As the sun’s path across the Northern Hemisphere steadily moves southward; as the days grow shorter and the shadows longer; as the first hint of autumn crispness whispers in the trees at summer cottages, idle chatter in August invariably turns to wars and rumours of wars.  So it is this year with Israel and Iran. 

Will they or won’t they?  It seems the only question anyone is asking these days.  “They” is Israel, which will or won’t attack Iran’s nuclear facilities sometime sooner, or later, or never.  Nobody, I suspect not even the Israelis themselves, knows. 

Would it matter if they did, or didn’t?  That depends on what is meant by “matter”.  If “matter” means permanently effecting a change in the balance of power in the Middle East, then attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, presumably with an airstrike, would probably not matter much.  It may alter somewhat the trajectory of ongoing changes, which could impact where the powers finally balance, but nothing is ever anything more than temporarily balanced, particularly in the seething struggles for supremacy waged by these gigantic organisms known as nations and/or states.   Balance of power is an international relations shibboleth that nature does not understand.  Power levels constantly fluctuate. 

Yet, Israel needs Iran.  It needs Iran to pose a threat to its existence.   It needs, in fact, a nuclear-capable Iran, as it would focus and bind together the Israeli nation in ways last seen at the country’s modern founding; perhaps even better than the promise of Canaan motivated obedience and allegiance to the God of Abraham those several millenia ago.   Israel needs the glue of a nuclear-armed Iran because its remarkable military and economic successes have loosened the bonds holding it together.  Its successes have, as always happens, sown the seeds of its failures to come.   Israel’s population is grown lazy and infertile, not even interested in enduring the hardships of child-rearing, never mind the sacrifices of war-making.   In only a few generations, and provided present trends continue, Hebrews will be outnumbered by Arabs in their own country.

Iran also needs Israel.  Who will it hate, if it successfully bombs Israel into the Mediterranean Sea?  It already is a menace to its fellow Arabs.  Imagine how much more so if the problem of Israel were resolved with a few nuclear warheads.  Iran’s shaky and illegitimate theocracy wouldn’t have a prayer of surviving in a peaceful world without enemies to demagogue. 

So, Israel needs Iran to pose a clear and present danger to its existence.  Iran needs Israel to provide an enemy all its factionalized citizenry can hate.  My guess is that Israel won’t make anything more than a half-hearted military stab at slowing down Iran’s nuclear program–to show it is concerned, but not to actually succeed at eliminating the threat.  And that when Iran finally does acquire nuclear weapons, the last regime it would consider “wiping off the face of the map” would be Israel.  They need each other too much.  The existence of each justifies and sanctifies the existence of the other.

More idle chatter on wars and rumours of war can be found here:

The Economist

The Atlantic

Foreign Policy