Archive for December, 2008

Israel could attack Iran without US green light

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

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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Olmert still doing damage

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

In the summer of 2006, the second Lebanon war marked a turning point in the Mideast balance of power. By holding off the IDF, by showing that Israel was powerless to prevent massive disruption on her home front, by obtaining an advantageous settlement to the 33 day long war, Hezbollah struck a huge blow at Israel’s deterrent — both in image and reality, as the toothless UN resolution 1701 allowed Hezbollah to rearm far beyond its position at the start of the war. At the same time, Hezbollah’s effectiveness in manipulating the media — and Israel’s incompetence in that area — cast Israel as the villain, despite the fact that Hezbollah was the aggressor. ‘Disproportionate response’ was heard over and over as Hezbollah rockets continued to strike towns in northern Israel.

Whether by coincidence or due to the propaganda spin that characterized it, the war also marked a turning point in the American attitude toward Israel.  Initially the Bush administration — with the support of anti-Iranian elements in the Arab world — was prepared to allow Israel to finish off Hezbollah. After several weeks in which this did not happen, and during which Israel was continuously pilloried in the media, the administration’s patience wore out and Israel was instructed to accept the UN cease-fire.

American policy then made a 180-degree turn in the direction of the ‘realist’ position: the way to solve the problems of the Mideast is to force Israel to come to an agreement with the Palestinians, not to confront bad actors like Iran and Hezbollah (the Iraq Study Group report is an example). The Annapolis process began, aiming to bring about a Palestinian state. Israel was pressured to join a cease-fire with Hamas. And in November of 2007, a National Intelligence Estimate was issued that more or less sent the message that the US could live with  Iranian nuclear weapons.

I am not asserting that Israel’s failure in the 2006 war was the primary cause of the shift in American policy. But you can be sure that the advocates of the new policy — the policy that is certain to be adopted by the Obama administration — used it as an argument: “military force will be ineffective against Iran and her proxies; look what happened when the IDF, considered one of the best fighting forces in the world, went up against Hezbollah!”

There is plenty of blame to go around: for the inadequate preparation of the IDF, the strategic and tactical mistakes made, the lack of intelligence, the failure to follow a consistent plan, the inability to protect the home front, the lack of an effective media capability to counteract Hezbollah’s atrocity stories, the incredible blunder of ordering a large ground assault in the last two days of the war, etc. The IDF Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, resigned as a result of criticism. The completely incompetent Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz, was replaced by Ehud Barak, who at least knows to remove the lens caps from his binoculars.

However, the largest share of blame must go to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, both for the decisions he made (and didn’t make) and because as PM he bears the ultimate responsibility. Unfortunately, he somehow escaped punishment for one of Israel’s most serious failures and continued in office as PM.  Since then he has been credibly accused of multiple forms of corruption in office, and is now about to be indicted for one of them, billing several agencies for the same travel.

In other words, in addition to having failed at leading Israel in war and damaging her strategic position immensely, Olmert is most likely a common thief.

But that’s not all. It gets even worse.

While still hanging on to his position (a result of the dysfunctional parliamentary system that Israel is cursed with), and with a public approval rating in the single digits, he is making public policy pronouncements. Although he has no mandate to make concessions to the Palestinians, he  nevertheless is making statements that it will be hard for future governments to ignore.

He has called for “a withdrawal from nearly all, if not all, of the [occupied] territories”, including Jerusalem. and for returning the Golan heights to Syria, and has said there is a “short amount of time” in which to do this. He has called the idea that Israel is capable of  ‘doing something’ about the Iranian threat ‘megalomania’.

Anyone can take such positions. But anyone who does has to explain exactly how Israel can withdraw from “nearly all, if not all” of the territories today, while Hamas stands ready to take them over as it has in Gaza, and when there is no Palestinian leadership capable of making an enforceable peace. And he would have to explain why he thinks that Syria will choose to cut her fruitful ties with Iran and stop arming Hezbollah if Israel returns the Golan. Olmert doesn’t explain these things because they can’t be explained.

But when Olmert speaks — and his words are translated into English and printed in the NY Review of Books — then his words have significance. Indeed, they were quoted yesterday in the New York Times, by Roger Cohen (“Try Tough Love, Hillary“). They fit in well with Cohen’s argument that the new Secretary of State should continue the realist policy of her predecessor, and push, push, push until Israel finally gets out of the West Bank and Syria returns to the Golan:

Getting to such a two-state deal at, or close to, the 1967 borders will require concerted U.S. involvement from day one of the Obama administration. Its tone should be one of tough love, with the emphasis on tough.

“I am fiercely attached to Israel’s security”, Cohen says. Yet none of the 826 words of his op-ed are ‘Hamas’ or ‘Hezbollah’. ‘Iran’ appears  twice, thus:

Clinton noted during the campaign that the United States could “obliterate” Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel. Olmert chose different language. He noted “a megalomania and a loss of proportion in the things said here about Iran.” Once again, his words are instructive.

Not a word about the tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel by Hezbollah and Syria, no mention that Hamas is developing similar capabilities as Hezbollah, all paid for by Iran. You’d think that someone “fiercely attached to Israel’s security” would think about these concrete threats, threats which would be hugely exacerbated by withdrawal from the West Bank or the Golan in the near future.

Voices like Cohen’s are popping up all over lately. The fundamental mistake they all make is that they assume that the conflict today is driven by the quarrel between Israel and the Palestinians.  It is not. Rather, it has been taken over by Iran to be used as a lever to wipe out Israel, by means of non-state proxies Hamas and Hezbollah and Iranian satellite, Syria.

A solution can’t come from pressuring Israel and paying off some Palestinians. The only way to begin to fix it is to go to the source, which is Iran.

But it’s hard for Americans to see this when they have Olmert’s foolish words to quote.

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