Benjamin Netanyahu, as Israel’s new prime minister, will be bringing renewed attention to Iran and its desire to produce a nuclear weapon, and he’ll be pressing President Obama to move swiftly on the diplomatic front, because if diplomacy doesn’t work Netanyahu has signalled emphatically that Israel will not stand by and allow an existential threat to its existence take shape. Barack Obama better start paying seriously close attention to this, because neither Netanyahu nor Iran are going to just go away.
Iranian leaders have expressed, in numerous instances, an intent to destroy Israel. And having a nuclear weapon would give them opportunity. In 2005, Harvard historian Daniel Goldhagen gave historical perspective to President Ahmadinejad of Iran, and his publically declared desire to “wipe Israel off the map.” The historical perspective that he offered in 2005 continues to be relevant to decisions facing us today:
In 1904, General Lothar Von Trotta, the German governor of its colony of South-West Africa (today’s Namibia), publicly proclaimed, “within the German boundaries, every Herero, whether found armed or unarmed, with or without cattle, will be shot.” In 1939, right before starting World War II, Hitler declared to the world his intent to take advantage of a world war to bring about “the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.” Last week, President Ahmadinejad of Iran publicly called for the annihilation of Israel. A few days later, he repeated his call to “wipe Israel off the map.”
For genocide to occur, two components must be present, intent and opportunity, with intent often long preceding the acquisition of the means and circumstances necessary to implement it. In South-West Africa, the intent could not have been clearer, and the opportunity was also present, given the overwhelming German military superiority. The Germans systematically slaughtered three-quarters of the Herero people. Hitler had already articulated his wish to “exterminate” the Jews in 1920, but not until the German conquest of Europe did the opportunity exist for him to carry out his wishes, which he promptly did, murdering 6 million.
How has the world reacted to Mr. Ahmadinejad, von Trotta and Hitler’s rhetorical heir? With the exception of the Palestinian Authority’s spokesman, the leaders of Arab and other Islamic countries have been silent. Their countries’ newspapers, with tacit approval, have printed on their front pages Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech without commentary. In the democratic world, political leaders and editorialists alike have roundly condemned Mr. Ahmadinejad’s words. Yet the critical questions remain unanswered: How seriously should we take Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements? More specifically, what is the relationship of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s words to any real intent? And will intent find opportunity?