A view from Israel: The art of deception

If Israel decides to strike Iran, it will need to employ deceptive techniques to fool Iran as the Greek army supposedly did at Troy.

Troy 390 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Troy 390
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In a recent radio interview, I was asked if Israelis think about Iran. My answer was that while no one is really thinking about Iran, everyone is thinking about Iran. On a daily basis, average Israelis go about their business as if there is no threat of annihilation hanging over their heads. Yet, much of the chatter emerging from the Prime Minister’s Office these days is related to the Iranian threat.
The comings and goings of senior US administration officials suggests that something is in the air.
Visits to Israel by high-level officials are not necessarily to be viewed as a warning. Recent remarks by US Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey that Israel should not attack Iran have the appearance of a warning to Israel but these highly publicized visits are meant as a message to the Iranians, as if to say: “The US wants to try diplomacy first but Israel is set on taking action – and soon. We can only do so much to hold them back.”
And while it is true that the US prefers to first pursue sanctions, these are most likely calculated statements coordinated jointly between the US and Israel purposely intended to act as a scare tactic aimed at Iran.
The intention is to get Iran to think an Israeli strike is imminent and have Iran back down and halt its nuclear program.
US President Barack Obama has, over the last few years, expressed his disinterest in military engagement and has hesitated to confront Iran in a manner befitting a superpower.
Instead, he has shown interest in soft-power tactics and diplomacy, a method praised by Westerners but scorned by Arabs. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad likely sees the US as a strong superpower militarily but a weak country in terms of its leadership.
Obama has not shown he can launch a war. Instead, he is seen by Iran as a president who inherited two wars and is interested only in ending US military presence in Middle Eastern Arab countries.
The decision-making processes Israel and the US employ to deal with Iran are clearly different. The US prefers sanctions while Israel prefers targeted hits, such as those carried out against Iran’s nuclear scientists.
Another factor to take into consideration is that Iran may be willing to risk everything if it believes Israel will only seek to destroy its nuclear facilities in a short, tactical and surgical series of operations. But if Iran can be made to believe that Israel will maintain sustained attacks on the Iranian leadership and the Revolutionary Guards over a period of many years, then it might think twice about continued threats against Israel. This type of scenario was true in 1941 when the Japanese were willing to go to war as long as they believed the US would keep the conflict limited.
DETERRENCE IS a strategy of conflict management.
Aside from the obvious, yet ambiguous, message Israel has employed since the 1950s that it may have nuclear weapons as well as a capable delivery system, recent activity suggests another level of deterrence. US comments that Israel should refrain from striking are meant to signal to Iran that Israel is poised to strike and may do so at any moment. This method is referred to as “signaling” and, hopefully, is not lost on the Iranians.
Sometimes signaling is risky as it can be misinterpreted by the intended receiver. The US decision in 1965 to land a light Marine division in lieu of a heavy one to demonstrate its intentions to limit its objectives in Vietnam was completely lost on Hanoi. Numerous other instances of misunderstandings have occurred over the years. Former US president William McKinley’s message to Spain in 1898 was misinterpreted as was China’s message to India in 1961. The 1982 conflict between the British and Argentina was, in part, the result of a misunderstanding of each other’s mind-set.
In Psychology and Deterrence, Richard Ned Lebow explains that “military balance, even when correctly assessed, is only one of several considerations taken into account by policy-makers contemplating war.
They are also influenced by domestic and foreign political pressures that push them to act, frustration with the low probability of achieving their goals by peaceful means, and their judgments about future trends in the military balance.”
This is similar to what Israel is experiencing today.
Faced with enormous pressure on one side from the US and Europe not to strike Iran, and on the other side Iran’s multiple and explicit threats to annihilate Israel has probably caused Israel’s top leadership to break into a sweat.
Israel does not believe that sanctions will deter an annihilationist, religious regime bent on dominating the world. Rather, Israel needs to use other methods to discourage Iran and while a military strike is probably possible, contrary to what The New York Times believes, it would be far better to pursue easier methods first.
If, however, Israel is forced to resort to military action to postpone Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it will need to resort to further deception.
Deception has its place – especially in military history.
The Jews have used deception since Gideon, and of course there is the famous Trojan horse which allowed the Greeks to enter the city of Troy. More recently, in 1941, the Japanese were extremely adept at fooling the US. They created false signals, false radio chatter and even sent false war plans to commanders. Their deception cemented their success at Pearl Harbor.
The 1944 Allied deception plan dubbed “Operation Fortitude” created the false impression that Allied troops would land in Pas-de-Calais, far from Normandy.
This plan, using false radio chatter, lights, fake artillery and even bombs, also worked, fooling the Germans and enabling an easier Allied landing at Normandy.
In the event Israel does decide to strike Iran, and if it has any hope of succeeding, it will need to hatch some seriously deceptive plans to fool Iran.
German leaders in 1914 were willing to risk global warfare, in part because they feared the growth of Russian military power. The difference between Germany then and Iran today is that Iran’s leaders are considered to be irrational players.
Its leaders maintain an imperialist vision to dominate the world with Islam, and, like the Germans, their threats must not be taken lightly. US and European efforts to pursue appeasement is the wrong course of action.
In the coming months, much of this type of chatter we have been observing will increase, in part to deceive Iran and in part to convince it that Israel is serious about its intentions to prevent Iran from reaching nuclear capability.
While the US and Europe do believe that allowing more time for sanctions to take effect might bring Iran to its senses, the fact that they are “threatening” Israel in public, and not in private, is nothing more than a ruse to scare Iran into thinking Israel is poised to strike.