Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New York Times Op-Ed: Israel Will Attack Iran

By Steven D., Booman Tribune
Posted on July 18, 2008, Printed on July 22, 2008

Yes, you read my title correctly. Today's New York Times includes an op-ed piece by Benny Morris, a Professor of Middle Eastern history at Ben Gurion University. He claims Israel will most certainly attack Iran within the next 4 to 7 months, and if conventional weapons are unsuccessful to knock out Iran's nuclear program, than Israel will escalate to the use of nuclear weapons.

By all accounts Professor Morris is no Likudist or neoconservative stalking horse, but a leading figure among Israel's "New Historians" movement which has portrayed the history of the creation of Israel and the genesis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms traditional Israeli historians deem revisionist and flawed because it claims to present a more balanced view of the history of the Palestinian conflict, one at odds with the traditional Israeli narrative of the "Palestinian Exodus" from Israel on the eve of the 1948 war.

All this as context for what is a deeply disturbing essay by Professor Morris, for his concerns cannot be brushed aside lightly as the ravings of a right wing Israeli figure, or as propaganda from someone connected to the current Israeli government. If accurate, the next President of the United States will face the beginning of his first term in office with a Middle East in flames with all that portends for the world. Here's Professor Morris in his own stark words describing the current situation as he sees it:

ISRAEL will almost surely attack Iran's nuclear sites in the next four to seven months -- and the leaders in Washington and even Tehran should hope that the attack will be successful enough to cause at least a significant delay in the Iranian production schedule, if not complete destruction, of that country's nuclear program. Because if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war -- either through a subsequent pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike or a nuclear exchange shortly after Iran gets the bomb. [...]
But should Israel's conventional assault fail to significantly harm or stall the Iranian program, a ratcheting up of the Iranian-Israeli conflict to a nuclear level will most likely follow. Every intelligence agency in the world believes the Iranian program is geared toward making weapons, not to the peaceful applications of nuclear power. And, despite the current talk of additional economic sanctions, everyone knows that such measures have so far led nowhere and are unlikely to be applied with sufficient scope to cause Iran real pain, given Russia's and China's continued recalcitrance and Western Europe's (and America's) ambivalence in behavior, if not in rhetoric. Western intelligence agencies agree that Iran will reach the "point of no return" in acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in one to four years. [...]
Nonetheless, Israel, believing that its very existence is at stake -- and this is a feeling shared by most Israelis across the political spectrum -- will certainly make the effort. Israel's leaders, from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert down, have all explicitly stated that an Iranian bomb means Israel's destruction; Iran will not be allowed to get the bomb.
The best outcome will be that an Israeli conventional strike, whether failed or not -- and, given the Tehran regime's totalitarian grip, it may not be immediately clear how much damage the Israeli assault has caused -- would persuade the Iranians to halt their nuclear program, or at least persuade the Western powers to significantly increase the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran.
But the more likely result is that the international community will continue to do nothing effective and that Iran will speed up its efforts to produce the bomb that can destroy Israel. The Iranians will also likely retaliate by attacking Israel's cities with ballistic missiles (possibly topped with chemical or biological warheads); by prodding its local clients, Hezbollah and Hamas, to unleash their own armories against Israel; and by activating international Muslim terrorist networks against Israeli and Jewish -- and possibly American -- targets worldwide (though the Iranians may at the last moment be wary of provoking American military involvement).
Such a situation would confront Israeli leaders with two agonizing, dismal choices. One is to allow the Iranians to acquire the bomb and hope for the best -- meaning a nuclear standoff, with the prospect of mutual assured destruction preventing the Iranians from actually using the weapon. The other would be to use the Iranian counterstrikes as an excuse to escalate and use the only means available that will actually destroy the Iranian nuclear project: Israel's own nuclear arsenal.

If this is the mindset of even a "revisionist" Israeli historian, a man who considers himself a member of the Israel's Left, than we are in a far more serious situation than previously thought. Perhaps Morris' account is mere bluster and sabre rattling. Perhaps, he is acting on behalf of those in Israel who desire to coerce the Bush administration into an attack on Iran. Perhaps. And perhaps the Times is allowing its Op-Ed pages to be used to further that propaganda effort. But we also have to consider that what Professor Morris is describing is an accurate assessment of Israel's intentions, and the mindset of a majority of its people regarding Iran.

