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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Will Israel attack Iran? Maybe with an hour's notice

Writing in the New York Times, Ronen Bergman, one of Israel's top security analysts, asks whether Israel will attack Iran (Hat Tip: Memeorandum). Based on the questions that Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Bergman require affirmative responses before an attack can be undertaken, the answer to that question would appear to be no. But things are not always as they appear to be. Here are the questions; focus especially on question 2.
As we spoke, however, Barak laid out three categories of questions, which he characterized as “Israel’s ability to act,” “international legitimacy” and “necessity,” all of which require affirmative responses before a decision is made to attack:

1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?

2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?

3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?
Bergman writes that at least some of Israel's most powerful leaders (presumably a reference to Netanyahu and Barak - I cannot think of anyone else who is taken as seriously) believe that the answer to all three questions is affirmative. I disagree. We do not have overt or tacit support from the United States - certainly not for an attack before the American elections - and we are not likely to have it so long as Obama remains in office. And by the time Obama leaves office, the entire equation is likely to be different. Even if he leaves (as most Israelis we hope) next January. And Barak knows it.
At various points in our conversation, Barak underscored that if Israel or the rest of the world waits too long, the moment will arrive — sometime in the coming year, he says — beyond which it will no longer be possible to act. “It will not be possible to use any surgical means to bring about a significant delay,” he said. “Not for us, not for Europe and not for the United States. After that, the question will remain very important, but it will become purely theoretical and pass out of our hands — the statesmen and decision-makers — and into yours — the journalists and historians.”
That's not to say that we won't attack - but rather than Barak did not give Bergman a true formulation of the issue. Either that or Barak believes that we always have tacit US approval to act - which Bergman hints at in a discussion of the Six Day War later on (which I am not reproducing below).

Deputy Prime Minister Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon gave Bergman a much truer formulation:
“Our policy is that in one way or another, Iran’s nuclear program must be stopped,” he said. “It is a matter of months before the Iranians will be able to attain military nuclear capability. Israel should not have to lead the struggle against Iran. It is up to the international community to confront the regime, but nevertheless Israel has to be ready to defend itself. And we are prepared to defend ourselves,” Ya’alon went on, “in any way and anywhere that we see fit.”
In other words, we really want America to do this, and we are going to keep making bellicose noises in the hope that they will start it, but if they don't, we will start it and hope that they join us. And this all but confirms my argument:
As one senior American official wrote to the State Department and the Pentagon in November 2009, after an Israeli intelligence projection that Iran would have a complete nuclear arsenal by 2012: “It is unclear if the Israelis firmly believe this or are using worst-case estimates to raise greater urgency from the United States.”
Yes. But with Obama in power, you've got an American administration that's not capable of seeing the urgency on its own.

Here's something you may not have known about Iran's nuclear program:
They are holding the fissile material at sites across the country, most notably at the Fordo facility, near the holy city Qom, in a bunker that Israeli intelligence estimates is 220 feet deep, beyond the reach of even the most advanced bunker-busting bombs possessed by the United States.

And remember that story about Israel giving 'up to 12 hours' notice? You can drop that to one or two hours.
When I spoke with Kroenig last week, he said: “My understanding is that the United States has asked Israel not to attack Iran and to provide Washington with notice if it intends to strike. Israel responded negatively to both requests. It refused to guarantee that it will not attack or to provide prior notice if it does.” Kroenig went on, “My hunch is that Israel would choose to give warning of an hour or two, just enough to maintain good relations between the countries but not quite enough to allow Washington to prevent the attack.” Kroenig said Israel was correct in its timeline of Iran’s nuclear development and that the next year will be critical. “The future can evolve in three ways,” he said. “Iran and the international community could agree to a negotiated settlement; Israel and the United States could acquiesce to a nuclear-armed Iran; or Israel or the United States could attack. Nobody wants to go in the direction of a military strike,” he added, “but unfortunately this is the most likely scenario. The more interesting question is not whether it happens but how. The United States should treat this option more seriously and begin gathering international support and building the case for the use of force under international law.”
Here's Bergman's conclusion:
After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012. Perhaps in the small and ever-diminishing window that is left, the United States will choose to intervene after all, but here, from the Israeli perspective, there is not much hope for that. Instead there is that peculiar Israeli mixture of fear — rooted in the sense that Israel is dependent on the tacit support of other nations to survive — and tenacity, the fierce conviction, right or wrong, that only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.
Read the whole thing.



At 3:43 PM, Blogger Empress Trudy said...

Rule 1: The New York Times is a fully functioning arm of the White House. Keep that in mind whenever you read anything in the NYT.


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