Israel lacks the sane leadership to launch war on Iran: debate over
The Israeli debate on attacking Iran is over
By Shai Feldman, Foreign Policy
August 20, 2012
For all practical purposes this weekend ended the Israeli debate on attacking Iran. What tipped the scales were two developments. The first was the decision of the country’s president, Shimon Peres, to make his opposition to a military strike public. The second was an interview given by a former key defense advisor of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, questioning for the first time publically whether his former superior and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are fit to lead Israel in time of war.
Using every possible media outlet on the occasion of his 89th birthday, President Peres made clear last Thursday that “going it alone” — attacking Iran without a clear understanding with the United States — would be catastrophic. Peres did a great service to his country by focusing the debate away from some of the weaker arguments offered by opponents of a strike. Thus, the supposedly limited time that would be gained by such a strike was never convincing because in both previous experiences with such preventive action — against Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 and against the Syrian reactor in 2007 — Israel ended up gaining more time than even the most optimistic proponents of these strikes had anticipated.
Similarly, the warnings that an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations would ignite a regional war were not persuasive in the absence of Arab states volunteering to join such a war. Iran’s only regional state ally is Syria, but President Bashar al-Assad would not be able to direct his armed forces to attack Israel when these forces are mired in a civil war and barely control a third of the country’s territory.
Hezbollah, Iran’s principle non-state ally, might react to an Israeli strike by launching its rockets against Israel, but with Iran weakened from the attack and Syria unable to protect it, such an assault would be suicidal. Certainly none of the region’s Sunni Arab countries — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the smaller Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states — will come to Iran’s aid. None of these countries uttered a word when in 2007 Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor of Sunni-Arab Syria. Why the same countries would be expected to ignite the region in the event that the nuclear facilities of a Shiite Persian country would be attacked, was never clear.
Avoiding repetition of these weak arguments, Peres clarified what is really at stake in the event of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the next few months: Israel’s relations with the United States. The basic divide is not the two countries’ different time constraints due to very different capacities to deal militarily with Iran’s nuclear installations. Instead, it has to do with two issues. The first is the U.S. electoral timetable. The presidential election creates an imperative for U.S. President Barack Obama to avoid any unexpected fallouts — economic or otherwise — of a military strike against Iran. Peres understands that ignoring Obama’s concerns and instead banking on a victory by Republican candidate Mitt Romney in November, as Netanyahu seems to have done, is very risky if not irresponsible.
The second issue concerns the timeline for the drawdown of U.S. forces in the region. Clearly, the Joint Chiefs are worried about the prospects of becoming embroiled in a military conflict with another Muslim country as long as U.S. forces continue to be deployed in Afghanistan and hence exposed to Iranian retaliation. By going public Peres gave expression to what almost every former and presently serving Israeli defense chief understands: namely, since the Obama White House has accommodated Israel’s defense needs above and beyond all previous U.S. administrations, and given the intimate relations between the Israeli and U.S. defense communities, Israel simply cannot take action that would be framed in Washington as “putting American lives at risk.”
The second important development of this past weekend was an interview given by the former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Director of Military Intelligence General Uri Sagi. A highly regarded senior military officer who served in various capacities under Barak when he was IDF chief of staff and prime minister, Sagi went beyond the questions that many of his former colleagues have already raised about the wisdom of attacking Iran.
Sagi questioned, for the first time publicly, whether Israel can rely on the judgment and mental stability of its current leaders to guide it in time of war. Listing a number of past strategic errors made by Barak and hinting at Netanyahu’s ascribed tendency to traverse rapidly between euphoria and panic, Sagi expressed grave doubts whether Israel’s current leaders can take the pressures and stress entailed in managing a major military confrontation.
Despite being a regional power Israel is a small country operating within narrow security confines. It has done wonders when operating within a national consensus as during the 1948 and 1967 wars. But after the 1973 war it was torn by the debate about the wisdom of fighting the Egyptians along the Suez Canal and after 1982 it was divided over the war in Lebanon.
