Israelis laugh off Iranian nuclear threats

The threat of Iranian nuclear weapons and a possible Israeli military strike are not the usual ingredients of comedy.

But Israelis are responding to the heated rhetoric and dire warnings with comic skits and Daffy Duck -- gallows humor in the face of what their leaders say is a real danger.

Israel has been warning that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, despite Iranian denials. Israel believes this threatens the existence of the Jewish state, given Iran's parallel missile development and frequent references by its leaders to the destruction of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hints at Israeli military action against Iran to stop its nuclear program if international sanctions fail. That, in turn, would likely set off Iranian retaliation and devastating barrages of thousands of rockets and missiles from hostile Iran proxies -- Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

It's no laughing matter, but that hasn't stopped Israel's premier satirical TV show from taking it on.

Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country) recently showed a skit with two women at a restaurant.

"You've started working out again?" says one, biting into a juicy hamburger. "Of course, winter's almost over and I don't want to get to the beach double my size," her friend responds. The first woman asks: "What beach? That thing with Iran is happening this summer." Realizing the futility of a diet when the end is so near, the friend devours the burger.

Other TV comedy shows are also awash with Iran jokes. Comedians on a recent episode of "State of the Nation" declared that Israel won't mount an airstrike because fuel prices for the fighter planes are too high.

A Facebook group is calling for Netanyahu not to start a war until after Madonna performs in Israel in May.

In a recurring Eretz Nehederet skit, viewers are given an inside look into an Iranian nuclear reactor. When two scientists are asked where their third colleague is, the response is delivered deadpan: "He was blown up," a reference to the suspicious deaths of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists, which Iran has blamed on Israel.

A nuclear reactor even featured in a recent commercial for a cable TV company. In the ad, cross-dressing Israeli actors meet a bored Mossad agent in Iran who accidentally blows up a nuclear reactor.

"It's a very cathartic response to the existential fear we are experiencing in light of what the politicians are saying," said Orr Knispel, editor of the Israeli pop culture magazine Pnai Plus.

Knispel said Israelis responded similarly during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, when Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Israeli cities, causing panic yet inspiring comedy.

Netanyahu's grim rhetoric has come back to taunt him. A speech he gave to a pro-Israel lobby in Washington this month spawned a viral video spoof.

Countering Iran's claim that it intends to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, Netanyahu said, "If it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then what is it? That's right, it's a duck, but this duck is a nuclear duck."

In a video, his words, repeated over and over, are intercut with snippets of a sputtering Daffy Duck, all set to catchy music.

But there is evidence that all the jokes are covering up some real fears.

"The Last Day," a five-minute clip that scored hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, is a lifelike doomsday film depicting the day after an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

In a retaliatory attack, missiles slam down near a highway just outside Jerusalem. Panicked drivers attempt to flee the surrounding chaos, only to be halted by a giant mushroom cloud in the distance.

The film's creator, Ronen Barany, said the cultural responses to the Iran crisis are increasing because the Israeli public feels that the Iranian threat is more concrete than ever.

"We are really afraid and prefer not to think about it, but we know these things can happen," he said.

"We laugh about it, but we know that it should be taken seriously."