IDSA COMMENT

Iran in the Israeli Calculus

March 13, 2012

Speculation is rife in a section of the international strategic spectrum that Israel might launch a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities by June 2012. Strike theorists say the imminence of such a strike can be inferred from the recent allusions reportedly made by US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey that Israel might do so without giving any information thereof to Washington .

Besides, the theorists argue, the possibility of an Israeli strike has become far stronger after the recent operationalization of a “new generation” centrifuge for enriching uranium in Qom and the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report. The IAEA report clearly shows that the ongoing sanctions diplomacy has had little impact on Iran, which has proceeded with its uranium enrichment, a key component of a nuclear weapon programme.

In order to stop the current regime in Tehran from going nuclear and acquiring a better position to carry out its oft-repeated threat of annihilation of the Jewish nation, Israel might discard its covert operations and attack Iranian nuclear facilities on the pattern of what it did to Syria's Soviet-made anti-aircraft batteries and Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 and 1982 respectively. Jerusalem, the theorists add, might do so before Iran entered the so-called “immunity zone” when its nuclear facilities could be too heavily fortified for any military strike against them to succeed.

One, however, wonders if Israel would be in any such great hurry to go it alone and launch a preemptive strike on Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself indicated during his recent address to the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that Jerusalem might still wait when he said, “We’ve waited for diplomacy to work; we’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.” One may note just two words herein: ‘much longer.’

There are strong reasons to believe that Jerusalem would not act in a hurry. A careful analysis of the recent statements of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her British and European Union counterparts William Hague and Catherine Ashton shows that the major Western powers are now serious about containing the alleged Iranian nuclear weapon programme by all means. Presently, they do favour the diplomacy of tougher sanctions and dialogue on the issue. Accordingly, in their upcoming possible dialogue at the P5+1 forum, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States would be conveying to Iran the threat of military action in order to make it fall in line with them on the nuclear issue. They would also be stressing upon the threat of force in their bilateral talks with Russia and China so as to prevail upon them to agree to heavier sanctions against Iran as the only way to prevent a military strike against it. But there are also enough indications suggesting that the military option, the course Israel has long favoured in the matter, might be used if the diplomacy of tougher sanctions and dialogue fail. During Benjamin Netanyahu’s just-concluded visit to the White House, US President Barack Obama has made such a possibility very clear when he said, "I reserve all options and my policy here is not going be one of containment; my policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.”

Given this, Israel is likely to find it more practical to wait for the time being and let the new course being adopted by the United States and its allies to reach its logical end. More importantly, Israel can afford to wait. Jerusalem seems to have moved militarily far ahead since the ‘Project Daniel’ Group made its recommendations about the perceived Iranian threat to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon way back in 2003. Tehran poses Jerusalem little threat in the short or long terms. It must be aware as to how the Israel Air Force acted during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the 2006 Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah and the 2008–2009 Operation Cast Lead against Hamas. Tehran would not be naïve to attack Jerusalem and risk triggering its own destruction at the hands of the militarily far superior Israel, which would only redound to the benefit of Sunni Arabs as well as the Turks who are lying in wait to play a major role in the region. Besides, Tehran might fear that a nuclear launch might miss Israel and land in Lebanon, Jordan or the West Bank, generating a lot of anti- Iranian sentiments in the Arab world.

Even if Tehran develops nuclear weapons tomorrow, it is unlikely to take on Jerusalem. A nuclear Iran would be deterred from attacking Israel for fear of the latter’s far superior nuclear capability as well as bond with the United States. As stated by President Obama in his latest address to the AIPAC, the two nations’ “goals are in sync” with “shared values, shared history and links,”; there “has been a profoundly bipartisan commitment to the state of Israel … regardless of whether it's a Democratic or Republican administration”; and “the working assumption is: we've got Israel's back.” Given such an American commitment, Tehran must know that any attack on Israel is likely to be met with massive retaliation not only from Jerusalem but also Washington.

Besides, Jerusalem also knows that whatever threat the alleged Iranian nuclear weapon programme poses is not confined to Israel alone. The behavioural pattern of world leaders at the United Nations and elsewhere on the Iranian nuclear question clearly shows that almost all of them are opposed to Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme. In view of the official ideology of post-Shah Iran and its ongoing support for Islamist forces throughout the world, they all seem to be scared of the possible implications of Iran’s emergence as a nuclear weapon state. This has brought about a near consensus among the United States, Europe, Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and others to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In view of this, Israel might calculate that it would better to wait and use diplomacy to push the major global and regional powers towards some kind of a joint venture against the much feared nuclear designs of Iran.

Comments

Former Mossad Chief Meir by Shubhda Chaudhary, political analyst