The Middle East was never more dangerous
Set off-balance by the democratic Arab Spring, Israel is edging closer to attacking Iran, to re-establish control over the region via military deterrence, regardless of the risks, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Those who know Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu well say that he dreams of following in the footsteps of former British prime minister Winston Churchill and go down in history as a leader who was able to completely wipe out the danger threatening the existence of the Hebrew state, just as Churchill was able to eliminate the Nazis who had threatened the world until the outbreak of World War II. Amnon Abramovich, a prominent Israeli commentator, said that Netanyahu believes that Iran's nuclear programme is a danger that threatens Israel's existence and that his "pet project" is to wipe out the Iranian nuclear programme.
Noam Brening, a senior commentator at Yediot Aharonot newspaper, argues that Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak are strongly lobbying for a decision to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Brening wrote that although army and military intelligence leaders are leery of any decision to target Iranian nuclear facilities, Netanyahu and Barak believe they can convince these senior officers of the attack. Until recently, leaders of security agencies who retired months ago, such as former Army Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former Mossad boss Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin, were successful in thwarting the plot by Netanyahu and Barak.
While it is true that the political leadership in Israel can take any decision and the military is obligated to carry it out, the political leadership knows that Israeli public opinion is cognizant that professional cadres, such as the leaders of security agencies, should support the decisions they take. But the military has made it very clear to Netanyahu and Barak that any operation to attack Iran would yield very negative outcomes for Israel and undermine its strategic standing.
After leaving office as Mossad chief, Dagan launched media campaigns against Netanyahu and Barak making it very clear that an attack on Iran would only lead to strategic disaster for Israel. This angered right-wing politicians in Israel who said that Dagan's media attacks harmed Israel's deterrence ability against Iran.
It later came to light that a number of senior right-wing ministers supported the Ashkenazi-Dagan-Diskin camp, including Dan Maridor, Moshe Yalon, Benny Begin, and even Avigdor Lieberman. Ben Kasbet, a senior commentator at Maariv newspaper believes that the recent appointment of new leaders for the army's chief of staff, Shin Bet and Mossad will dilute the ability of these new appointees to resist pressure by Netanyahu and Barak and they could be coerced into agreeing to an assault on Iran.
Alon Ben-David, senior defence correspondent for Israeli television's Channel 10, argued that by attacking Iran's nuclear programme, Netanyahu wants to stir the pot in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring. Ben-David believes that Netanyahu is trying to end Israel's crisis after its international standing was eroded when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went to the UN to apply for membership for a Palestinian state. He added that the Netanyahu-Barak duo believe that agitation is the solution for many strategic problems facing Israel, especially after the outbreak of democratic revolutions in the Arab world.
Ben-David continued that Netanyahu and Barak believe that the best way to do this is by targeting Iran's nuclear facilities, which the two believe would send a message of deterrence to Arab governments that are taking shape in the wake of the Arab Spring. Unlike Brening, who expects Netanyahu to issue orders for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities even before winter, Ben-David believes that this will wait until spring, since cloudy winter skies reduce the effectiveness of satellite pictures and unmanned planes that gather intelligence data needed to strike.
Ben-David asserted that although at first it may appear that conditions are not conducive for an attack on Iran, because Israel is strategically isolated, "it is the most dangerous since 1967". And although any military operation against Iran could result in destabilising the entire region, Netanyahu and Barak believe this would curtail the threats of democratic revolutions in the Arab world. According to senior Israeli commentators, Netanyahu will justify the attack by asking leaders of security and military agencies, as well as senior ministers in his cabinet, to support this action because time is on the side of Iran's nuclear programme. These commentators add that Netanyahu is telling his ministers and senior generals that the centrifuge equipment at Iranian nuclear facilities will soon begin enriching another ton of uranium, which Tehran would transport to a secret nuclear facility constructed under the mountains in the religious city of Qom. By then, it would be very difficult for any air bombing to intercede in the manufacture of nuclear weapons in Iran.
Ronin Brigman, Yediot Aharonot's intelligence correspondent, writes that the chances of a successful Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities are not high. "Iran learnt its lesson when Israel destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981, therefore Tehran scattered its nuclear facilities all over the country; hence [we do not know] how many nuclear facilities Iran was able to hide," Brigman said. He added that nuclear facilities are protected by anti-aircraft batteries that Iran is working to improve every day, some of which were built underground.
He further noted that the plan of attack is very complicated and Israel possesses limited air capabilities and no aircraft carriers, which inhibits the air force's ability to manoeuvre. Also, the distance between Israel's air defence bases and Iran's nuclear facilities is at least 1,500 kilometres, which means they will need to refuel at least once on the way. Brigman would expect air battles that would require fighter jets to refuel a second time at least.
He continued that since this would be a short attack, only a small number of locations would be targeted, quoting military experts as saying that even if Israel was able to destroy all of Iran's nuclear facilities, this does not mean erasing the knowhow of Iranian nuclear scientists. This implies that within three to four years, Iran would be able to rebuild its nuclear facilities once more.
Some Israelis warn that any Israeli operation will unify Iranian ranks under the incumbent leadership and reinforce the prevailing "extremist" camp. At the same time, there are those in Israel who doubt the justifications for a military attack against Iran since Tehran has agreed to the restrictions outlined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and known facilities are monitored by the UN, which complicates Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, any attack by Israel would give Iranian leaders pretext to expel international monitors.
Washington's position regarding a possible Israeli strike against Iran is unclear. Until recently, there was an impression that the US objects to an Israeli attack against Iran out of concern that US interests in the region would be harmed by an Iranian response to such an assault. But during a recent visit by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Israel, things appeared different. Israel's Maariv newspaper revealed that Panetta indicated to his Israeli hosts that Washington would give Tel Aviv freedom to do what it sees fit on this matter.
At the same time, some in Israel believe that US President Barack Obama -- currently fighting to secure his political future on the eve of presidential elections -- will not be able to put any pressure on Israel or deter it from attacking Iran, out of concern that this would anger Jewish groups that could undermine his chances of winning a second term.
Uri Bar-Yosef, an Israeli intellectual famous for his research and writings about Israel's failures during the 1973 War, is very concerned about Netanyahu's intentions and plan to attack Iran and its nuclear programme. He bitterly mocks Netanyahu's burning desire to achieve Churchill's legacy through such an undertaking, and said that Netanyahu's rule, especially his entire decision-making process, proves that he is more like Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini who unwittingly became involved in World War II. And the rest is history.