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Friday, December 07, 2007

Does Israel still have a military option in Iran?

After this week's National Intelligence Estimate fiasco, one has to wonder whether Israel has a military option to "go it alone" against Iran. If we do, we may need it. But first, no one here wants to give up on the US helping us or doing the job just yet.

Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be arriving here on Sunday morning for a 24-hour visit which will include a one-on-one session with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. According to a Time Magazine article published Wednesday, Mullen, along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral William Fallon, the current commander of the US Central Command, are the bulwark of the portion of the US defense establishment that opposes acting against Iran. Ashkenazi and the IDF's military intelligence are to present Mullen with Israel's 'hard core' evidence of what's going on in Iran.

But Mullen may not be quite the pacifist Time has made him out to be:
In a recent press briefing in Washington, however, Mullen took a hard-line approach, refusing to rule out the possibility that military force will be used to stop Iran's race towards nuclear power.

"I would never take the military option off the table," Mullen told reporters, although he stressed that his remark did not mean that force would be used. Diplomacy, he added, was very important.
Mullen will be doing more here than Iran:
In addition to Iran, Ashkenazi and his staff will also discuss with Mullen America's commitment for Israel to retain its qualitative edge in the face of the sale of advanced JDAM missiles to Saudi Arabia.

In the past, Israel had asked the Pentagon to permit the sale of the F-22 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet - also known as the Raptor - but the request was rejected.


The presentations that Mullen will hear will be on a wide range of topics - including the Hamas buildup in the Gaza Strip, Egypt's failure to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, Hizbullah activities in Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

Israel plans to take advantage of Mullen's visit to Israel to reinforce the already strong ties the IDF has with the Pentagon and the US armed forces. Appreciation for the IDF has increased within the Pentagon in recent months following the Israeli air strike on the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor.

Mullen's visit will be the first time a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has visited Israel in the past decade. Mullen was in Israel with his wife two years ago when he was the commander of the Navy.
Israel regards Sunday's meeting with Mullen as a chance to 'make up' for having not done a good enough job of making the case against Iran over the last year. And if it fails?

The thought of the buffoonish Olmert calling for a strike against Iran is almost comical. Fortunately, Comrade Peretz is no longer the Defense Minister, and much as I don't like Ehud Barak politically, he is certainly capable of planning such an operation. At the moment, the cabinet appears divided on what to do if the US backs off the military option:
The new US report which assesses that Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 has foiled any plans for military action against the Islamic republic, a cabinet official told Time on Thursday.

"It looks like this ends the military option against Iran for now. Israel won't attack alone. Iran's facilities are too many and spread too far apart."

Conversely, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai suggested Friday that Israel would continue to consider a military strike in Iran, but said it would first seek to exhaust diplomatic efforts.

"No option needs to be off the table," Vilnai said on Army Radio when asked if he believed an Israeli strike was possible.
My reaction: I think there's still a will in Israel to carry out a military strike on our own. The question is whether there is a way given how dispersed Iran's nuclear facilities are supposed to be. Whether that can be overcome depends on how good the IDF's intelligence is. We will likely find out - eventually.

But no one wants to give up yet on the possibility that the US will do the job either for us or with us. The fact that Mullen is coming here tends to negate the argument that President Bush has abandoned Israel. While I believe that the State Department would be just as happy for Israel to disappear off the map, and while Gates is notoriously cool to Israel (to put it kindly), someone is sending Mullen here, and my gut reaction says it's the President himself. What remains to be seen is whether Israel has enough intelligence to impress Mullen and whether everything it shows or gives Mullen will be relayed to the President. While I think it's a lot less likely that the US will attack Iran alone - as people here hoped - I think it's still possible that the US will be willing to undertake a joint operation with Israel or to cooperate in an Israeli operation. Sunday will be a critical step in whether "possible" becomes "likely."


At 1:02 AM, Blogger Freedom Fighter said...

I'm ashamed to say it Carl, but I think that whatever Israel plans to do about Iran they had better plan on doing alone.

There's no way Bush is going to ramp things up because of anything Ashkenazi or Barak tells him...not after the NIE was released.

Israel has a lot of friends in America, but not in the White house these days. The idea is to arm and placate the Saudis with the idea that they are going to `contain' Iran.

At 1:43 AM, Blogger sashal said...

Of course, in Iran’s case there is a real possibility of using a civil nuclear program to create a weapons program, and Iran has strategic interests that make acquiring these weapons understandable and even, in a sense, rational. They might, like Pakistan did, be playing the world for fools, buying time and waiting for the moment to unveil their nuke program. But what is so amazing about the entire debate going on in the West is that none of us–including the government that supposedly “knows more than we do” as the delightfully servile phrase has it–has any reliable information to confirm this theory, except that we think their President is looney, our government despises theirs and many of us actually believe that Iranians–and we’re talking about Iranians here–are some set of wild-eyed, suicidal maniacs who will just as soon annihilate themselves in some kamikaze nuclear war as look at us. In just the same way that the government railroaded the country into a war in Iraq on premises that were always preposterous, the administration and a sizeable part of the population of this country are once again positive that they know what Iran intends, when we are merely supposing and guessing–just as we did with Iraq. In fact, what is going on is the making of policy based in paranoia and fear, which is by definition not all together rational or well considered.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Sasha L,

Sorry, but no.

I cannot think of any reason that a country with the second largest proven oil reserves in the world would be spending all this money to acquire nuclear energy if they were not using it for weapons. Their 'gasoline shortage' has nothing to do with an oil shortage - it's entirely due to a shortage of refineries. They could have built dozens of refineries with what they are spending acquiring nuclear energy.

On your second point, no one is claiming the Iranian people are suicidal (although at least some of them may well be), but their leadership is suicidal and is clearly willing to sacrifice half the country in return for destroying Israel.

As to Iraq, there was plenty of evidence that they had WMD's, and I continue to believe that a lot of them were stashed in Syria before the war started (and I have posted articles to that effect).


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