The next Holocaust will be different
Benny Morris, the prominent Israeli historian, warns that Iran will annihilate his country — and the world will let it happen
The second Holocaust will not be like the first. The Nazis, of course, industrialised mass murder. But still, the perpetrators had one-on-one contact with the victims. They may have dehumanised them before the actual killing. But, still, they were in eye and ear contact, sometimes in tactile contact, with their victims.
The second Holocaust will be quite different. One bright morning, in five or ten years’ time, a day or a year or five years after Iran’s acquisition of the Bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convene in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Ahmedinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go ahead. The orders will go out and the Shihab III and IV missiles will take off for Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, and probably some military sites, including Israel’s half-dozen air and (reported) nuclear-missile bases. Some of the Shihabs will be nuclear-tipped, others dupes, packed merely with biological or chemical agents.
Probably four or five hits will suffice: no more Israel. A million or more Israelis will die immediately. Millions will be seriously irradiated. No Iranian will see or touch an Israeli. It will be quite impersonal.
Some of the dead will inevitably be Arab. It is doubtful whether such a mass killing of fellow Muslims will trouble Ahmedinejad and the mullahs. The Iranians don’t especially like Arabs, especially Sunni Arabs, with whom they have intermittently warred for centuries. And they have an especial contempt for the (Sunni) Palestinians. Besides, the Iranian leadership sees the destruction of Israel as a supreme divine command, as a herald of the Second Coming, and the Muslims, dispatched collaterally, as so many shihada (martyrs) in the noble cause.
A question may nevertheless arise in the Iranian councils: What about Jerusalem? After all, the city contains Islam’s third-holiest shrines (after Mecca and Medina), Al Aksa Mosque and the Mosque of Omar. But Ali Khamenei, the supreme spiritual leader, and Ahmedinejad most likely would reply that, by God’s grace, in 20 or 50 years’ time the city would recover. And it will be restored to Islam (and the Arabs). And the deeper pollution will have been eradicated.
Ahmedinejad is a man obsessed. He shares this with the mullahs: all were brought up on the teachings of Khomeini, a prolific anti-Semite who often fulminated against “the Little Satan”. He is willing to gamble the future of Iran or even of the whole Muslim Middle East in exchange for Israel’s destruction.
No doubt he believes that Allah, somehow, will protect Iran from an Israeli nuclear response or an American counterstrike. Allah aside, he may well believe that his missiles will so pulverise the Jewish state, knock out its leadership and its land-based nuclear bases, and demoralise or confuse its nuclear-armed submarine commanders that it will be unable to respond.
And, with his deep contempt for the weak-kneed West, he is unlikely to take seriously the threat of American nuclear retaliation. Or he may well take into account a counterstrike and simply be willing to pay the price.
Israel’s deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, has suggested that Iran does not even have to use the Bomb to destroy Israel. Simply, the nuclearisation of Iran will so overawe and depress Israelis that they will lose hope and gradually flee, and potential foreign investors and immigrants will shy away.
These together will bring about the State’s demise. But my feeling is that Ahmedinejad and his allies lack the patience for such a drawn-out denouement; they seek Israel’s annihilation in the immediate future, in their lifetime. They won’t want to leave anything up to the vagaries of history.
As with the first, the second Holocaust will have been preceded by decades of preparation of hearts and minds, by Iranian and Arab leaders, Western intellectuals and media outlets. Different messages have gone out to different audiences — but all have (objectively) served the same goal, the demonisation of Israel. Muslims the world over have been taught: “The Zionists/the Jews are the embodiment of evil”, and “Israel must be destroyed”. And Westeners, more subtly, were instructed: “Israel is a racist oppressor state”, and “Israel, in this age of multiculturalism, is an anachronism and superfluous”.
The build-up to the second Holocaust has been accompanied by an international community fragmented and driven by separate, selfish appetites — Russia and China obsessed with Muslim markets; France, with Arab oil; and the United States driven by the debacle in Iraq into a deep isolationism. Iran has been left free to pursue its nuclear destiny, — and Israel and Iran to face off alone.
But an ultimately isolated Israel will prove unequal to the task, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an onrushing car. Last summer, led by a party hack as prime minister and a small-time trade unionist as defence minister, and deploying an army trained for quelling incompetent, poorly armed Palestinians gangs in the occupied territories, and overly concerned about both sustaining and inflicting casualties, Israel failed in a 34-day mini-war against a small Iran-backed guerrilla army of Lebanese fundamentalists. That mini-war thoroughly demoralised the Israeli political and military leadership.
Since then, the ministers and generals have looked on glumly as Hizbollah’s patrons have been arming with doomsday weapons. Besides, the Iranian programme presented an infinitely complex challenge for a country with Israel’s limited conventional military resources. At best, an Israeli conventional strike could delay the Iranians by a year or two.
In short order, therefore, the incompetent leadership in Jerusalem would soon confront a doomsday scenario, either after launching their marginally effective conventional offensive or, in its stead, a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the Iranian nuclear programme. Would they have the stomach for this? Would their determination to save Israel extend to preemptively killing millions of Iranians and, in effect, destroying Iran?
This dilemma had long ago been accurately defined by a wise general: Israel’s nuclear armory was unusable. It could only be used too early or too late. There would never be a right time. Use it too early — meaning before Iran acquired similar weapons — and Israel would be cast in the role of international pariah, a target of universal Muslim assault. And “too late” would mean using its nuclear weapons after the Iranians had struck. What purpose would that serve?
So Israel’s leaders will grit their teeth and hope that somehow things will turn out for the best. But after acquiring the Bomb, the Iranians will not behave “rationally”.
They will launch their rockets. And, as with the first Holocaust, the international community will do nothing. It will all be over, for Israel, in a few minutes. After the Shihabs fall, the world will send rescue ships and medical aid for the lightly charred. It will not nuke Iran. For what purpose and at what cost? An American nuclear response would lastingly alienate the whole of the Muslim world — and would not bring Israel back. So what would be the point?
The second Holocaust will be different in the sense that Ahmedinejad will not actually see and touch those he so wishes dead. But it will be a Holocaust nonetheless.