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Friday, January 27, 2012

Israel believes Iran is bluffing

I don't remember whether I have ever said this on the blog, and given that it's Friday afternoon, I'm not going to look. But trust me on this - deep down, I don't believe that Iran will retaliate in any meaningful way if we take out their nukes. They might have Hamas and Hezbullah shoot off some rockets (and take the retaliatory hits), but I don't believe Iran is going to go to war with us over their nukes, just like Syria and Iraq didn't. At least not if we do it before they have a nuclear weapons capability.

The New York Times reports that the working assumption of the Netanyahu government is that Iran will not retaliate. Or at least not very much.
But conversations with eight current and recent top Israeli security officials suggested several things: since Israel has been demanding the new sanctions, including an oil embargo and seizure of Iran’s Central Bank assets, it will give the sanctions some months to work; the sanctions are viewed here as probably insufficient; a military attack remains a very real option; and postattack situations are considered less perilous than one in which Iran has nuclear weapons.

“Take every scenario of confrontation and attack by Iran and its proxies and then ask yourself, ‘How would it look if they had a nuclear weapon?’ ” a senior official said. “In nearly every scenario, the situation looks worse.”

The core analysis is based on an examination of Iran’s interests and abilities, along with recent threats and conflicts. Before the United States-led war against Iraq in 1991, Saddam Hussein vowed that if attacked he would “burn half of Israel.” He fired about 40 Scud missiles at Israel, which did limited damage. Similar fears of retaliation were voiced before the Iraq war in 2003 and in 2006, during Israel’s war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. In the latter, about 4,000 rockets were fired at Israel by Hezbollah, most of them causing limited harm.

“If you put all those retaliations together and add in the terrorism of recent years, we are probably facing some multiple of that,” a retired official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, citing an internal study. “I’m not saying Iran will not react. But it will be nothing like London during World War II.”

A paper soon to be published by the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, written by Amos Yadlin, former chief of military intelligence, and Yoel Guzansky, who headed the Iran desk at Israel’s National Security Council until 2009, argues that the Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz is largely a bluff.

The paper contends that, despite the risks of Iranian provocation, Iran would not be able to close the waterway for any length of time and that it would not be in Iran’s own interest to do so.

“If others are closing the taps on you, why close your own?” Mr. Guzansky said. Sealing the strait could also lead to all-out confrontation with the United States, something the authors say they believe Iran wants to avoid.

A separate paper just published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies says that the fear of missile warfare against Israel is exaggerated since the missiles would be able to inflict only limited physical damage.

Most Israeli analysts, like most officials and analysts abroad, reject these arguments. They say that Iran has been preparing for an attack for some years and will react robustly, as will its allies, Hezbollah and Hamas. Moreover, they say, an attack will at best delay the Iranian program by a couple of years and lead Tehran to redouble its efforts to build such a weapon.

But Mr. Barak and Mr. Netanyahu believe that those concerns will pale if Iran does get a nuclear weapon. This was a point made in a public forum in Jerusalem this week by Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, chief of the army’s planning division. Speaking of the former leaders of Libya and Iraq, he said, “Who would have dared deal with Qaddafi or Saddam Hussein if they had a nuclear capability? No way.”
I agree with the assessments that Iranian retaliation will not be much so long as they don't have a nuclear weapon. The Arabs are like a child throwing a tantrum - the screaming and crying is a lot worse than the actual physical consequences. The problem is that if God forbid they get a nuclear weapon, then it just becomes a question of pushing one button, and that's a whole different ballgame. That's why it's so important to stop Iran before they get a nuclear weapon.

JPost reports that US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, who visited Israel last week, believes that a strike against Iran is premature.
"I do think the path we're on - the economic sanctions and the diplomatic pressure - does seem to me to be having an effect," Dempsey said. "I just think that it's premature to be deciding that the economic and diplomatic approach is inadequate."

...

Dempsey admitted differences in opinion between the US and Israel's leadership on the Iranian threat and how soon to act against it.

"We have to acknowledge that they ... see that threat differently than we do. Its existential to them," he said. "My intervention with them was not to try to persuade them to my thinking or allow them to persuade me to theirs, but rather to acknowledge the complexity and commit to seeking creative solutions, not simple solutions," he said.
But saying that there are differences in opinion because to us the threat is existential is only half the story. This is from the Times again.
The official said that the defense establishment was not enthusiastic about an attack. It hoped that sanctions and diplomacy would work and that if military action were needed it would come from the United States.

But this approach poses a difficulty. America’s weapons and equipment are far more powerful than Israel’s. So as Iran enriches uranium underground, Washington can wait longer to decide to attack and still be effective. Israel worries that in the coming year Iran will enter what officials call a zone of immunity, meaning its facilities will move beyond reach.
And at this point, we have no commitment from the Obama administration to take military action to stop Iran - just vague speeches that Iran will be stopped - and I doubt most Israelis would accept a promise from Obama anyway. So Israel has to accept the reality that it may be up to us to stop Iran.

If we get past the US election and there is a new Republican administration that can be trusted (i.e. not Ron Paul), it may be possible to make an agreement that Israel will stand down for some period of time and let Washington deal with Iran.

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