Benny Morris: the next Holocaust (from Iran)

Jerusalem Post - January 18, 2007

Essay: This Holocaust will be different Benny Morris, THE JERUSALEM POST

The second holocaust will not be like the first. The Nazis, of
course, industrialized mass murder. But still, the perpetrators had
one-on-one contact with the victims. They may have dehumanized them
over months and years of appalling debasement and in their minds,
before the actual killing. But, still, they were in eye and ear
contact, sometimes in tactile contact, with their victims.

The Germans, along with their non-German helpers, had to round up the
men, women and children from their houses and drag and beat them
through the streets and mow them down in nearby woods or push and
pack them into cattle cars and transport them to the camps, where
“Work makes free,” separate the able-bodied from the completely
useless and lure them into “shower” halls and pour in the gas and
then take out, or oversee the extraction of, the bodies and prepare
the “showers” for the next batch.

The second holocaust will be quite different. One bright morning, in
five or 10 years, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of
the blue, 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
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 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,
perhaps even with multiple warheads. Others will be dupes, packed
merely with biological or chemical agents, or old newspapers, to draw
off or confuse Israel’s anti-missile batteries and Home Front Command

With a country the size and shape of Israel (an elongated 20,000
square kilometers), probably four or five hits will suffice: No more
Israel. A million or more Israelis in the greater Tel Aviv, Haifa and
Jerusalem areas will die immediately. Millions will be seriously
irradiated. Israel has about seven million inhabitants. No Iranian
will see or touch an Israeli. It will be quite impersonal.

Some of the dead will inevitably be Arab - 1.3 million of Israel’s
citizens are Arab and another 3.5 million Arabs live in the semi- occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and
Haifa have substantial Arab minorities. And there are large Arab
concentrations immediately around Jerusalem (in Ramallah-Al Bireh,
Bir Zeit, Bethlehem) and outside Haifa. Here, too, many will die,
immediately or by and by.

It is doubtful whether such a mass killing of fellow Muslims will
trouble Ahmadinejad and the mullahs. The Iranians don’t especially
like Arabs, especially Sunni Arabs, with whom they have
intermittently warred for centuries. And they have a special contempt
for the (Sunni) Palestinians who, after all, though initially
outnumbering the Jews by more than 10 to 1, failed during the long
conflict to prevent them from establishing their state or taking over
all of Palestine.

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 martyrs in the noble
cause. Anyway, the Palestinians, many of them dispersed around the
globe, will survive as a people, as will the greater Arab nation of
which they are part. And surely, to be rid of the Jewish state, the
Arabs should be willing to make some sacrifices. In the cosmic
balance sheet, it will be worth the candle.

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 Ahmadinejad most
likely would reply much as they would to the wider question regarding
the destruction and radioactive pollution of Palestine as a whole:
The city, like the land, by God’s grace, in 20 or 50 years’ time,
will recover. And it will be restored to Islam (and the Arabs). And
the deeper pollution will have been eradicated.

To judge from Ahmadinejad’s continuous reference to Palestine and the
need to destroy Israel, and his denial of the first Holocaust, he 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.” To judge from Ahmadinejad’s
organization of the Holocaust cartoon competition and the Holocaust
denial conference, the Iranian president’s hatreds are deep (and, of
course, shameless).

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 pulverize the Jewish state,
knock out its leadership and its land-based nuclear bases, and
demoralize 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,
irrationally (to our way of thinking), be willing to pay the price.
As his mentor, Khomeini, put it in a speech in Qom in 1980: “We do
not worship Iran, we worship Allah… I say, let this land [Iran]
burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges

For these worshipers at the cult of death, even the sacrifice of the
homeland is acceptable if the outcome is the demise of Israel.

DEPUTY DEFENSE Minister Ephraim Sneh has suggested that Iran doesn’t
even have to use the Bomb to destroy Israel. Simply, the
nuclearization of Iran will so overawe and depress Israelis that they
will lose hope and gradually emigrate, and potential foreign
investors and immigrants will shy away from the mortally threatened
Jewish state. These, together, will bring about its demise.

But my feeling is that Ahmadinejad and his allies lack the patience
for such a drawn-out denouement; they seek Israel’s annihilation in
the here and now, 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 demonization of Israel. Muslims the world
over have been taught: “The Zionists/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.” Generations of Muslims and at least a
generation of Westerners have been brought up on these catechisms.

