IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz_390.
(photo credit: Ori Shifrin/IDF Spokesman)
One of the explanations that has been given over the past year to explain the
opposition voiced by Israel’s former security chiefs – ex- IDF chief Gabi
Ashkenazi, ex- Mossad chief Meir Dagan and ex-Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin – to
an attack against Iran has been that they know what will happen the day
At least some of the current occupants of those three positions
accept this explanation. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz, for
one, predicted in interviews in April that Iran would ultimately refrain from
developing a nuclear weapon. In private meetings he has predicted that
international pressure could potentially delay a possible confrontation with
Iran until 2013.
The reason for the relative sense of moderation is that
these security chiefs will have to deal with the fallout from an Israeli strike
against Iran – regardless of whether it is successful – that is expected to
include missile fire from Lebanon, possibly as many as 1,000 rockets a day, from
Gaza, Iran and maybe even Syria. They want to avoid that war if
This does not mean that they would prefer Iran be allowed to go
nuclear, but rather they would like to wait until the very last moment before
taking action to allow diplomacy and sanctions to get the job done for
Smartly, Israel is not publicly revealing its plans.
the case might be different in private meetings – like those held this week with
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US National Security Adviser Tom
Donilon – American officials have in the past complained about the Israeli
ambiguity when it comes to its Iran planning.
In January, for example,
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Iran was nine months away from entering
what he coined the “immunity zone,” a point in the nuclear program that would
make an Israeli military strike ineffective.
In recent briefings, Barak
has walked away from that prediction and now declares that the immunity zone is
not something that will be reached within weeks but also will not take several
years to arrive.
How much of Barak’s saber rattling was genuine and how much was a bluff is not completely clear, although the defense minister has
openly admitted it was largely aimed at getting the world to impose tough
sanctions on Iran – and in that it succeeded.
For Israel though, there
are two windows coming up that could potentially be convenient for a possible
strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Before the US elections: While
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta predicted that Israel would attack Iran
between April and June, those months have passed and the attack has not yet
happened. Nevertheless, the upcoming months are an ideal window for a strike
from an operational perspective.
The main reason is that up until October
the sun is still shining in the Middle East and the few clouds in the skies
allow for relatively easy surveillance and reconnaissance over potential
targets, a critical component of a potential operation. Historically, this is
also the window in which Israel attacked two previous reactors – Iraq’s nuclear
reactor in June 1981 and Syria’s reactor in September 2007.
possible consideration for the state is that in October, the US European Command
and Missile Defense Agency will be in Israel for the much-anticipated Austere
Challenge missile defense drill. It will include the deployment of American
missile defense systems in Israel, in addition to Aegis missile defense ships
that will anchor off Israel’s coast.
With the extra layer of support
already here, an attack that will be followed by unprecedented missile fire from
Lebanon, Gaza, Iran and possibly Syria might not sound that bad.
the US elections: The above would only be true if the US agrees to an Israeli
strike before the elections or Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu feels confident
enough to defy US President Barack Obama’s request that he wait.
advantage in waiting would be that if Obama wins the elections, he might feel
less restrained to take action on his own against Iran than he would have before
the vote. On the other hand, Netanyahu’s thinking might be that it is worth
waiting until after the elections anyway, when Mitt Romney might be elected
president – providing the prime minister with what he believes could be a more
sympathetic ally in the White House.
Ultimately, one of the reasons that
Israel is reluctant to take action now is because an attack will not solve the
Iranian threat forever. It will delay its pursuit of a nuclear weapon but then
again, the argument goes, so could covert action or even a possible deal reached
by the ayatollahs with the West.
“Either way, this is something that will
continue to accompany us for many more years to come,” a senior defense official
What could throw all of these calculations off is an
Iranian decision to go to the breakout stage now, to begin enriching uranium to
military-grade levels and to assemble a nuclear device. If this happens,
Israel’s strike plans are moved up and neither the elections, Obama or Romney
will be able to stop the Israel Air Force.