When it comes to attacking enemy nuclear installations, Israel has an excellent
record for springing surprises and getting the job done. Just ask the Iraqis and
So why is everyone from the prime minister on down talking so
much these days about paying a visit to Iran? Media in Israel and around the
world have been filled with stories of how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
Defense Minister Ehud Barak want to hit the Iranian nuclear facilities and are
trying to convince the rest of the cabinet, over the objections of the military
and intelligence leadership, to go along.
The timing is interesting.
There is no smoking gun, no revelation that the ayatollahs are on the verge of a
breakthrough that would signal some urgency. So why now? The International
Atomic Energy Agency has exposed the falsehood of Iranian claims that its
nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
included the revelations expected is that Iran has the knowledge, technology and
resources to build and test a bomb within months, not years.
campaign for cabinet backing doesn’t mean an attack is imminent, but rather a
chit to be used when and if he decides.
President Shimon Peres has said
he sees an Israeli attack as “more and more likely.” The nation is about evenly
divided over whether to attack, although 80 percent expect it will provoke
retaliation by Iran and its proxies Hizbullah and Hamas.
opposition is the strongest where support is needed most: in
Netanyahu’s real strategy appears to be aimed at convincing
the international community to dramatically tighten the political and economic
squeeze on Teheran to scrap its weapons program.
So far Russia and China
have been running interference for the Iranians, and Israel hopes its war talk,
together with the IAEA report, will convince them to cross over from the dark
It seems hardly coincidental that in the past week Israel has
test-fired a ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead to any target in
Iran, conducted joint exercises with the Italian air force on long-range
missions and aerial refueling and held a large-scale civil defense exercise
simulating a missile attack on central Israel. At the same time, the US and
Israel announced plans for their “largest” and “most significant” ever joint
military exercises, including simulating Israel’s ballistic missile
Israeli leaders have long been frustrated that most countries do
not take the Iranian threat as seriously as they do, even those like the Gulf
Arabs, who have the most to lose if Iran gets the bomb.
facilities widely distributed and often hidden deep underground, it is hard to
find anyone who believes an attack – Israeli or American – could do more than
set back the Iranian nuclear program by a few years, but advocates say that will
buy time for more pressure to force a policy change or, best, regime
In reality, an attack is more likely to provoke wider conflict
and economic disruptions that could have global repercussions. If Israel
attacks, with or without American backing or even knowledge, Washington will
still be seen as either complicit or too weak to control its
Iranian officials have made credible warnings that if attacked they
would not confine their retaliation to Israel but will go after the Great Satan
and its Arab friends as well.
That includes closing the Straits of Hormuz
though which pass ships bearing more than a third of the world’s supply of oil
and gas, targeting the US Fifth Fleet and hitting American military and
commercial facilities in the Gulf.
An American military official called
Iran “the biggest threat to the United States and to our interests and to our
friends in the region.”
Tens of thousands of Americans, military and
civilian, are in the area, in Iraq on Iran’s western border and Afghanistan on
its eastern border, and in countries throughout the Gulf.
Iran could be
expected to attack Israel with its long-range Shahab-3 missiles as well as its
network of allies, particularly Hizbullah in Lebanon, which has an estimated
50,000-plus missiles supplied by Iran and Syria, as well as Palestinian terror
groups in Gaza. Syria could join in as a diversion from its uprising at
If an Israeli attack sparks a third major Middle East war,
retaliation can be expected against American interests and friends. That could
potentially cause more damage to US-Israel relations than to Iran’s nuclear
You can forget what GOP presidential wannabes Rick Perry, Rick
Santorum and some jingoists on the right have been saying about backing an
Israeli attack on Iran. The American people are fed up with the two Middle East
wars we already have and don’t want another one.
They are likely to be
unforgiving, even if they sympathize with Israel’s motivation.
analyst (and my fellow Jerusalem Post
columnist) Barry Rubin points out: “An
attack would not stop Iran’s program but only delay it, while guaranteeing that
Teheran would be in a state of war with Israel and far more likely to use
In The Atlantic
, Jeffery Goldberg wrote that “an attack
could legitimize the very program Israel is hoping to wipe out.”
fears are legitimate, as is its frustration with the failure of other countries
to take strong enough action. This is particularly true regarding enablers like
Russia and China, which are aiding and abetting the Iranian program.
brinkmanship can be a very dangerous game and war frenzy can prove difficult to
contain, especially if the enemy doesn’t think you’re bluffing and decides to
act first. It’s a lesson Egypt learned that the hard way in 1967.The
writer is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He writes
regularly for Anglo-Jewish newspapers and is the former legislative director of
AIPAC and Washington representative of the World Jewish Congress.