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Israeli historian sees Iran as dire threat

Dr. Benny Morris, an Israeli historian and professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, gave a talk entitled “Nuclear Iran: A Second Holocaust?” in the Social Sciences building on Wednesday. Morris’s discussion centered on Iran’s purported aim to use nuclear weapons to destroy the state of Israel. Around 100 students attended the event, sponsored by the Chicago Friends of Israel.

Morris contended that the situation was a clash of civilizations and that Israel and the West are facing an “existential challenge” similar to that before World War II. According to Morris, the direst threat now comes from Iran, which wants to “topple the West itself.” He argued that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejhad and his government are determined to develop nuclear weapons and to use them on Israel.

Israel’s retaliation for a nuclear strike on its homeland would involve the destruction of Iran, Morris said. But he also argued that this does not deter the Iranians. Those in power in Iran are irrational, “willing and eager to die” and even “willing to sacrifice Iran itself in order to destroy Israel,” Morris said.

Morris offered three solutions for averting his predicted disaster. He suggested total sanctions on Iran, endorsed by the United States, Russia, China, and Europe, but admitted international sanctions are unlikely. As an alternative, Morris advocated a United States military campaign against Iran, or, if the United States does not act, then Israeli “preemptive” nuclear strikes on Iran.

The nuclear option proved controversial for some audience members. When directly asked if he advocates using Israeli nuclear force on Iran, Morris said, “Between Israel’s destruction [by an Iranian nuclear attack] and destroying Iranian nuclear capability, also with nuclear weapons, I would favor the second.”

Many students questioned Morris’s certainty that the Iranian government is willing to sacrifice the state and the population of Iran for the sake of destroying Israel. Morris replied that because “Iranians talk about destroying Israel,” Israel must work to prevent Iran from attaining that capability. He spoke of a “Western notion that everyone is a Norwegian,” suggesting that those who argue that Iran has status-quo intentions are over-optimistic.

After the talk, many students expressed confusion, saying that this was a departure from Morris’s earlier views. Some students found it hard to believe that Iran intends to destroy Israel as well as itself. Rochelle Terman, a half-Iranian, half-Jewish third-year in the College said, “I think it’s unfortunate that people are so injected with fear.”