debates that cause a delegitimization of Israel's highest duty to protect its citizens only play into Iran's hands and strike hard at Israel's security.

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