THE BUILD-UP to the second holocaust (which, incidentally, in the
end, will probably claim roughly the same number of lives as the
first) has seen 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 of a prime minister and a small-time
trade unionist as defense minister, and deploying an army trained for
quelling incompetent and poorly armed Palestinian 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 (albeit
highly motivated, well-trained and well-armed). That mini-war
thoroughly demoralized the Israeli political and military leaderships.

Since then, the ministers and generals, like their counterparts in
the West, have looked on glumly as Hizbullah’s patrons have been
arming with doomsday weapons. Perversely, the Israeli leaders may
even have been happy with Western pressures urging restraint. Most
likely they deeply wished to believe Western assurances that
somebody, somehow - the UN, G-8 - would pull the radioactive
chestnuts out of the fire. There are even those who fell for the
outlandish idea that a regime change in Teheran, driven by a
reputedly secular middle class, would ultimately stymie the mad mullahs.

But even more to the point, the Iranian program presented an
infinitely complex challenge for a country with limited conventional
military resources. Taking their cue from the successful IAF
destruction of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, the Iranians
duplicated and dispersed their facilities and buried them deep
underground (and the Iranian targets are about twice as far from
Israel as was Baghdad). Taking out the known Iranian facilities with
conventional weapons would take an American-size air force working
round-the-clock for more than a month.

At best, Israel’s air force, commandos and navy could hope to hit
only some of the components of the Iranian project. But, in the end,
it would remain substantially intact - and the Iranians even more
determined (if that were possible) to attain the Bomb as soon as
possible. It would also, without doubt, immediately result in a world- embracing Islamist terrorist campaign against Israel (and possibly
its Western allies) and, of course, near-universal vilification.
Orchestrated by Ahmadinejad, all would clamor that the Iranian
program had been geared to peaceful purposes. 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, of
launching a preemptive nuclear strike against the Iranian nuclear
program, some of whose components are in or near major cities. 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 is unusable. It can only be used too early or
too late. There will never be a “right” time. Use it “too early,”
meaning before Iran acquires similar weapons, and Israel will be cast
in the role of international pariah, a target of universal Muslim
assault, without a friend in the world; “too late” means after the
Iranians have 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. Perhaps, after acquiring the Bomb,
the Iranians will behave “rationally”?

BUT THE Iranians are driven by a higher logic. And 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 - not like in the 1940s, when the world had five long years
in which to wring its hands and do nothing. 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 Muslim
world, deepening and universalizing the ongoing clash of
civilizations. And, of course, it would not bring Israel back. (Would
hanging a serial murderer bring back his victims?)

So what would be the point?

Still, the second holocaust will be different in the sense that
Ahmadinejad will not actually see and touch those he so wishes dead
(and, one may speculate, this might cause him disappointment as, in
his years of service in Iranian death squads in Europe, he may have
acquired a taste for actual blood). And, indeed, there will be no
scenes like the following, quoted in Daniel Mendelsohn’s recent The
Lost, A Search for Six of Six Million, in which is described the
second Nazi action in Bolechow, Poland, in September 1942:

A terrible episode happened with Mrs. Grynberg. The Ukrainians and
Germans, who had broken into her house, found her giving birth. The
weeping and entreaties of bystanders didn’t help and she was taken
from her home in a nightshirt and dragged into the square in front of
the town hall.

There… she was dragged onto a dumpster in the yard of the town hall
with a crowd of Ukrainians present, who cracked jokes and jeered and
watched the pain of childbirth and she gave birth to a child. The
child was immediately torn from her arms along with its umbilical
cord and thrown - It was trampled by the crowd and she was stood on
her feet as blood poured out of her with bleeding bits hanging and
she stood that way for a few hours by the wall of the town hall,
afterwards she went with all the others to the train station where
they loaded her into a carriage in a train to Belzec.

In the next holocaust there will be no such heart-rending scenes, of
perpetrators and victims mired in blood (though, to judge from
pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the physical effects of nuclear
explosions can be fairly unpleasant).

But it will be a holocaust nonetheless.

The writer is a professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben-Gurion

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