“The real fear is that someone will get carried away by his own rhetoric and fear-mongering,” says Martin Van Creveld, a military historian at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “But if you are going to get anything out of this, you have to make the impression that this [first-strike] is not impossible. You can’t take the option off the table. Why should you?”
Israel’s overall political shift to the right means comments such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent statement that Iran currently “does not pose an existential threat” are increasingly rare.
“When you have that kind of political environment, you are leaving yourself no space to find another solution,” says Trita Parsi, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “You may very well end up in a situation where you are propelled to act, even though you understand it is an unwise action, but [do so] for political reasons.”
Haggai Ram, an Iran specialist at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, agrees.
“Being a historian, I know how things get out of control, how all of a sudden there is a dynamic you can’t control and you find yourself in a war,” says Dr. Ram. “The rhetoric from both sides, because it is so intensive, and involves so many emotions ... can just become reality.”