Personally, I do not feel that Iran is as close to achieving a nuclear weapon as Professor Morris contends. Nor do I accept his statements that most "Western intelligence agencies" agree Iran will "pass the point of no return" within 1 to 4 years. Indeed, the last National Intelligence Assessment issued regarding Iran indicated that they abandoned their nuclear weapons program in 2003, and the head of the IAEA, Mohammed ElBaradei, has explicitly stated that his organization's inspectors have seen no evidence of any current nuclear weapons program, and that he sees no military solution to the concerns that the Western powers and Israel have regarding Iran's nuclear program. Any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would be a "disaster" in his view.

Yet here we have a prominent member of the Israeli Left telling us that war between Iran and Israel is inevitable in the pages of the New York Times. One could hardly expect a more disheartening assessment of Israel's aggressive intentions toward Iran if this op-ed had been written by Prime Minister Olmert or his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, who last week publicly stated that:

"Israel is the strongest country in the region and has proved in the past that it doesn't hesitate to act when its vital security interests are at stake."
His comment was an apparent allusion to Israel's daring 1981 airstrike that destroyed Iraq's unfinished nuclear reactor. Several top Israelis have publicly argued for a similar strike to destroy Iran's budding nuclear ambitions before the country develops a nuclear arsenal.
Israel's military sent warplanes over the eastern Mediterranean for a large military exercise in June that U.S. officials described as a possible rehearsal for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Barak, as you may recall, is the former Prime Minister of Israel during the last years of President Clinton's second term, and the head of Israel's Labor Party. In this context, one can assume that prominent members of both the Left and the Right on the Israeli political spectrum are committed to war with Iran should the U.S. fail to act. And so long as George Bush is President, we can assume that the United States government will do nothing to stop an Israeli air and missile strike against Iran, even if it now appears less likely that US military forces will be given that task by the Bush administration. Indeed, Bush has recently indicated he supports any possible military action which Israel might choose to take with respect to Iran:

President George W Bush has told the Israeli government that he may be prepared to approve a future military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities if negotiations with Tehran break down, according to a senior Pentagon official.
Despite the opposition of his own generals and widespread scepticism that America is ready to risk the military, political and economic consequences of an airborne strike on Iran, the president has given an "amber light" to an Israeli plan to attack Iran's main nuclear sites with long-range bombing sorties, the official told The Sunday Times.
"Amber means get on with your preparations, stand by for immediate attack and tell us when you're ready," the official said. But the Israelis have also been told that they can expect no help from American forces and will not be able to use US military bases in Iraq for logistical support.

If you get the sense that Israel and the Bush administration are playing with fire, you wouldn't be the only one. Doubtless, domestic political considerations may have something to do with Bush's posturing. The Republican candidate to replace him as President, and the one most likely to continue Bush's own policies in the Middle East, John McCain, is trailing Barack Obama in the national polls, and his candidacy is not enthusiastically supported by many Republicans. The threat of another military crisis in the Middle East could change that dynamic, however, as McCain's only strength from a political standpoint, his former military experience is still perceived by a plurality of the American public as making him more qualified than Obama for the role of Commander-in-Chief of America's armed forces.

As for Israel's current government, they rightly perceive that a President Obama would be much less likely to support independent military action by Israel, at least not until direct negotiations with Iran and the United States had proved futile and there was clear evidence that Iran was nearing the completion of a nuclear weapon. Even then, the appetite of many in America as to Iran's acquisition of a small nuclear arsenal can perhaps best be summed up by the views expressed by former CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid:

"I believe that we have the power to deter Iran, should it become nuclear," he said, referring to the theory that Iran would not risk a catastrophic retaliatory strike by using a nuclear weapon against the United States.
"There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran," Abizaid said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. "Let's face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with (other) nuclear powers as well."

The current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, expressed similar comments at his confirmation hearing before the Senate when he stated under questioning from Senator Graham (R-SC) that he believed Iran would not use any nuclear weapons it acquired to attack Israel:

Asked by Senator Lindsey Graham if he believed that Iran would consider using nuclear weapons against Israel, he replied:
"I don't know that they would do that, Senator. ... And I think that, while they are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for nuclear capability, I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west and us in the Persian Gulf."

Unfortunately, there is no clear sign that Gates' views dominate the current debate within the White House. And if there is one thing we've learned from enduring this incompetent fool of a "Decider" these last 7and 1/2 years, it is this: he prefers military action to diplomacy. At the moment there are small signs that the Bush administration is leaning toward increasing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's pursuit of a diplomatic settlement with Iran over the Iranian nuclear program. However, I wouldn't trust this President to carry through with this new found affection for diplomacy. When push comes to shove, I see him as more likely to give Israel it's long awaited "green light" to attack Iran before the end of this year. To assume otherwise is a fool's hope, at best.

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