Netanyahu considering Sampson Option?

Israel may be preparing for a unilateral nuclear strike against Iran. Dramatic expressions in the August 10th Al Monitor article – Bibi, king of the Jews – suggest that Netanyahu is reaching a level of paranoia which may bring him to do the unthinkable. Ben Caspit, interviewing “one of the people closest to the Israeli prime minister on condition of anonymity,” asks “Why do you say ‘above his head?’” in reference to the statement that “Bibi realized that President Obama was going to appeal to American Jewry above his head” in advocating the P5 + 1 deal. Caspit reminds that U.S. Jewry are American citizens, loyal to their nation first even if they do support Israel interests; he then mentions Jonathan Pollard as the traitorous exception. The response:

“I well remember Jonathan Pollard,” my source responded. “But we are in a different situation now. Before Pollard, it was true — American Jews were obliged to be loyal to the United States and the president. But before the ‘destruction of the Third Temple,’ they are beholden to the Jewish nation. This is a historic event, they cannot remain on the sidelines.”

Our emphasis. Caspit explains the expression:

This reflects Netanyahu’s precise state of mind: that the Jewish people are facing the “destruction of the Third Temple,” that is, the annihilation of the State of Israel, the third sovereign Jewish national entity. No less.

The significance of this should not be understated. Historically, Israel has demonstrated its willingness to engage the nuclear option when its leadership perceives (credibly or not) an existential threat to the nation. In Seymour Hersh’s book The Sampson Option (1991), the chapter “Nuclear Blackmail” (Pgs. 222-240) recounts the decision to arm at least three nuclear warheads (code named “Temple”) on October 8, 1973, at the outset of the Yom Kippur War, when Syrian and Egyptian forces were feared by Golda Meir and her advisers to be on the brink of a complete rout of Israeli defenses. There is some dispute as to whether the situation was as dire for Israel as Meir’s “kitchen cabinet” believed, yet psychologically shrouded by the fog of war, the most horrific of hallucinations are evoked. As such, Meir and Dayan were faced with either a Masada scenario or the Sampson Option. Both entail the destruction of Israel, but where the former is a collective suicide, the latter gives the satisfaction of destroying Israel’s enemies in the conflagration. Hersh explains:

With a nuclear arsenal there would be no more Masadas in Israel’s history, a reference to the decision of more than nine hundred Jewish defenders—known as the Zealots—to commit suicide in A.D. 73 rather than endure defeat at the hands of the Romans.

In its place, argued the nuclear advocates, would be the Samson Option. Samson, according to the Bible, had been captured by the Philistines after a bloody fight and put on display, with his eyes torn out, for public entertainment in Dagon’s Temple in Gaza. He asked God to give him back his strength for the last time and cried out, “Let my soul die with the Philistines.” With that, he pushed apart the temple pillars, bringing down the roof and killing himself and his enemies. For Israel’s nuclear advocates, the Samson Option became another way of saying “Never again.” (Pgs. 136-137)

So it was that 1900 years after Masada, defense minister Moshe Dayan ominously said “this is the end of the Third Temple”. Justifiably or not (and we think not), Netanyahu likewise appears to be approaching such a desperate level of psychological horror. Caspit continues:

The Iranian nuclear project threatens the existence of this Jewish entity, a direct existential threat, palpable and crushing… this is a “to be, or not to be” war on the Jewish homeland, a war for the very existence of the Jewish people. No Israeli leader could keep silent in the face of events of such historic proportions. Certainly not Netanyahu, who views himself as destined, from the day of his birth, for this truly messianic mission.

“Messianic” talk such as this evokes the memory of Bibi’s older brother Jonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu who indeed was a sacrificial savior for the more than100 Israeli hostages held by Palestinian hijackers in the Entebbe, Uganda airport in June 1976. By the legend, he was the only Israeli commando to die in the raid; hence, like Sampson, in defeating the Palestinian terrorists, Yoni also perished, and in so doing the Jewish hostages were saved. The effort of Yoni and Bibi’s father, Benzion Netanyahu, however, who pleaded with the Roosevelt administration for the rescue European Jewry from flames of the Third Reich, was a tragic failure. The family history is then most instructive in gauging Bibi’s psychological state. Caspit:

When people try to explain to Netanyahu that the agreement is a done deal, he reacts furiously. He will not back down. He will fight until the end. This insistence reflects a fatalistic, messianic, alarmist worldview in which everything is either black or white, overlooking that most of life is conducted amid shades of gray. To those who practically risk their lives in trying to discuss this with Netanyahu, the prime minister responds that Israel has nothing to talk about with the Americans at the moment. In half a year, Israel will receive everything it can get now, he says.

In Netanyahu’s view, the Americans will compensate Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states for the agreement, and then they will be forced to compensate Israel as well to preserve their long-standing commitment to Israel’s “qualitative military edge.” No, Netanyahu is not worried about the compensation package or about planning for the day after. “There are not enough stealth squadrons in the world that can compensate the Jewish people for a nuclear bomb in Iran,” Netanyahu says. “There is no sum of money or security coordination that can offset the tangible dangers facing Israel and the entire world from this agreement.”

The fatalism of his statements suggests that Netanyahu isn’t thinking in terms of nuclear blackmail, such as was the case in October of ’73 when Meir and Dayan leveraged the specter of mushroom clouds over Cairo and Damascus against the Watergate-beset Nixon administration in order to refurbish the Israeli army and air force.They did so successfully, thus insuring the eventual defeat of the Arabs. Given Netanyahu’s firm belief however that Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons and to use them for the annihilation of Israel, neither economic support, nor the supplying of conventional weapons, nor the release of Jonathan Pollard can compensate in a zero sum game that has gone nuclear.

The world then is at the mercy of the phantasms haunting Bibi’s nightmares. If he believes that he has been pushed into a corner from which there is no recourse, there is no telling what he might do. As a former Israeli government official – smarting from Eisenhower’s rebuff during the 1956 Suez War – told Seymour Hersh:

“We got the message. We can still remember the smell of Auschwitz and Treblinka. Next time we’ll take all of you with us.” (Hersh, ibid. Pg. 42)


Further reading…

Haaretz (May 24, 2015) – The Father, the Son (Bibi) and the Spirit of Catastrophe

Algemeiner (June 24, 2015) – Prime Minister Netanyahu Visits Hero Brother Yoni’s Jerusalem Grave for Annual Ceremony (VIDEO)

Lt. Col. Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu official memorial web site

TabletBibi Netanyahu’s Brother Wasn’t the Only Israeli Killed in Entebbe Raid

Samson BlindedThe Biography of Benjamin Netanyahu



Timothy Alexander GuzmanA “Nuclear-Free Zone” in the Middle East? Why Israel will not Join the Non-Proliferation Treaty

One response to “Netanyahu considering Sampson Option?

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