The Only “Existential Threat” to Israel Is Its Own Irrationality

Wouldn’t it be nice if the heads of our own national security agencies spoke truth to power like this? Tamir Pardo, head of Mossad, had this to say to a roomful of Israeli ambassadors last week:

“What is the significance of the term existential threat?” the ambassadors quoted Pardo as asking. “Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely.”

Not only is Pardo going on the record to say that this language, favored by the very Prime Minister who appointed him to head Mossad, is overblown, but he did it in front of a roomful of Avigdor Lieberman’s people. This takes guts: Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently found himself in trouble for going off message on Iran when he suggested that Israel is not the sole motive force behind Iran’s nuclear talk.

Unfortunately in the U.S., the national security agencies have been relatively quiet over Iran since the IAEA’s latest, and misinterpreted, report on Iran came out (for a debunking of such misinterpretations, see here). The 2011 NIE, which has not yet been made available to the public, reportedly concludes that “the [U.S.] intelligence community has not determined that Iran has made the strategic decision to build a nuclear weapon, it is working on the components of such a device.”

But as Ray McGovern and Elizabeth Murray remind us, Leon Panetta is no Mike Mullen when it comes to standing down American chickenhawks, or Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister.

The danger today, I believe, is less that Israel will act unilaterally, but that the U.S. will launch a preemptive war on Iran because Obama will be convinced he has no other choice because of the mounting pressure from both conservative and liberal hawks (not to mention neocons) over his Israel and Iran policies in an election year.

Hopefully, voices such as these will increasingly be heard over those clamoring for regime change and airstrikes within and without the administration. So far, though, Tehran, Washington and Tel Aviv are all off to a bad start in 2012.

Paul Mutter is a Fellow at Truthout and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.