Israel vs. Iran: To Strike or Not to Strike?
by CAROLINE GLICK
November 10, 2011
Over the past week, there has been an avalanche of news reports in the Israeli and Western media about the possibility of an imminent Israeli or American strike on Iran's nuclear installations. These reports were triggered by a report on Iran's nuclear program set to be published by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency later this week.
According to the media, the IAEA's report will deal a devastating blow to Iran's persistent claims that its illegal nuclear program is "peaceful." Specifically, the IAEA report is expected to divulge information about Iran's efforts to develop and test components that have no plausible use other than the production of nuclear weapons. These activities include experimentation with triggers used only for detonating nuclear weapons, and the development of missile warheads capable of carrying nuclear weapons. They also include the design of computer simulation programs to test nuclear weapons.
Most nuclear experts claim that Iran currently has sufficient quantities of enriched uranium to produce four or five nuclear weapons. They also claim that it will take Iran another three years to develop a fullblown nuclear arsenal. Finally, Israeli and Western sources claim that in light of Iran's bid to develop hardened, underground nuclear sites, its nuclear installations will be immune to ballistic missile attacks or aerial bombing within a year.
Confronting Iran's rapidly developing nuclear capabilities, Israeli hawks and doves are united in their view that Israel's preferred option is for the US rather than the IDF to launch a military strike to destroy Iran's nuclear installations. This view is reasonable because the US has the military capabilities to destroy Iran's nuclear program completely and do so with minimal risk to America's international prestige and position.
Moreover, if the US, rather than Israel attacks Iran's nuclear installations, Israel will be able to devote all of its own resources to fending off missile and ground assaults from Iran's proxy regimes in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Between them, Hamas, Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar Assad have some 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel. For the past two years Hizbullah has been planning a ground offensive against northern Israel in conjunction with a missile offensive. Syria has chemical weapons.
If as expected, Iran unleashes these forces in response to a strike on its nuclear installations, the IDF will have its hands full.
As for the option of an Israeli strike on Iran, assuming a tactical nuclear strike is not under consideration, Israel probably lacks the ability to completely destroy Iran's nuclear facilities on its own. Unlike the US, Israel would have to limit any operation in Iran to destroying the most dangerous Iranian nuclear facilities while leaving others untouched.
THE LIMITED nature of an Israeli strike could enable Iran to rebuild its nuclear capabilities. If so, Israel would likely need to launch another strike later on.
Unlike the US, Israel would have no international coalition to fight with. Jerusalem would face the unpalatable prospect of being condemned for its action by UN and other international bodies, including by states that would quietly support it.
Most importantly, given the likelihood that Iran's proxies would launch a new round of aggression against Israel in response to a strike on its nuclear installations, Israel would be beset by a multi-front war at a time when much of its Air Force and perhaps other strategic assets are out of the country.
Against this backdrop, it makes sense to assume that reports of current Israeli preparations for a strike against Iran are less indications of an imminent strike than an Israeli attempt to send messages to two target audiences. First, Israel is signaling Iran that it has the capacity to strike its nuclear installations. Second, Israel is signaling the Obama administration that it is time for Washington to get serious about preparing a military operation to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, lest Israel be forced to act on its own.
There are some indications that even without Israeli maneuvering some Obama administration officials have finally awoken to the dangers. On Sunday The New York Times reported that the administration's assessment that it can contain a nuclear-armed Iran in much the same way the US contained the Soviet Union "took a hit," after Iran's plan to penetrate terror operatives into the US through the Mexican border was revealed. The thwarted Iranian plan to use terrorists brought in from Mexico to stage spectacular terror attacks against Israeli and Saudi targets in Washington taught administration officials that Iran continues to view terrorism as a strategic tool. They finally realized that it is impossible to rule out the possibility that Iran would use terror proxies to transfer and detonate nuclear bombs in third countries. And their inability to rule out this prospect placed their previous conviction that they can contain a nuclear Iran in serious question.
Unfortunately, from statements to the media last week by a senior US military source, it appears that the administration's belated recognition that Iran is more comparable to Nazi Germany than to Stalinist Russia does not mean that they are interested in actually doing anything to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Speaking to reporters in Washington a senior US military official said that the US continues to view the prospect of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear installations as just as problematic as a nuclear armed Iran. As he put it, the US is "absolutely" concerned about a potential Israeli attack, and "increasingly vigilant" with regard to activities in both Israel and Iran that could indicate military intentions.
THE OBAMA administration's stubborn refusal to acknowledge the obvious fact that a nuclear armed Iran constitutes a far greater danger to US interests than an Israeli military strike to deny Iran nuclear capabilities is in line with the administration's consistent refusal to treat Israel as an ally. Its unserious handling of Iran is of a piece with its gentle policies towards Hamas and Hezbollah, its refusal to call Fatah on its bad faith, its blindness to the threat emanating from Islamist movements in Turkey and North Africa, and its consistent pressure on Israel to appease its enemies. The administration's apparent antipathy for Israel has played a significant role in causing it to underestimate the threat that all these forces pose not only to Israel but to the US and to international security in general.
And Israel is not the US's only Middle Eastern ally that has suffered from its strategic myopia. Iran's pro- American Green Movement was betrayed by Obama's decision to side with the regime against the Green Movement in 2009. Iraq's pro-American political forces will be harmed if not destroyed in the aftermath of the administration's planned withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
Then there are the Sunnis. Under Obama, the US betrayed its most important Arab ally when it called for then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to resign in response to the anti-regime demonstrations in Cairo. America is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. It supports the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated, Turkish organized Syrian opposition to Assad's regime. It upholds Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist, anti-Semitic and anti-Western regime as the US's greatest regional ally.
With its dismal track record, it is far from clear that Israel is well-served by pressuring the Obama administration to take action against Iran. On Sunday, British military commentator Con Coughlin noted in the Sunday Telegraph that in recent years, the "only measures that have had any demonstrable effect on slowing Iran's nuclear progress have been undertaken by Israel, via a skillful combination of targeted assassinations and cyber-warfare."
So Israel's low-key, tactical operations against Iran have been effective while all of Obama's high-profile strategic operations have empowered Israel's enemies.
True, Obama has not yet taken any operational steps to attack Iran's nuclear installations. But the dire implications of his track records cannot be ignored.
At least until the US presidential elections next year, Israel's best bet may be to simply step up its covert efforts to sabotage Iran's nuclear program.
The goal of these efforts should be to slow down Iran's nuclear progress sufficiently to prevent it from developing a nuclear arsenal or moving its nuclear project to hardened locations until after the US presidential elections.
In the meantime, Israel should continue to develop its independent capacity to attack Iran. It should also take military action to weaken Iran's terror proxies in order to limit their capacity to wage war against Israel in the aftermath of an eventual, post-presidential election Israeli or US strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Obviously, it would be a mistake to assume that Obama will lose his reelection bid. But even if he wins, as a lame duck, second term president, he will have less power to harm Israel than he will as a first term president poised for reelection.