The schoolyard scenario

Nuclear tools

Nuclear tools

Yesterday I described how Iran was making fools of the West, and why Israel cannot depend on the US to protect it.

Today, Brett Stephens reminds us that Iran has been doing the same thing since 1979, and our side keeps falling for it. In a highly memorable simile, he says

Altogether, the regime has treated the West the way a shark would a squid: with the combination of appetite and contempt typically reserved for the congenitally spineless.

He also makes another point, which had occurred to me too:

The Iranians may also be gambling that any Israeli strike will prove costly, unpopular and ineffectual, thereby tagging Israel as the aggressor while crippling its deterrent power in the long run. That’s more of a gamble, but from the Iranian perspective it may be one well-worth taking.

It is indeed a big gamble, taking on the Israeli Air Force and special forces. But on thinking further about it, it may not be as crazy as it looks.

Analysts agree that a strike against the Iranian facilities will delay, not prevent, the attainment of nuclear weapons. They also agree that the capabilities of Israel are more limited than those of the US. There is also the fact that Israeli leaders will hold back in order to avoid civilian casualties.

It is possible that the Iranians think that they can keep enough highly enriched uranium and other equipment safe from an Israeli attack that the delay in their program would be a matter of months rather than years. Keep in mind that we do not have perfect intelligence about the amount of uranium and its degree of enrichment that they have stockpiled.

Once Israel attacks Iran, it can respond with the full force of its own missile arsenal and Hizballah’s. Coordinated attacks, which could include a Palestinian uprising, could do serious damage to Israel’s economy and morale. On the diplomatic front, Israel would be branded as the aggressor, the US would be furious, and probably Israel would not be given an opportunity to strike a crushing return blow at Hizballah and Iran.

This is an old schoolyard trick: get your opponent to hit you, then hit him as hard as you can and fall down crying as adult supervision approaches.

Is this a likely scenario? Who knows?

One way to counteract this strategy is to pull Iranian teeth in advance by a broad-based attack on Iranian military and IRGC assets, rather than a simple surgical strike on the nuclear facilities. It would be necessary to hit both Iran and Hizballah. The question is whether Israel has the capability to do this with her conventional forces.

I’m glad that I’m not a member of Israel’s Security Cabinet, which has to take decisions like this.

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4 Responses to “The schoolyard scenario”

  1. Robman says:

    I’m not going to discuss in an insecure public forum how I think Israel would carry out a strike against Iran.

    However, I’m certain that if they hit Iran, it will be for keeps, and not just to produce a delay of a couple of years or less.

    If they do what I think they will do, expect decisive results.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    All this is true. But it seems to me the likelihood of Iran and the United States- led negotiators coming to a real agreement that holds through any considerable period of time, is small. It also seems to me that the momentum in the Presidential election has gone to Romney.
    I do not accept the idea that Obama is averse to using military power.
    Prophecy is given to fools. And however much a fool I may be I am not a prophet. But it seems to me that the U.S. will attack Iran before the Obama Presidency is finished. And he will make the glorious victory, no matter how great the cost to Israel, a major element in his re-election campaign.

  3. Vic Rosenthal says:

    The US has the ability to drop larger bunker busters and to fly more sorties of more aircraft over Iran for a much longer time. If we are talking about a conventional air attack, the US is more capable of doing a complete job, assuming that it has the will to do so.

    I would like to believe that Obama would do this. Unfortunately, if it doesn’t happen before Israel’s window closes, the Israeli leadership will have to choose between doing the attack itself or placing the fate of the country in the hands of Barack Obama.

    Yes, it is in the US interest to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability. But it seems to me that Obama has made numerous incorrect decisions in the area of foreign policy — see Egypt, Turkey, Libya, Syria, etc. — and I don’t trust him to understand US interests.

    Finally, his visceral dislike for Bibi reminds me of the Carter-Begin relationship. Obama keeps his personal feelings hidden. Perhaps he dislikes the idea of a Jewish state as much as Carter?

  4. Shalom Freedman says:

    I don’t believe that Israel’s interests are at the center of Obama’s concerns. He has staked his own personal prestige and that of his government on Iran’s not attaining nuclear weapons. Now he might it is true allow himself to be
    deceived and make a deal in which Iran makes phony concessions and receives in return a reduction of pressure upon it. But I do not think Obama will want to throw in U.S. interests in that way.
    But of course I am only speculating.