Friday, November 4, 2011

Israeli Saber Rattling

There was a very interesting report in the Associated Press which said that an “Israeli official” said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to persuade his Cabinet to authorize a military strike against Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program - a discussion that comes as Israel successfully tests a missile believed capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to Iran.

What is not really known is whether Israel was genuinely poised to strike or if it was saber-rattling in order to push the international community into taking a tougher line with Iran. Israeli leaders have talked about a military option all along, but they always seemed mindful of the probable consequences including the likelihood of a furious counterstrike and the risk of regional mayhem.

Israeli leaders have said they favor a diplomatic solution. Recently however there has been a spate of Israeli media reports on a possible strike, accompanied by veiled threats from top politicians. In a speech to parliament this week, Netanyahu said a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a "dire threat" to the world and "a grave, direct threat on us, too." His hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was dismissive of the reports but added: "We are keeping all the options on the table."

The government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive internal deliberations, told The Associated Press that the option is now being debated at the highest levels. The official confirmed a report Wednesday in the Haaretz daily that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak both favor an attack, but do not yet have the support of a majority of Cabinet ministers. The official also said Israel's top security chiefs, including the heads of the military and Mossad spy agency, oppose military action.

It is generally understood that such a momentous decision would require a Cabinet decision. Israel's 1981 destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor was preceded by a Cabinet vote.

Reflecting the mood in Israel, military expert Reuven Pedatzur wrote in Haaretz that "if anyone can save Israel from catastrophe, it is the Israeli air force commander," who might simply tell Netanyahu that an attack on Iran "cannot achieve its goals." Also, several months ago, the newly retired head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, caused a stir by warning publicly against attacking Iran, saying a strike would be "stupid" and would risk unleashing a region-wide war.

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest threat, citing Tehran's nuclear program, its president's repeated calls for destroying the Jewish state and Iran's support for the Hamas and Hezbollah militant groups. For years, Israeli leaders have implored the world community to impose tough economic sanctions to pressure the Iranians to dismantle their nuclear installations.

The key element now is time. Israeli estimates of when Iran might be able to produce a nuclear weapon have been fluid, with Dagan giving a 2015 date when he left office. But some reports have suggested officials consider the coming months critical.

Israel is now testing long range ballistic missiles which can easily reach targets in Iran (and are capable of carrying nuclear payloads). This gives Israel an additional tactical advantage –at least for now. The Iranians are nearing the day when they will have a nuclear arsenal and the consequences of that are terrible to contemplate. The international community has used round after round of sanctions but Iran continues to seek nuclear weapons.

Israel’s frustration is understandable. It increasingly appears that “the military option” will be the only thing the Iranians will respond to. The problem with that, of course, is that every day that passes gives the Iranians greater retaliatory capability –making the price of that option even higher.

As terrible as it is to think about the use of a military option to take out Iran’s nuclear program (a move which will also put the Iranian people solidly behind the Ayatollah) and the consequences of such a move –the real question you have to ask is –If Iran is willing to hire Mexican Drug Thugs to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States in broad daylight in a crowded restaurant in downtown Washington DC –what do you suppose they would be willing to do with nuclear bombs if they get them?

Live Long and Prosper…

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