This is a guest post by Professor Alan Johnson, Senior Research Fellow at BICOM
Writing at the Economist blog on March 6 ‘MS’ put Israel on the couch. The result was what Sigmund Freud called ‘wild analysis’: the dangerous misapplication of psychological theory due to the analyst not knowing the person being analyzed well enough, or misapplying the theory out of some personal motivation.
Israel is needlessly ‘anxious’; a bit of a paranoid, weighed down by an ‘Auschwitz complex’. More: Israelis are guilty about refusing to give up their ‘empire’ so have developed a defence mechanism to protect themselves from their guilt. They have ‘psychologically displaced the source of their anxiety onto a more distant target: Iran.’ There is a pattern of self-destructive behaviour here: ‘Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis because, unlike the Palestinians, it can be fitted into a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook: the eliminationist anti-Semite.’
There are three problems with this wild analysis.
First, and in passing, let us note that far from the concept of eliminationist antisemitism – being part of some ‘Jewish national playbook,’ it was the absence of such an orientating concept among the Jews of Europe that made the nature of the Nazi assault so difficult to understand and respond to.
Second, to argue that ‘Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis’ is bizarre. The million Israelis who huddled in bomb shelters in Northern Israel dodging Iranian-supplied missiles in 2006, and the million Israelis who huddled in bomb shelters dodging Iranian-supplied missile in southern Israel in 2009, did not consider Iran an appealing enemy. (Nor, by the way, do the British soldiers in Afghanistan who are fighting insurgents trained and armed by the Iranian IRGC.)
Third, to stand it up one has to believe Iran poses no existential threat to Israel and that the neurotic Jews are exaggerating again. However, if we may employ a psychological term of our own, this is to be ‘in denial’.
What of the ship loads of rockets to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah? What of the blowing up of the Jewish community centre killing 80 in Argentina in 1994? What of the attempted assassinations of Israeli diplomats last month? What of the holocaust denial of Ahmadinejad (complete with festive ‘mock the holocaust’ cartoon competitions)? What of the repeated expressions of the desire to ‘wipe Israel off the map.’
The Iranian nuclear threat is real. And now Iran’s programme is moving towards what Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak calls a ‘zone of immunity’, i.e. out of reach of Israeli weaponry. Iran has started up the underground uranium enrichment facility in Fordow, which may be impossible for Israel to bomb. This is no psychological projection by Israel. It is real. The inherent risk in having a nuclear standoff with a regime which not only uses genocidal rhetoric and has messianic tendencies but has a fractured unstable and unaccountable leadership should be obvious.
The intelligence is not hazy.
Uranium enrichment is happening in the plain sight of IAEA inspectors, following their exposure by Iranian opposition groups and Western intelligence agencies in 2002. Intelligence evidence of weaponisation has been declared ‘credible’ by the IAEA in its November 2011 report. Once we put cod psychology aside and talk uranium, this is the picture. Iran has already enriched 120 kilograms of uranium to a level of 20%. A basic nuclear bomb requires 250 kilograms enriched to a level of 90%. But the transition from 2% to 20% takes much more time than enriching uranium from 20% to 90%. Once Iran gets 250 kilograms of uranium enriched to a level of 20%, we will be about 90 days from their first nuclear bomb should they decide to go for breakout. It is that stark.
In other words, Israel is wrestling with an excruciating real-world dilemma not acting out a psychological complex. And not only Israel. The entire region would experience a nuclear arms race should Iran get the bomb. David Cameron, reporting intelligence from his national security advisor Kim Darroch, told a parliamentary committee this week that “there are signs that the Iranians want to have some sort of intercontinental missile capability, so we have to be clear this is a threat potentially much wider than just Israel and the region.”
Jewish paranoia? We’re dancing at the door of some unsavory stereotypes here.
Cheap psychologising of Israel is not a serious response to the looming danger of the Iranian nuclear bomb. That the Economist thinks otherwise is a real cause for concern.
I believe that M.S. is Matt Steinglass, a Jewish journalist who writes for the Financial Times on the Netherlands.