A Shlekhter Sholem

“Our hands are always on the trigger.” Thus spoke an Iranian Revolutionary Guard officer, Gen. Hossein Salami, in reference to Iran’s two days of missile testing. The Shahab-3, which with its (at least) 1300 kilometer range can reach Israel, not to mention Europe, was among the weapons tested.

It’s a serious threat any way you slice it, but Salami forgot to mention that their other hands are on the mouse, controlling the Photoshop editor. By comparing the three photos below, the world found out that one missile failed at launching; but the Iranians didn’t like the impression that made, so they doctored the photo.

Even a Photoshop amateur like me could have done a better job of faking the fourth missile, so the stupidity of trying such a lame trick was compounded by ineptitude with the mouse as well as the trigger, and Iran can now be doubly embarrassed.

But that doesn’t make this much less of a threat. Iran wants us all to know that its promise to wipe Israel off the map is no idle chatter. It needs two things to keep that promise: the Shahab-3, and the weapons-grade nuclear material that may now be less than a year away.

Amos Harel, an Israeli military expert and the author of a book on the Second Lebanon War, said on the BBC this morning that neither Israel nor Iran wants war, and that seems to be the consensus among those who know. Certainly, neither an atom-armed Iran nor a preemptive strike against its nuclear plants is among Israel’s favorite options for the next year. But if forced to choose, it will not likely choose the former.

In early June, the IDF air command flew and refueled more than 100 war planes far out over the sea, rehearsing an Iran strike and demonstrating its ability to do it. Hardly a peep came out of the international community at that news, so Iran was shocked—shocked—that it was widely condemned just for tossing up a few rockets. But Mom, Israel can do it, why can’t we?

This kindergarten moralizing would play a little better if Iran weren’t denying the Holocaust, vowing to wipe Israel off the map, and preparing a second Holocaust in deeply buried bunkers full of thousands of humming centrifuges, all spinning out fissionable material.

Still, Israel surely wants to avoid striking Iran, and would be delighted to wake up one day and find that sanctions and diplomacy have worked. But there may not be much time left. It will probably not try anything until after our elections, but then its own elections may not be far off. If Obama wins here, Israel may not want to wait for January.

Israel is not asking for U.S. military action—unlike Western Europe, it never does—but it will need diplomatic cover, and that is most likely before Bush is replaced by a liberal Democrat. Let us hope that diplomacy and international pressure do the trick.

Meanwhile, Israel put a fancy spy plane on display near Tel Aviv, flexing a different kind of muscle—intelligence, the ability to know what Iran is doing. Also, Arrow anti-missile-missiles are in deployment. So the exchange of bluster goes on. But Iran is an existential threat to Israel, and there is no reason whatever to suppose that the opposite is the case.

A recent lecture by a retired IDF general summarized current Israeli defense doctrine. He said the country must be prepared for war on three fronts simultaneously, and he sounded quite confident. Israel, at 60, still surrounded by enemies, is readier than ever.

As of today, the Gaza cease-fire is fraying around the edges, but it holds on barely. A prisoner exchange with Hezbollah is in the offing, and may lead to more peace initiatives with Lebanon. Palestinian security forces are doing better in the West Bank. And even peace with Syria is higher on the agenda.

As they say in English, if you want peace, prepare for war. But as they say in Yiddish, A shlekhter sholem iz besser vi a gitter krieg—a bad peace is better than a good war. There are limits to that statement. A bad peace leading to a nuclear-armed Iran might be too bad.

Best of all, of course, would be a gitter sholem–a good peace.