Israel could attack Iran without US green light

The Jerusalem Post reports today that a “top Ministry of Defense official” said that Israel could attack Iran’s nuclear targets with or without coordination with the US.

Israeli officials have said it would be difficult, but not impossible, to launch a strike against Iran without receiving codes from the US Air Force, which controls Iraqi airspace. Israel also asked for the codes in 1991 during the First Gulf War, but the US refused.

And last week Maj-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, commander of the Israel Air Force said that Israel had the capability to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities:

Nehushtan told [Der Spiegel] that whether a military strike is eventually decided upon is a political question and not an issue of Israel’s military capabilities.

A strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities “is a political decision,” the IAF commander said, “but if I understand it correctly, all options are on the table… The Air Force is a very robust and flexible force. We are ready to do whatever is demanded of us.”

When asked by the paper whether the Israeli military was able to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, which are spread around the country and partly located underground, Nehushtan said, “Please understand that I do not want to get into details. I can only say this: It is not a technical or logistical question.”  — Jerusalem Post

I don’t doubt that there are such contingency plans, because Israel cannot afford not to have them. But the interesting question is this one:

Why are a “top MOD official” and a normally reticent general talking to the foreign and English-language Israeli media about them? And why now?

One could speculate that the intended target is the incoming Obama administration, whose Iran policy is developing right now. But I don’t think so. For one thing, it would be easy to communicate with it directly. For the other, we need to look at the developing Obama policy.

Steven Rosen (“Wishful Thinking and Iran” [highly recommended]) suggests that Obama will initially reject out of hand  a) the military option  (whether executed by the US or by Israel with US acquiescence), b) the option of trying to bring about regime change in Iran, and c) the option of accepting a nuclear-armed Iran. He believes that the most likely policy will be a an attempt to change Iranian behavior with a combination of diplomatic carrots and sticks.

But Rosen points to a long history of failed negotiations between the US and Iran since 1979 — including a surprising number of attempts at ‘engagement’ by the Bush administration — to argue that the likelihood of this approach being successful  is low. He believes that the Iranians will continue to temporize until the administration faces only two options: bomb Iran or accept it as a nuclear-armed nation.

There is little doubt that the US will not initiate an attack even at this point: the negatives are too great: our troops in the region could be placed at risk, the oil supply could be disrupted, there could be world-wide terrorist attacks, even in the heart of the US.  And in the final analysis, the short-term consequences for America of Iran’s nuclearization would not be catastrophic (and what politician thinks about the long term?). Iran understands this and therefore does not fear a US attack. So it continues on the nuclear path.

Israel, on the other hand, sees an Iranian bomb as an existential issue.  If Iran develops a bomb and there is a possibility that it will be used against Israel — and it would be almost impossible to defend against a low-trajectory missile fired from Hezbollastan — then Israel would have no other option than to preempt. Ehud Olmert can claim that such thoughts are “megalomania”, but even a bear fears a cornered bobcat, and for good reason.

But Iran believes that the US would not permit an Israeli attack. The Bush administration, and particularly Robert Gates, the Defense Secretary who will continue with Obama, have made it clear that they are strongly opposed to it. Iranian policymakers think that the US will never give Israel a green light.

But what if Israel didn’t need one?

Possibly the recent flurry of talk is intended to send a message to Iran that Israel a) can and b) will attack if it comes to that. And that maybe Iran would be better off accepting some of the large carrots that Obama will certainly be proferring instead of, essentially, making a committment to war.

Today Iran is seriously hurting due to the low price of oil. Those carrots are looking better all the time.

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One Response to “Israel could attack Iran without US green light”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    This is such a well- thought out article and it asks the right question. Why would a high Israeli military person say such a thing now?
    Certainly he knows it is not going to stop or deter Iran.
    He probably also knows that it is not going to alter the fundamental new dialogue- with – them line Obama is going to take.
    Perhaps he is simply trying to give the United States advanced notice should Israeli decide to try and stop the Iranian program. But they would have that anyway.
    I am afraid that I am quite pessimistic about the whole thing. It is one thing for Israel to act in tacit cooperation with the United States, and another to defy it and risk alienating it for the political and also military battle which will come in the aftermath of such an attack.
    The U.S. observational capabilities would also seem to make the Israeli action one the U.S. would know about, and possibly warn others of.
    It could in short be a step by which Obama is able to blame Israel for acting against the interests of the United States, and thus achieve the distancing of the United States from Israel which may in fact be a real wish of his.
    Or we then in a ‘damned if we do, and damned if we don’t’ situation?