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David Grossman against attack on Iran - by Israel or U.S.

In interview published in The Nation online, novelist says starting a war is an even worse option than living with a nuclear Iran      

In his first public statement on the conflict with Iran, David Grossman, the leading Israeli novelist of the last generation and strongest voice of his country’s moral conscience, told The Nation that he opposed an attack on the Islamic republic by Israel or the U.S., saying the likely consequences were more daunting even than those of Iran building nuclear weapons.

“I don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but I think that if the sanctions do not work, Israel and the whole world, painfully, will have to live with it,” Grossman said, warning that bombing Iran would set in motion “a nightmare that’s hard to describe.” Nonetheless, he said he had “a very bad feeling” that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were going to order an attack, even against America’s wishes. “There is a dynamic to all these warlike declarations,” he said.

He spoke by phone from his home outside Jerusalem on Tuesday. The day before, Netanyahu had brought his militant views on Iran to a White House meeting with President Barack Obama, and later delivered a fright-inducing speech to the AIPAC convention, employing Holocaust analogies and vowing that “never again” would the Jewish people entrust their survival to any nation but their own.

“Israel,” said Grossman, “is a deeply traumatized community that finds it very difficult to separate between real dangers and echoes of past traumas, and sometimes I think our prime minister fires himself up in mixing these real dangers with those echoes from the past.”

He said he feared that Netanyahu and Barak would bomb Iran partly out of a perceived strategic need to back up their threats with action, but also because of what he sees as Netanyahu’s sense of historic responsibility to save the “people of eternity.”

“He has this idea that we are the people of eternity, am ha’netzach from the Bible, and our negotiations, as he sees it, are with eternity, with the primal currents of history and mankind, while the United States, with all due respect, is just another superpower like Rome or Athens or Babylon, and we’ve survived them all,” said Grossman. “I’m afraid that this way of thinking might encourage Netanyahu to take the step” of attacking Iran.

Grossman’s son, Uri, was killed in the 2006 Lebanon War two days after the author called publicly for a cease-fire, and while he was writing the last chapters of his greatly acclaimed epic of war and peace, “To the End of the Land.” An impassioned critic of Israeli militarism and treatment of Palestinians, he deplored the overkill of the December 2008-January 2009 war in Gaza, and took part in last year’s weekly protests against the dispossession of Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, getting beaten by Israeli police at one of them.

The 58-year-old author said the prospect of war with Iran was “the most basic concern of my life in this period, I wake up with it, I go to sleep with it, and I spend hours every day trying to understand it.” He said he discusses it with colleagues, acquaintances and “people who have influence,” and everyone he’s spoken with is “reluctant” for Israel to initiate a war.

Asked why he hasn’t, until now, spoken out on this matter when he’s been so vocal in his dissent against past Israeli wars and the occupation, Grossman said he is beset by the same doubts and hesitations that have quieted the public at large, including the peace camp.

“We are dealing here with the most crucial existential problem that the State of Israel may ever have faced in all its history,” he said, “and most people are reluctant to express their opinions because they feel they just don’t have all the necessary information.

“Remember,” he said, “we are talking about fanatic, fundamentalist leaders in Iran who have declared openly that they want to eradicate Israel. And they may come into possession of nuclear bombs. It’s important to face the complexity of this dilemma – it’s not an abstract moral debate, but something very, very concrete.”

Nevertheless, Grossman said that if sanctions and diplomacy could not stop the Iranian nuclear program, trusting to deterrence was less dangerous than starting an open-ended war.

He said that in view of Iran’s chemical and biological weapons, Israel was already living with a “balance of terror.” While acknowledging that Iran’s nuclearization would make the standoff “more dangerous and acute,” he feared that an Israeli attack would prove “so destructive that it might itself create an existential danger for us. I think we shall find ourselves, Israel and Iran, in a nightmare that’s hard to describe.

“True, it would have been created in order to prevent a worse nightmare in the future, but does everyone have the right,” he asked, “to make so many people die in the name of this anxiety over an outcome – an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel – that might never take place?”

The author said that while it may be possible to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, it was impossible to destroy the knowledge of how to recreate it. “And the people who have that knowledge will rise from the rubble after we attack,” he said, “and they will start to create a new nuclear infrastructure, only this time they will be heavily loaded with humiliation, hatred and desire for revenge, and this time they will have the support of the entire Iranian people.”

Citing the large presence of “more secular, educated, realistic” people in Iran, masses of whom protested bravely in 2009 against the regime, Grossman said this face of Iran held out the hope of a future leadership that might be less hostile to Israel – but he warned that this hope would be destroyed, too, in an Israeli attack.

“If Israel bombs Iran,” he said, “I think it will be seen as an arrogant, megalomaniacal, violent nation even by the most sober, moderate Iranians.” Thus, Israel’s hope for peace, or even just quiet, with a future, better Iranian government “would be eradicated for generations,” he maintained.

