Analysis: Time-framing Iran

One of the reasons that Israel is reluctant to take action now is because an attack will not solve the Iranian threat forever.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz_390 (photo credit: Ori Shifrin/IDF Spokesman)
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 after.
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 possible.
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 them.
Smartly, Israel is not publicly revealing its plans.
While 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.
Another 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.
After 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.
The 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.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threatClick here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
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 explained recently.
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.