We are making them stronger than they are,” says David Menashri, the director of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University. “To refer to Iran as an ‘existential threat’ – I refuse to use this term – you give Iran greater credit than they deserve…. What signal does it send to our own people, that the day Iran should have nuclear weapons you should leave the country, because your existence is threatened?”
“For Israelis, [being] anti-Iran is a consensus. You don’t have to be a neoconservative to wish for the destruction of Iran,” says Haggai Ram, of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in an interview in Tel Aviv.
In his recent book “Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession,” Dr. Ram wrote that “there’s something utterly irrational and exceedingly disproportionate in Israeli understandings of the Iranian threat –even if that threat is, in certain respects, very real.”
there is really no critical debate about this,” says Ram. “The people who would rather run against the grain are really a minority. Whenever they speak up – and I say this out of personal experience – they are immediately rendered into these bizarre self-defeating, self-hating Jews, and seen as a fifth column.”
“The idea is that we have no other choice, they want to destroy us,” says Reuven Pedatzur, academic director of a center for strategic dialogue at Netanya Academic College, of the Israeli mindset. “It’s a cultural issue, based on the Holocaust, that everybody wants to destroy the Jewish people.”
Israeli analysts often describe how the Jewish state “needs” an outside enemy to justify continued oppression against the Palestinians and one of the largest per capita defense budgets in the Middle East.
Likewise, Iranian analysts often describe how the Islamic Republic must beat the war drums against the United States and Israel to drive its revolutionary anti-imperial, anti-West policies – and to divert Iranian attention from a limp economy and restrictions on freedom at home. “The two countries are obsessed with each other – Iran and Israel,” says Menashri.
“The current government in Israel does see Ahmadinejad as a Hitler in disguise, that we have to be saved from a nuclear holocaust, if and when Iran does get its hand on a nuclear bomb,” says Meir Javedanfar, co-author of “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran.”
While many analysts suggest that Israeli fears are overblown – and note that the plight of Palestinians is a low priority for most Iranians – such calculations are fed by past trauma.
says Javedanfar. “When [Iran is] cooperating with groups that reach right here in Israel, you cannot but take it as a direct threat.