Contrary to what many think, Netanyahu and Barak never bluffed — they did not threaten war simply to extort an American commitment to take care of the problem. They genuinely believe that a nuclear Iran poses Israel with untold threats that should be avoided at almost any cost. They did not bluff, but they were defeated. With President Peres publicly joining the many formidable opponents of a military strike and General Sagi raising questions about the competence of Israel’s current leaders, Israel now lacks the minimal consensus required for a demanding military campaign to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations. The debate has been settled. At least for now.
Shai Feldman is the Judith and Sidney Swartz Director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Binyamin Netanyahu may be crazy, but he is not mad
Ehud Barak may be mad, but he is not crazy.
Ergo: Israel will not attack Iran.
Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
August 18, 2012
I HAVE said so before, and I shall say so again, even after the endless talk about it. Indeed no war has been talked about so much before it happened. To quote the classic movie line: “If you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk!”
In all Netanyahu’s bluster about the inevitable war, one sentence stands out: “In the Committee of Inquiry after the war, I shall take upon myself the sole responsibility, I and I alone!”
A very revealing statement
First of all, committees of inquiry are appointed only after a military failure. There was no such committee after the 1948 War of Independence, nor after the 1956 Sinai War or the 1967 Six-day War. There were, however, committees of inquiry after the 1974 Yom Kippur war and the 1982 and 2006 Lebanon Wars. By conjuring up the specter of another such committee, Netanyahu unconsciously treats this war as an inevitable failure.
Second, under Israeli law, the entire Government of Israel is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Under another law, all ministers bear “collective responsibility”. TIME magazine, which is becoming more ridiculous by the week, may crown “King Bibi”, but we still have no monarchy. Netanyahu is no more than primus inter pares.
Third, in his statement Netanyahu expresses boundless contempt for his fellow ministers. They don’t count.
Netanyahu considers himself a modern day Winston Churchill. I don’t seem to remember Churchill announcing, upon assuming office, “I take responsibility for the coming defeat.” Even in the desperate situation of that moment, he trusted in victory. And the word “I” did not figure large in his speech.
IN THE daily brainwashing, the problem is presented in military terms. The debate, such as it is, concerns military capabilities and dangers.
Israelis are especially, and understandably, worried by the rain of tens of thousands of missiles expected to fall on all parts of Israel, not only from Iran, but also from Lebanon and Gaza. The minister responsible for civil defense deserted just this week, and another one, a refugee from the hapless Kadima party, has taken his place. Everybody knows that a large part of the population (including myself) is completely defenseless.
Ehud Barak has announced that no more than a measly 500 Israelis will be killed by enemy missiles. I do not aspire to the honor of being one of them, though I live quite near the Ministry of Defense.
But the military confrontation between Israel and Iran is only a part of the picture, and not the most important one.
As I have pointed out in the past, far more important is the impact on the world economy, already steeped in a profound crisis. An Israeli attack will be viewed by Iran as American-inspired, and the reaction will be accordingly, as explicitly stated by Iran this week.
The Persian Gulf is a bottle, whose neck is the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which is totally controlled by Iran. The huge American aircraft carriers now stationed in the gulf will be well advised to get out before it is too late. They resemble those antique sailing ships which enthusiasts assemble in bottles. Even the powerful weaponry of the US will not be able to keep the strait open. Simple land-to-sea missiles will be quite enough to keep it closed for months. To open it, a prolonged land operation by the US and its allies will be required. A long and bloody business with unpredictable consequences.
A major part of the world’s oil supplies has to pass through this unique waterway. Even the mere threat of its closure will cause oil prices to shoot sky-high. Actual hostilities will result in a worldwide economic collapse, with hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of new unemployed.
Each of these victims will curse Israel. Since it will be crystal clear that this is an Israeli war, the rage will be turned against us. Worse, much worse – since Israel insists that it is “the state of the Jewish people”, the rage may take the form of an unprecedented outbreak of anti-Semitism. Newfangled Islamophobes will revert to old-time Jew-haters. “The Jews are our disaster,” as the Nazis used to proclaim.
This may be worst in the US. Until now, Americans have watched with admirable tolerance as their Middle East policy is practically dictated by Israel. But even the almighty AIPAC and its allies will not be able to contain the outburst of public anger. They will give way like the levees of New Orleans.
THIS WILL have a direct impact on a central calculation of the warmongers.
