Israeli journalist warns of Iranian threat

How nervous are Israelis about Iran? Ask Yaakov Katz and he cites a recent survey suggesting that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have even started to have an adverse affect on Israelis’ sex lives.

With Tehran openly threatening to destroy the Jewish state, Israelis seem to be feeling stressed.

So does Katz, an American-born Israeli journalist who writes about security issues for the Jerusalem Post. He is now on a North American speaking tour, and will make several appearances in the Bay Area next week.

His main topic: that Iranian nuclear threat.

“Time is not on our side,” Katz says of Iran’s headlong quest for nuclear capability. “If they’re not stopped beforehand, they will have a nuclear weapon.”

Over the course of his career, Katz has covered the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon, the Gaza disengagement and Israel’s tensions with the Muslim world. Those are all clear and present dangers to Israel, but none compare with a nuclear-armed Iran, he believes.

Katz says Israel’s military and intelligence experts worry about Iran, especially as they estimate Tehran will likely have a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade.

“It’s difficult to see Israel coming to terms with a nuclear Iran,” Katz says. “It alters the balance of terror. It would allow Iran to project its power around the world and would severely impair any Israeli operational freedom.”

Should Iran obtain a nuclear weapon, no one knows if the country would actually detonate it over Israel. Katz points to the technological difficulties in deploying and exploding such weapons.

But that should provide no comfort to Israelis, he says.

“I recently had a meeting with a senior official in military intelligence,” Katz recounts. “He said, ‘we don’t know for certain whether Iran would drop a nuclear weapon.’ But even if the chance is 5 percent, could you live with 5 percent of being obliterated?”

With no lines of communication open with the Islamic Republic, Israel’s options are limited.

“With [America] in profound economic crisis, it’s difficult to believe it would embark on another military adventure in the Middle East,” Katz says, adding that talks with Tehran worry Israel because of “the possibility that the dialogue would be taken advantage of by Iran, most likely to stall for time while it continues to gallop toward obtaining a nuclear capability.”

If the thought of a nuclear Iran gives Jews the shivers, Katz says the resulting arms race would be even worse. Many current signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty might opt out once Iran gets the bomb. That could mean revved-up nuclear programs in Syria, Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere.

“If Iran is stopped, it shows these countries that becoming a nuclear power is not so simple,” Katz says. “At the moment these countries have no reason to believe there is a price. They look at the Iranian model.”

Katz cannot help but take this personally. Born in Chicago, he moved to Israel with his family in 1993, when he was 15. He attended yeshiva and later served in the the Israel Defense Forces. He still serves in a reserve unit.

He also earned a law degree from Bar-Ilan University but knew he couldn’t “bring myself to sit behind a desk all day.” Katz launched his journalism career with the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, then moved to the Post, for which he covered the crime beat before switching to security and defense. He also writes for USA Today and the Jewish Chronicle of London.

Though an Israeli citizen, Katz feels his American origins give him helpful perspective as a journalist. But sometimes, even after 15 years of acculturation to Israeli ways, he still sticks out.

“When I go to a meeting I’m 10 minutes early,” he says. “It’s part of being American and getting somewhere on time. Israelis think I’m crazy.”

Where to see Yaakov Katz

• 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9 at Congregation Netivot Shalom, 1316 University Ave., Berkeley. $10.

• 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 10 at the Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road,

San Rafael.

• 9 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12 at First United Methodist Church, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto.

• 12 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12 at the Arts and Education Building, Cal State East Bay, 25800 Carlos Bee Blvd., Hayward.

• 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12 at the World Affairs Council, 312 Sutter St., S.F.

For information on these events, call Julie Bernstein at (415) 977-7434.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.