The radio superhero The Shadow had the power to “cloud men’s minds.” But nothing
clouds men’s minds like anything that has to do with Jews or Israel. For many
centuries, bizarre notions have taken over when the thoughts of others turn
toward the Jews. Rationality goes out the window. This process is often
associated with anti-Semitism but, more broadly, it is a form of total
This year’s variation on that theme is the idea that
Israel is about to attack Iran. Such a claim repeatedly appears in the media.
Some have criticized Israel for attacking Iran and turning the Middle East into
a cauldron of turmoil (not as if the region needs any help in that department)
despite the fact that it hasn’t happened.
On the surface, of course,
there is apparent evidence for such a thesis. Israel has talked about
attacking Iran and, objectively, one can make a case for such an operation. Yet
any serious consideration of this scenario – based on actual research and real
analysis rather than what the uninformed assemble in their own heads – is this:
It isn’t going to happen.
Indeed, the main leak from the government, by
an ex-intelligence official who hates Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has
been that Israel has already decided not to attack Iran. He says that he worries
this might change in the future but there’s no hint that this has happened or
will happen. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has publicly denied plans for an
imminent attack as have other senior government officials.
Of course, one
might joke that the fact that Israeli leaders talk about attacking Iran is the
biggest proof that they aren’t about to do it. But Israel, like other countries,
should be subject to rational analysis.
So why are Israelis talking about
a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities? Because that’s a good way –
indeed, the only way Israel has – to pressure Western countries to work harder
on the issue, to increase sanctions and diplomatic efforts. If policymakers
believe that somehow pushing Tehran into slowing down or stopping its drive
toward nuclear weapons is the only alternative to war, that greatly concentrates
Why should Israel attack Iran now? Because one day Iran will
have nuclear weapons that might be used to attack Israel.
Does Iran have
such deliverable weapons now? No. If Israel attacks Iran now does that mean Iran
would never get nuclear weapons? No, it would merely postpone that outcome for
at most a year or two. If Israel attacks Iranian nuclear installations would
that ensure future peace between the two countries? Would it make it less likely
that the Tehran regime uses such weapons to strike at Israel in future?
On the contrary, it would have the exact opposite effect. It would
ensure direct warfare between the two countries and make Iran’s use of nuclear
weapons against Israel 100 percent probable. If Israel attacks Iran would it
have backing from anyone else in the world? No, in fact the United States
strongly opposes such an operation. Launching such an attack would ensure
a level of international isolation for Israel far higher than what exists
Would such an attack by Israel be likely to succeed even in doing
maximum damage to Iranian facilities? No, a great deal could go wrong. Planes
could get lost or crash or have to turn back. Planes arriving over the targets
could miss, or accidentally drop their bombs on civilians, or simply not do much
damage. In military operations – especially against multiple hardened targets at
the planes’ maximum range – a lot can go wrong.
So given all of these
factors why should Israel possibly attack Iran? It is an absurd idea.
counter-argument is this: Iran’s regime is irrational and wants to destroy
Israel even if the resulting counterattack would kill millions of Iranians and
wreck the country. Yet while that analysis should not be totally ruled out, it
is far from a certainty. Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons to make itself
invulnerable to the costs of its non-nuclear subversion and support for
terrorist and revolutionary forces. And a lot of what the Iranian
leadership says is demagoguery to build support for itself at home, and to
convince the masses to ignore its incompetence and mismanagement.
given the points made above, even the Iran-as-irrational analysis does not
justify an Israeli attack at this time.
And, finally, Israel has other
options. The alternative is this: As the Iranian regime works hard to get
nuclear weapons and missiles capable of carrying them, Israel uses the time to
build a multi-level defensive and offensive capability. These layers include:
early warning stations and antimissile missile installations in the Gulf;
Israeli missile-launching submarines; Israeli long-range planes whose crews have
rehearsed and planned for strikes at Iranian facilities; different types of
anti-missile missiles capable of knocking down the small number of missiles Iran
could fire simultaneously; covert operations, possibly including computer
viruses and assassinations, to slow down Iran’s development of nuclear weapons;
improved intelligence; and other measures.
If and when there was a clear
Iranian threat to attack Israel, then Israel could launch a preemptive
assault. And if no such threat ever materializes, Israel need never
attack. Any future Iran-Israel war will happen if Iran’s regime makes it
unavoidable, not in theory but in practice.
Does this Israeli strategy
assume that Iran’s regime is “rational” and “peace-loving” and will be deterred
by Israel’s ability to strike back? Absolutely not. Indeed, quite the
opposite. No such assumption is required. Israel will simply be ready and alert
based on the assumption that Iran might attack some day. But such a war, however
possible, is not inevitable. And since Israel cannot prevent Iran from obtaining
nuclear weapons by attacking, there is no point in doing so.
hope for or fear an Israeli attack on Iran, it isn’t going to happen.
writer is director of the GLORIA Center, at IDC, and editor of MERIA
Journal. His new book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published
by Yale University Press.