Nuclear Israel
Nuclear IsraeliStock

October 7th, 2023 has been compared to October 6th, 1973. The comparison is supported by superficial similarities between the two situations: The surprise factor, the high initial number of Israeli casualties, and Israeli complacency preceding these events.

The comparison is misleading for two fundamental reasons:

1) It paves the way for the assumption that the political and diplomatic moves successfully pursued by Israel after 1973 vis-à-vis Egypt can be replicated vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

2) It ignores the deep differences between these two events.

On October 6th, 1973, a carefully planned operation by two powerful armies superbly trained and equipped by a superpower surprised Israel. The initial advances were relatively rapidly reversed and within two weeks, both Egypt and Syria had been clearly defeated.

As a result, Israel emerged victorious in 1973 and reconfirmed the Iron Wall doctrine deterring its enemies.

On the other hand, on October 7th, 2023, Israel was surprised and humiliated by a ragtag militia subject to a 15-year embargo. The fact that 100 days into the war, the war rages on, even though the IDF said it would take a year, has seriously tarnished the myth of Israeli strength and invincibility.

In addition, the reaction of the international intelligentsia, the open hostility of Russia, China, and large swathes of global public opinion, show the current vulnerability of Israel’s diplomatic position and alliances.

And there is no clear victory path for Israel.

A military rout of Hamas might involve a very heavy toll of Gaza civilian lives. The toll can demoralize the home front, alienate Diaspora Jews, antagonize allies in America and Europe, catalyze an intifada in the 'West Bank', and damage present and future relations with the Arab world.

More fundamentally, a very heavy human toll will strengthen international calls for a “final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.“ Most likely, the price Israel will need to pay for a crushing defeat of Hamas is the acceptance of a Palestinian state in the 'West Bank' and Gaza.

In this context, it is worth remembering that the existence and power of Hamas is a key reason Israel has effectively managed to resist international calls to recognize Palestinian Arab independence.

A Palestinian Arab state devoid of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as political and military actors is de jure realistic. De facto, they will both play a growing role in any Palestinian Arab entity which has the slightest reason to doubt that Zionism is invincible.

As explained above, October 7th has exposed serious Israeli vulnerabilities.

More vulnerabilities loom on the horizon:

1) Isolationism is a growing ideological force in rightwing American politics, while anti-Zionism has been mainstreamed on the American left.

2) China’s growing economic and military might exhibited in brokering a detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as well as currently hostility to Israel, suggests that China may supplant the Soviet Union as a superpower patron of Israel’s enemies.

3) The failure of Israel’s and America’s containment of Iran as reflected in the resilience of the Islamic Republic to popular discontent, economic sanctions, and diplomatic isolation, suggests that Iran is currently on track to becoming a nuclear power.

The first two factors are serious threats to Israel’s future. The third is a critical existential threat.

The rhetoric, actions, and priorities of Iran and Hamas mirror each other. Both sacrifice countless lives, resources, and the earthly welfare of their subjects to pursue an ideological agenda that can only be rationalized on theological-eschatological grounds.

Given that the Ayatollahs have not succeeded in establishing a model Islamic state in Iran, their residual hope to assert the credibility and supremacy of their ideology is to destroy Israel.

Erasing Israel from the pages of history would give Shiite Islam enormous prestige in the Muslim world and guarantee heaven to all those involved or martyred in the destruction of Israel.

The enthusiasm and support of Iran and most of the Islamic world for October 7th (including the Palestinians Arabs), show that ideologically, politically, and ethically, there is abundant readiness to sacrifice huge numbers of innocent Muslim lives in order to destroy Zionism.

Furthermore, even if the theocrats in Teheran adhere to Western canons of rationality while in possession of a nuclear weapon arsenal, this arsenal will trigger a regional nuclear race. And within a few years, not just Iran, but Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt may also acquire nuclear weapons.

Under such a scenario, the future of Israel will hang by a thread: The Jewish State would perennially be one Islamist coup, one miscalculation, one escalation away from a nuclear Armageddon. Consequently, Aliyah will decline and emigration from Israel will rise, jeopardizing the sustainability of Zionism and whetting the appetite of Israel’s enemies.

Fortunately, Israel can still stop the train of history from reaching a deadly destination.