Published originally in The Nation online on March 8, 2012. 

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    1. aristeides

      He should have gone to tell it to AIPAC.

      Reply to Comment
    2. sh

      Maybe they didn’t invite him. They were extremely fussy, so much so that they withdrew some of the invitations they had already sent out.

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      He coulda crashed the party. They’d call security on David Grossman?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jazzy

      Grossman’s whole perspective is informed by a speculative psychological portraiture on a mass scale. One could just as easily argue that Iran is already bitterly divided between pious Israel-haters, and regime-loathing secularists, neither of whom will be motivated to back the regime any more or less because of an attack. Its not like the scientists, who have said specifically that they want to build a bomb to annihilate Israel aren’t ALREADY motivated! And didn’t Khomenei’s grandson say that he would INVITE regime change by the US Military? Its extremely hard to know how people would react. And where is the EVIDENCE for popular Iranian backlash? Haven’t their scientists already been ASSASSINATED and military bases BLOWN UP without making a fuss? There’s something circumspect and wise-seeming about these sorts of assessments, but they’re really just not based on facts.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Jazzy

      Even most Iraqis didn’t start hating the US until after we let the economy and infrastructure and security fall apart, and that was after a GROUND INVASION.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Gaudi

      The fact that bombing Iran is such a viable option in Israel shows the alternative reality Israel lives in.

      In this reality the occupation and subjugation of another people is “normal”, the theft of Palestinian farmers land is “the rule of law”, major roads are for “jews only” and non-jews can be imprisoned indefinitely.

      This is made possible because Israel never pays the price for such behavior. Between European Holocaust guilt and the American Messianic Christians, no matter what Israel or its jewish “browshirts” do, the US annual aid arrives on time and Israeli prime ministers are given the 21 gun salute and get to speak to congress.

      When someone behaves like an asshole but instead of being punished by the community, is rewarded, they are given every reason to be even more of an asshole.

      The cold reality is that no Israeli bombing will stop the nuclear development of any country that wants to pursue it. In fact, a bombing will have the obvious reverse effect, with the difference that now there will actually be some people in Iran who would like to nuclear bomb Israel.

      The Islamic revolution in Iran is 33 years old. It is facing the normal challenges of delivering on its promises. Israel’s relations with Turkey, another 75 million muslim country shows that the current enmity between Iran and Israel is not preordained.

      In the next 25 years, Israel will learn to live with a nuclear Iran and possibly others. Israel’s existence is in far more danger from its own stupid behavior than from another country joining the nuclear club, whoever unpleasant the thought.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Dhalgren

      I am not sure Jazzy successfully argues against “psychological portraiture on a mass scale” merely by presenting an alternative unfounded portraiture. The IPI conducted a survey of Iranians in September 2010. It gives a clearer picture of the general Iranian mindset (though no doubt that has changed over the past year-and-a-half). It does not indicate Iran is “bitterly divided between pious Israel-haters, and regime-loathing secularists.”


      As to assassinations and military bases being blown up “without making a fuss,” I am not sure where Jazzy is getting that impression, unless fuss is defined by military action. There was no shortage of outrage in Iran following the assassinations, and the missile base explosion was explained as an accident by the Iranian government (which is only to suggest why there would be no “fuss”).

      Personally, I continue to deeply question why the Iranian government would want actual nuclear weapons over the option of nuclear latency. In the event of open hostilities, the situation would not be Israel vs. Iran. Rather, it would be Iran vs. the rest of the world (what allies Iran would retain would not be capable of supporting it in any significant way against Israeli or US attacks). Also, it is unfortunate that the response to the Iranian nuclear program is so decoupled from reality. We’re talking about military action when it is not even clear Iran has made the decision to pursue an active nuclear weapons program.

      A clear indicator of an Iranian nuclear weapons program would be the ejection of IAEA inspectors. Of course, even then nuclear weapons cannot be built in secret. Nuclear weapons tests are rather conspicuous, after all. It is unfortunate that current US and Israeli policy considers speculation actionable. We are only prematurely limiting our options.

      Of course, even in the event that Iranian nuclear weapons tests are detected, we should seriously consider, as Grossman does, whether or not it wouldn’t be wiser to rely on deterrence then risk the resulting chaos from military action. North Korea has not bombed South Korea, after all. And there is much more reason to have feared that than to fear an Iranian nuclear attack.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Jazzy

      Dhalgren: thank you for bringing some evidence, and some substance to this debate. I think you’ve outdone Grossman already.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Bill Pearlman

      Nobody is going to ban David Grossman from aipac. I think he is overrated has a writer but whatever you feel about the Lebanon war the guy lost his son in the IDF. He gets to say whatever he wants.