In private conversations, but not only there, they assert that America will be immobilized on the eve of elections. During the last few weeks before November 6, both candidates will be mortally afraid of the Jewish lobby.
The calculation goes like this: Netanyahu and Barak will attack without giving a damn for American wishes. The Iranian counter-attack will be directed against American interests. The US will be dragged into the war against its will.
But even in the unlikely event that the Iranians act with supreme self- restraint and do not attack US targets, contrary to their declarations, President Obama will be compelled to save us, send huge quantities of arms and ammunition, bolster our anti-missile defenses, fund the war. Otherwise he will be accused of leaving Israel in the lurch and Mitt Romney will be elected as the savior of the Jewish State.
This calculation is based on historical experience. All Israeli governments in the past have exploited American election years for their purposes.
In 1948, when the US was required to recognize the new Israeli state against the express advice of both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, President Truman was fighting for his political life. His campaign was bankrupt. At the last moment Jewish millionaires leaped into the breach, Truman and Israel were saved.
In 1956, President Eisenhower was in the middle of his re-election campaign when Israel attacked Egypt in collusion with France and Britain. It was a miscalculation – Eisenhower did not need Jewish votes and money and put a stop to the adventure. In other election years the stakes were lower, but always the occasion was used to gain some concessions from the US.
Will it work this time? If Israel unleashes a war on the eve of elections, in an obvious effort to blackmail the president, will the American public mood support Israel – or could it go the other way? It will be a critical gamble of historic proportions. But like Mitt Romney, Netanyahu is a protégé of the Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and he may be no more averse to gambles than the poor suckers who leave their money in Adelson’s casinos.
WHERE ARE the Israelis in all this?
In spite of the constant brainwashing, polls show that the majority of Israelis are dead set against an attack. Netanyahu and Barak are seen as two addicts, many say megalomaniacs, who are beyond rational thinking.
One of the most striking aspects of the situation is that our army chief and the entire General Staff, as well as the chiefs of the Mossad and the Shin Bet, and almost all their predecessors, are totally and publicly opposed to the attack.
It is one of the rare occasions when military commanders are more moderate than their political chiefs, though it has happened in Israel before. One may well ask: how can political leaders start a fateful war when practically all their military advisors, who know our military capabilities and the chances for success, are against it?
One of the reasons for this opposition is that the army chiefs know better than anyone else how totally dependent on the US Israel really is. Our relationship with America is the very basis of our national security.
Also, it seems doubtful whether Netanyahu and Barak have a majority for the attack even in their own government and inner cabinet. The ministers know that apart from everything else, the attack would drive investors and tourists away, causing huge damage to Israel’s economy.
So why do most Israelis still believe that the attack is imminent?
Israelis, by and large, have been totally convinced by now (a) that Iran is governed by a bunch of crazy ayatollahs beyond rationality, and (b) that, once in the possession of a nuclear bomb, they will certainly drop it on us.
These convictions are based on the utterances of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which he declared that he will wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
But did he really say that? Sure, he has repeatedly expressed his conviction that the Zionist Entity will disappear from the face of the earth. But it seems that he never actually said that he – or Iran – would ensure that result.
That may seem only a small rhetorical difference, but in this context it is very important.
Also, Ahmadinejad may have a big mouth, but his actual power in Iran was never very great and is shrinking fast. The ayatollahs, the real rulers, are far from being irrational. Their whole behavior since the revolution shows them to be very cautious people, averse to foreign adventures, scarred by the long war with Iraq that they did not start and did not want.
A nuclear-armed Iran may be an inconvenient near-neighbor, but the threat of a “second holocaust” is a figment of the manipulated imagination. No ayatollah will drop a bomb when the certain response will be the total annihilation of all Iranian cities and the end of the glorious cultural history of Persia. Deterrence was, after all, the whole sense of producing an Israel bomb
IF NETANYAHU & Co. were really frightened by the Iranian Bomb, they would do one of two things:
Either agree to the de-nuclearization of the region, giving up our own nuclear armaments (highly unlikely);
Or make peace with the Palestinians and the entire Arab world, thereby disarming the ayatollahs’ hostility to Israel.
But Netanyahu’s actions show that, for him, keeping the West Bank is vastly more important than the Iranian bomb.
What better proof do we need of the craziness of this whole scare?