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Why Is a Liberal Israel Analyst Echoing Neocon Fearmongering on Iran?

MJ Rosenberg buys into the 'Iran as existential threat' frame.

MJ Rosenberg is a progressive analyst with the Israel Policy Forum. He's no friend of the neoconservative foreign policy establishment, opposes the idea that "might makes right" in international affairs and is generally someone whose opinions I respect.

All of which is why his column tying the contested Iranian elections to Israeli security is so disconcerting:

The stolen Iranian election, and the ugly events that followed it, cannot help but raise new fears about the possibility that Iran will soon join the list of nuclear armed states: the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, France, Russia, China, India and Pakistan.

He takes a few well-aimed shots at the neocons and their constant clamor for war with Iran. He writes that it's important, however, to "look at the Iranian threat, such as it is, without focusing unduly on those who endlessly hype it." He then reinforces their basic premise:

And the fact is that the Iranian threat appears more serious today than it did before the election, because the regime looks significantly more deranged in July than it did in May. It is simply no longer possible to argue with confidence that Tehran is rational and would accordingly refrain from using a nuclear weapon on Israel. The election fiasco put that argument to rest. Israel's concerns are legitimate.

To be fair to Rosenberg, in the next paragraph he writes, "No, I do not believe that Israel should pre-emptively attack Iran. I think an Israeli attack would be disastrous." But coherent caveats aside, he's advancing the "mad mullah" argument, one much beloved by the militaristic right.

It holds that because Iran's leaders are crazy, wild-eyed "Islamofascists" who yearn for a long eternity in paradise being fed grapes by nubile virgins, the rules of deterrence that govern other nuclear states don't apply. In short, there's every reason to believe they would nuke Israel just for the hell of it and without regard to the simple fact that such action would, as Rosenberg readily acknowledges in the piece, bring about the certain destruction of their homeland.

So the key sentence is: "It is simply no longer possible to argue with confidence that Tehran is rational and would accordingly refrain from using a nuclear weapon on Israel." But that's simply untrue -- the logic doesn't follow.

Rosenberg, and others making this argument, need to address some fundamental questions about their line of reasoning. Specifically, why does it follow that a contested election in Iran, and subsequent skull-cracking of protesters, legitimizes Israel's fears about the country possibly obtaining nuclear weapons at some point in the future, when the same kind of political strife is not uncommon elsewhere?

After all, we see political repression similar to what's playing out on the streets of Iran today in states that already possess nuclear weapons.

In recent years, Russian elections have not been considered free and fair, journalists have been killed and dissent has been tightly controlled. Yet nobody suggested that it was a sign Russia might unleash its nuclear arsenal in a fit of madness.

In the U.S., while we've seen little that compares to the unrest on the streets of Iran, authorities have also cracked down on dissent. But while many people have decried actions like the mass pre-emptive arrests during the lead-up to the GOP convention in Minnesota last year, or the brutal police riots that have accompanied various "free trade" meetings during the past decade, nobody ever suggested that they were an irrational act. It was assumed, correctly, that these were acts of repression by those in power and not manifestations of mental instability.

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