With glee and glow, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, has predictably declared his ‘full support’ for President Trump’s ‘bold’ decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. For decades, Mr Netanyahu has viewed the Tehran regime as an existential threat to his own country, and Washington’s move against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) strikes a potentially heavy blow against his old adversary.
There is, however, a tragic irony about Netanyahu’s position. On the one hand, he wants to enhance Israel’s ‘security’ by undermining the Iranian government, hindering its oil exports and starving the regime of foreign exchange earnings. And he will also want to provoke its leaders into resuming their nuclear activities, thereby providing him, and his fellow hawks in Washington, with an excuse to unleash a deadly strike on Iranian territory.
But should he succeed on either score, or even in just ramping up regional tensions, then he will risk provoking a furious reaction. Unfortunately this will be a reaction not just against his own self, nor just against the state of Israel. Tragically, it will also be a reaction against many Jews the world over. In short, he will create a new wave of antisemitism.
To state the obvious, such a reaction would, of course, be wholly reprehensible and unjustified. Not only does Israel have legitimate security concerns but the hawkish policies of its prime minister do not reflect those of other leaders in Tel Aviv, let alone of the majority of Israeli citizens: several former Israeli defense and intelligence chiefs, for example, have publicly defended the 2015 deal. And pinning responsibility on non-Israeli Jews, who may have no allegiance or sympathy with Israel on any issue, is even more unfair. The tragedy, however, is that this is what could easily soon happen.
The reason is that if conflict does break out between Iran and the United States in the months ahead – yesterday Trump warned Tehran of ‘very severe consequences’ if it resumed uranium enrichment – then many people will view it as ‘Bibi’s War’ in all but name. He has always been such a flamboyant cheerleader for the anti-JCPOA cause. When the agreement was first struck three years ago, he denounced it as a ‘capitulation’ and a ‘bad mistake of historic proportions’.
Last week he unveiled, in truly theatrical style, a huge dossier of intelligence about Iran’s historic nuclear activities, that his undercover secret agents had seized and spirited out of the country. But however adept his foreign intelligence service, Mossad, Netanyahu succeeded in portraying himself, unmistakably and unequivocally, as a staunch enemy of peace.
There is a contrast here with the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003. Although once again Israel’s leaders urged George W. Bush to attack Saddam- even if prime minister Ariel Sharon’s preferred target was Tehran – they did so in a quieter tone than Netanyahu’s loud, unmistakable bellowing: in public, Sharon and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, only warned Washington against any ‘postponement’ of an attack that was already being planned.
There is another respect in which any such conflict, whether waged by Tel Aviv or by Washington at Netanyahu’s instigation, would also differ from Israel’s earlier wars. Unlike the IDF’s successive onslaughts against Gaza since 2005, or its attacks on Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, any such assault on Iran would spike the price of oil, affecting the global economy in general and, in particular, the price of petrol at the pumps. Every ordinary consumer across the world, in other words, will be adversely affected.
True, this happened in 1967 and, most spectacularly in 1973, but in both cases Israel was either the victim of foreign aggression (1973) or responding to imminent attack (1967). By contrast, Netanyahu will be not the victim but an aggressor who will have orchestrated, and be seen to have orchestrated, tomorrow’s unnecessary war with Tehran, having deliberately undermined an agreement that the Iranians were honouring and which offered the foundations of a wider agreement. In other words, Israel will then get the blame for a conflict- or even the heightened risk of one- that will hit all of us in the pocket.
Unfortunately it is not just Mr Netanyahu or Israel that will get the blame for the economic fallout of Middle East turbulence and bloodshed. Some people will also project their anger onto wholly innocent Jewish people: this wholly indefensible reaction became evident during Israel’s 2014 offensive against Gaza, for example, when watchdogs were alarmed to see a sharp increase in antisemitic incidents in Britain and elsewhere.
Innocent civilians of course always pay the heaviest price, in blood and suffering, for any conflict that breaks out. But more bloodshed in the Middle East will catch not just innocent Iranians and Arabs in the crossfire but also innocent Jews. It risks provoking a new wave not just of anti-American feeling but of antisemitism.
RT Howard is the author, most recently, of ‘Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Britain and America 1945-2016’ and ‘Warmongers’