Professor Benjamin (Benny) Morris has cogently argued that now is the time for Israel to preemptively attack Iran. The case he makes is strong, but the tactic he advises is short-sighted.

Israel cannot defeat Iran and its theocracy in a conventional military conflict. It cannot even destroy its nuclear program. On the contrary, a conventional Israeli attack may well precipitate a closure of the Hormuz Straits and a global economic depression; this will alienate Israel’s closest allies, and it will stoke Iranian patriotism and global antisemitism as images of dead Iranian children and women appear on live news broadcasts.

Furthermore, even in a best case scenario in which America supports Israeli military efforts and the Iranian theocracy is defeated and collapses, the examples of Iraq, Syria, and Libya suggest that the ensuing power vacuum in Iran will threaten regional stability and disrupt global energy flows for decades.

Israel needs to dare more.

There is one hopeful alternative to these dire scenarios. It is an alternative that will usher in an orderly transition of Iran from theocracy to democracy; that will dry up the supply of money and weapons to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and the Houthis; and that will restore the credibility of Israel‘s Iron Wall doctrine to new heights.

Israel must launch a tactical nuclear attack on a very sparsely inhabited region in central Iran, warning that unless Ayatollah Khamenei announces within 48 hours free and fair elections for a democratic Iranian government, Israel will launch a second attack against Qom, the ideological center of Iran’s mullahs.

The advantages of this operation are numerous:

1) Casualty figures after the first attack will be minimal, but will induce a rational Iranian leadership to surrender power to the Iranian people, earning Israel the gratitude of the Iranian masses thirsty for freedom and democracy.

2) If the Iranian leadership is sufficiently irrational to opt for the destruction of their favorite city over democratic elections, all fears about their eagerness to unleash Armageddon to destroy Israel will be proved right. But then this will happen at the cost of Qom rather than Tel-Aviv and Haifa.

3) Soon after any second bomb, patriotic Iranian generals will stage a coup, oust the fanatics, and follow the example of Emperor Hirohito who on September 2nd, 1945 ushered an era of peace, democracy and prosperity for Japan with his surrender on the USS Missouri.

4) Unlike in 1945, where a credible argument can be made that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was unethical, Israel initially bombing an uninhabited region will eventually save millions of lives in Iran, Israel, and the whole Middle East. Israel will of course be accused of committing a heinous war crime. However, this concern is relative, given that Israel is accused of war crimes regardless of how it opts to defend itself.

5) This operation will usher in a relatively peaceful Iranian transition to democracy, given that the Ayatollahs will have good reasons to midwife an orderly transfer of power to protect themselves from an orgy of pent-up popular rage and revenge.

6) Once the Ayatollahs are ousted, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Houthis will be financially and militarily defeated, securing long-term security and stability for Israel.

7) Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations will be impressed, join the Abraham Accords, and Israel will be in a solid position to exact peace terms from the Palestinians that pose no threat to Israel’s future.

This operation is not pleasant and certainly not one that a Jewish state will undertake lightly. Nevertheless, the events and dynamics we are now witnessing and have witnessed during decades, do not allow us to ignore the parallels and similarities between the 1930s and our times for the Jewish people.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly warned Western democracies to remember the deadly cost of appeasing Nazi Germany. Yet Israel cannot expect other nations to learn the lessons it itself ignores.

For this reason, Israel must use the window of opportunity that has opened after Islamists on October 7th proved their genocidal designs and before Islamists secure nuclear weapons and close this window, to act swiftly and decisively to save millions of lives.

If Israeli leaders do not act, they will be no better than Neville Chamberlain, whose faith in the promises of criminals and the pragmatism of fanatics almost destroyed the world.

Timing: "Operation Cyrus" should take place following the November 2024 US Presidential elections and before the new administration is inaugurated in February, 2025. Acting during the transition phase between administrations will minimize the interference of the White House and State Department. Credit for the operation‘s merits will be revindicated by both administrations and no one will take responsibility for involvement in front of critics.

In addition, if and when China launches an attack on Taiwan, Israel should take advantage of a crisis in East Asia to launch this operation. Doing so then, will minimize the attention and interference of the international community.

Rafael Castrois a graduate of Yale and Hebrew University, and an independent political analyst. Rafael can be reached at [email protected]