On Wednesday, Israel test fired a long-range ballistic missile believed,
according to foreign reports, to be a version of the Jericho 3 missile capable
of carrying nuclear warheads up to ranges of 4,000 kilometers.
day, the Israel Air Force announced that it had returned from a week of joint
maneuvers with Italy over Sardinia that included long-range flights, midair
refueling and complicated bombing runs. On Thursday, the Home Front Command held
a large-scale civil defense exercise aimed at preparing the public for missile
attacks in the center of the country.
On their own, these exercises do
not seem overly exciting, especially since they were planned months in advance.
Israel’s missile tests are not something done randomly; they require immense
preparations, particularly since they are launched to the west, over the
Mediterranean Sea. Joint exercises with foreign countries cannot be planned at
the spur of the moment and also require months of advanced planning.
the same time, these events are also part of Israel’s saber-rattling and are
Jerusalem’s way of signaling to the world that it is serious about the need for
Iran’s nuclear program to be put to a stop. This message is being conveyed in
the run-up to the report set to be published next week by the International
Atomic Energy Agency, which is expected to cast some new light on Iran’s weapons
The IAEA is under pressure to release the report in response to
the recently uncovered Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to
The report is expected to say that Iran is moving forward
with its weapons program, something the US National Intelligence Estimate was
unable to ascertain in late 2007.
If the report is damning to Iran, it
could serve as the basis for a major crackdown would likely focus on economic
sanctions, for example against the Iranian Central Bank, which has yet to be
targeted, before any military action would be taken.
On the other hand,
the report could also serve as a justification for military action against Iran,
either by Israel, by the US or by a coalition of countries. A report by the
IAEA, which is considered to be an objective UN agency, is not the same as
having a country's own intelligence agencies claim that the country is
developing weapons of mass destruction, as in the case with Iraq in
Either way, there is no question that something is afoot. Defense
Minister Ehud Barak flew to the US in September and two weeks later US Secretary
of Defense Leon Panetta came to Israel for another round of talks, during which
he urged Israel to “work together” with the international community to stop
New CIA chief David Petraeus recently visited Israel as well, as
did head of the European Command Adm. James Stavridis and additional US
British Chief of Defense Staff Gen. David Richards
secretly visited Israel this week, after which Barak flew to London for talks
with the defense and foreign secretaries. The Guardian reported that the British
military was drafting plans for the part it will play in a potential US-led
attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
While this all seems dramatic
and as though Israel is on the verge of launching a war, it is something that
has happened in the past.
In early 2010, for example, US Vice President
Joe Biden, then-CIA director Leon Panetta, National Security Adviser Jim Jones,
National Security Council strategist Dennis Ross, Deputy Secretaries of State
Jim Steinberg and Jack Lew, head of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee
Sen. John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen
all passed through the gates of Ben-Gurion Airport in the span of just six
This time appears to be different though – not necessarily because
of a change in Israel but because of developments in Iran, where sanctions are
not believed to have had a major impact on the progress of the nuclear
On the contrary. Israeli intelligence believes that the moment
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei decides to make the bomb (he is not
believed to have made the decision yet), it would take about a year to make a
crude device and around two to three years to make a weapon that could be
installed on the wing of an aircraft or on a ballistic missile.
also continuing to disperse its capabilities and has announced intentions to
move some of its advanced centrifuges to the Fordo facility near the city of
Qom, which Barak has said before is immune to conventional military strikes. As
reported last month in The Jerusalem Post, this has led to an assessment among
analysts that the window of opportunity for a strike against Iran is quickly
The debate among the inner cabinet members regarding the Iranian
issue are not new. Likud party cabinet members Dan Meridor and Moshe “Bogie”
Ya'alon are known opponents of such a strike and believe that Israel should not
be placing itself at the forefront of efforts to stop it. On the other side are
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Barak, the latter having been accused of
sparking the recent media focus on the issue.
In a country like Israel
where the censor often imposes restrictions on issues that are far less
sensitive for national security than the Iranian problem, it is telling that
there has been no censorship in this case.
The past two times that Israel
bombed a nuclear reactor – in Syria in 2007 and in Iraq in 1981 – there was not
nearly as extensive a debate as there is today. In the Syrian case, for example,
the public did not even know that President Bashar Assad had built a nuclear
reactor to begin with.
That is why on the one hand the government might
actually want this debate, which began with Nahum Barnea’s sensational headline
in last Friday’s Yediot Aharonot
, to be held in the media. This way the message
will get out to the world, which will then hopefully take action.
other hand, maybe the news was not originally intended for publication. If that
is the case, then there is actually something comforting in the ongoing debate
in the media and the public regarding military action against
Unlike the operation in Syria, which was hidden from the public,
Iran’s nuclear program has been a threat to Israel for over a decade and the
public, which could face unprecedented rocket and missile fire following a
strike, has the right to know where their government is leading them, what the
risks are and what they potentially stand to gain.
Barak and Netanyahu
could in fact gain from this ongoing discourse. On the one hand, it takes the
attention away from the doctors’ strike and the social protests and allows them
to focus on the really important issues that they believe they were elected in
order to deal with. It also could potentially lead the US and Europe to take
more decisive action against Iran – starting with economic sanctions – that have
not been taken before.
The problem is that it’s possible that the
increased tension between Israel and Iran will cause one of the sides to make a
mistake that could lead to a war that neither side currently
Iran’s response to an Israeli attack could vary. Israel's greatest
concern stems from the Hizbullah’s missile arsenal, which is estimated at 50,000
with the ability to cover the entire State of Israel. For that reason, there are
some estimates that when and if it attacks Iran, Israel will also simultaneously
attack some of the known Hizbullah targets with an emphasis on the group's
But one of the main questions we are left with is how
long such a war would last. Judging by the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, which
lasted eight years, when Iran is determined and driven by radical ideology and
religion almost nothing can stop it. It is therefore possible that Iran will
continue fighting for as long as it feels like it is achieving its goal of