      Reply to Comment
    10. jjj

      Actually, most of the Israeli people are not pro-bombing of Iran. People understand the cost of such an adventure.
      The problem is still the apparent mystery in which Iran clouds its intentions.
      However, rhetorically, Iran has already decided – Israel should cease to exist, and it already explicitly stated it would provide the nuclear means to anyone who would take care of that.
      So – the mystery is only apparent.
      There are no lack of intention – only some Iranian concern of the international pressure. It seeks the moment in time – but rest a sure, Iran would have nukes, and does have the intention and will to use it, in one way or another, against Israel – something that perhaps some of the audience actually ask for….

      Reply to Comment
    11. H. Moola

      What is all the fuss about. Israel is a country with an undeclared nuclear capability. It has not revealed this arsenal to the IAEA.

      It would take Iran decades to reach current, Israeli nuclear capabilities.

      Israel in its short history, with its appalling human rights record, occupation & theft of Palestinian land, preemptive strikes against its neighbours, hit squads, terrorist activities & declared aggression against Iran has little to fear from a country which has never attacked anyone in over a thousand years.

      Israel acts like a “little’ school yard bully who has his bigger friends standing behind him…..well…I have news for u… ‘United States, with all due respect, is just another superpower like Rome or Athens or Babylon, and we’ve survived them all’….well the Iranians have also survived…

      The question remains…WHAT happens when the Big boys leave…America is on the decline (less than half a century as a super power..LoL).

      Its time for both, the Israeli’s & Jews in general, to start making friends with the Muslim world. Remember your history… the Golden Age of the Jews was when Muslims were the super power.

      Hey guys….we are cousins, after all.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Whatever the pros and cons in the argument for or against a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear infrastructure, the present situation clearly leaves much to be desired. One fully-fledged (but undeclared) nuclear power in active confrontation with a nation that may, in time, achieve the very same status is bad enough. Given that these two just happen to be Israel and Iran, the danger level can be seen climbing closer and closer to critical with the arrival of each new day.

      Indeed, the whole arrangement could be said to parallel that of a nuclear reaction itself. Left to their own devices, these two groups present no significant threat to themselves or to the wider world. But bring them into contact with each other and they both begin to interact in a very uncontrolled manner, the analogy with fissionable material becoming quite marked in places.

      If this analogy can be taken somewhat further, then the obvious remedy here is to introduce the presence of a moderator, a component that slows down most of the activity generated and allows the entire process to be regulated well within safety margins. President Obama might be attempting to provide such a service at the moment but his performance in this capacity is limited by a multitude of factors, election year in the US being only one of them.

      So, a more specialised moderator is required to carry out the tricky business of cooling down all the temperatures in the region and calming so many fears for its future.


      Man, that’s cold.

      Reply to Comment
    13. sh

      Aristeides – “They’d call security on David Grossman?”
      Well, our own police didn’t hesitate to push him around at a perfectly legal protest Jerusalem – why would US security not eject a gatecrasher? What do they know who David Grossman is? Would it change anything if they did? Personally, I think people overestimate the power of artists to effect change. Artists document, in terms that make topics that ordinary mortals shy away from comprehensible, by crafting an unfamiliar prism through which to view them. Did Brecht and Weill change anything? Did Picasso with his Guernica? Thanks to them we retrospectively understand successive man-made descents into hell in ways that history books on the subject can’t convey alone.
      Contrary to disparaging remarks in some of the comments here, Grossman’s a great psychologist. When he was transitioning from journalism to novels, he revealed monstrosities embedded in the heart of our society by footing it through Israel’s territorial landscape visiting people who were living here, yet classified as “present absentees”, in villages obscenely dubbed by officialdom as unrecognized. Was there an immediate outcry in the land over the news that we are required to deny the evidence of our own eyes in order to be model citizens? Did people march in protest or change their voting patterns over such a shocking deceit? Are unrecognized villages within the green line a thing of the past a couple of decades after he introduced us ordinary mortals to them?
      I don’t think Bibi gives a hang what Grossman thinks. Nor does Barak or much of the public. And Iran? Iran’s foremost singer – one of the few not banned when Khomeini took power in 1979 – declared himself with the opposition after the 2009 election and forbade the broadcast of his songs. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad continued to govern quite happily without his voice thank you very much. Didn’t even bother to have him arrested. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdyO89xv0yM

      Reply to Comment
    14. aristeides

      SH – the artist has less honor in his own country. To Israeli cops, Grossman is just another leftie, to be pushed around. But to AIPACniks, someone like Grossman is an Israeli icon of literature, to be revered for his Israeliness.

      Israeliness is like dirt on the street in Israel, common.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Isaak

      What if it would be a 1939 and somebody would say that better to live in world with Aushwits , working in full power than a war against nazi, I believe, here would be a lot of leftist Jews and other communists,who would say exactly like this. Its a difference between sense and commies dogmas. They, in Iran dont suffering from hardiness of decision: bomb they, filty Jews, all of they. What You suspect from Islamic Rev Guards Corps (single 21 century Waffen SS Corps)

      Reply to Comment