Netanyahu’s Kennedy moment

Trita Parsi and Roi Ben-Yehuda write: Watching the conflict between Iran and Israel escalate, it’s hard not to draw analogies and lessons from history. Indeed, Netanyahu’s thinking in this regard is very much anchored in the past: “The year is 1938 and Iran is Germany”, time and again he has warned. Such analogs provide leaders with a quick and handy “user manual”: a way to sell a desired policy path and provide a platform for action.

Yet as mental shortcuts, analogs could easily lead to unwanted outcomes. Crucial decisions, like going to war, could be based on paying attention to the wrong lessons, or making a false comparison between two different situations. Indeed, it is neither 1938 (Iran is far from having a bomb or a delivery system) nor is Iran Nazi Germany (Iran’s military budget is fraction of that of Israel and the US). Claiming so, however, leaves no room for any response save military force.

Recently, another historical episode, the Cuban Missile Crisis, has been gaining traction. Just as the US, the analogy goes, faced the intolerable choice of either attacking Cuba or allowing Soviet nuclear weapons in its own backyard, so too Israel/US must decide between attacking Iran or allowing it to become nuclear.

General Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, former Israeli Air Force Chief, has stated that the current situation is following the Cuban Missile Crisis model in at least two respects: sanction imposed on Iran are similar to the naval blockade imposed on Cuba, and military threats by Israel (and the US) are akin to the Kennedy administration flexing its muscles and putting the armed forces on high alert.

Ben-Eliyahu also noted that the successful resolution of the conflict rested on a third pillar: a secret channel of communication between the parties that allowed the Russians to back down. It’s unknown, albeit doubtful, if Israel and Iran have established such channels of communications. [Continue reading…]

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