'What Could Possibly Motivate Israel to Kill Iranian Nuclear Scientists?'

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A Goldblog reader writes:

You have to explain to me why the Zionists are so committed to picking a fight with Iran? What could possibly motivate Israel to kill Iranian nuclear scientists? It makes no sense, unless Israel is looking to start a war to extend its military domination of the Middle East (everyone knows Israel has the strongest military in the Middle East). So you'll have to explain this to me, please.

There seems to be an epidemic of thickness on this question. Let me be clear: Just because I think an attack on Iran's nuclear complex is a bad idea doesn't mean I think Iran poses no threat to Israel. Do you want to know why Israel is taking the actions it may be taking against Iran? Because Iran has been engaged in full-blown but subterranean war against Israel for almost three decades. The Iranian regime is committed to the physical elimination of Israel. That's right -- a member-state of the U.N. is advocating the complete destruction of another member-state. The Iranian leadership regularly uses Nazi-style rhetoric against Israel and Jews, frequently resorting to epidemiological metaphors -- Israel is a cancer, Israel is a tumor, language that smacks of Mein Kampf.

But more important than Iran's eliminationist rhetoric is Iran's actions: Iran is the prime sponsor of Hezbollah, an avowedly-antisemitic terrorist organization that seeks to kill Israeli civilians. Iran is also a prime supporter of Hamas, which also seeks out Israeli civilians to kill (and it even brags about the number of Israeli civilians it has murdered). Hezbollah and Hamas, just like Iran, seek the physical elimination of Israel. Their agenda isn't to create a Palestinian state in Gaza and on the West Bank; their agenda is to replace a Jewish state with an Arab-Muslim state. If you were an Israeli leader, and you understood that Iran works assiduously to murder your civilians, and to bring about an end to your people's collective existence, and then you learned that Iran may be trying to build a nuclear weapon, well, is it so unreasonable to think that Israel might choose to fight back?

Which brings me to another letter just received in the Goldblog inbox:

Why shouldn't Iran have a nuclear weapon? Israel has it. Why does Israel think it needs a nuclear weapon and Iran doesn't. Why should Israel have nukes in the first place?

This letter-writer, it seems to me, lacks imagination. Why shouldn't Iran have a nuclear weapon? Well, because it's an anti-democratic theocracy that menaces its neighbors, oppresses its own people, and calls for the destruction of another Middle Eastern state. It is profoundly anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Sunni. It is in the American national interest to see Iran denied nuclear weapons.  Nuclear weapons are dangerous. They are especially dangerous in the hands of totalitarian regimes, and so these regimes should be discouraged from acquiring them.

And why does Israel think it needs nuclear weapons in the first place? Well, Israel was founded shortly after one-third of the world's Jews were murdered in the Shoah. The Shoah, if nothing else, was an object lesson on the perils of defenselessness. Israel was, at independence, set upon by its neighbors. It continues to battle countries and organizations that seek its destruction. Here is a real failure of imagination: I'm not arguing that you have to endorse Israel's nuclearization, but if you can't understand this from Israel's perspective, then you're just not trying. By the way, I understand why Iran's unelected supreme leader might believe that nuclear weapons are in his country's best interests. I don't agree that he should have them, but I understand why he would want them.   

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, Goldberg also writes the magazine's advice column. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. Previously, he served as a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward, and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

His book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. Goldberg rthe recipient of the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism. He is also the recipient of 2005's Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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