Israel’s Air Strike on Iran: A Credible Threat or a Bluff?

Prabir Purkayastha, Newsclick, Nov. 7, 2011

The Iran nuclear weapons issue is once again in the news, this time prompted by leaks in Israel media of a possible Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. These leaks have been accompanied by unusual details that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has supplied about the long-range drills  that its air force is conducting in a NATO air base in Italy, long range missile tests, etc. Once winter sets in, it is difficult to conduct such air attacks due to thick clouds over the region. So if an attack has to be launched on Iran's nuclear facilities, the window of opportunity is at best a few more weeks.
From the leaked reports that have appeared in the press, it appears that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to muster a majority in the cabinet for such an attack, which he has yet not secured. The leaks also indicate that the preparations have moved from a discussion stage to a preparation stage and this is what prompted former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, both of whom have been strongly opposed to such an attack to leak this to the press. Meir Dagan has been on record on the stupidity of such an attack.
While initially reports indicated that the US and UK were willing to be a party such an attack, the US has distanced itself by anonymous military sources now saying that Israel might launch such an attack without informing the US.. For those who follow strategic matters closely, it is inconceivable that Israel can take a unilateral action in a theatre that the US is so closely involved. Any action on Iran would cascade beyond Israel's control and would have a direct impact on US forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf, and would cause international oil prices to go through the roof, compounding the current financial crisis. So what is really happening – is all this a charade to divert attention of the world from Palestine, where Israel stands increasingly isolated; or is it an attempt to stampede the US to take action against Iran; or are the current leaders of Israel in some kind of a death wish?
First, let us look at the military issues. Can an Israeli air strike without US really succeed in taking out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure? Let us leave UK out of it, as its part in such a venture can only be ornamental – it can shore up a feeling in Cameron and company of its lost imperial glory but has little strategic value on the ground. Let us not forget that NATO forces ran out of bombs and missiles  in Libya in a matter of weeks and had to be replenished by Germany and the US, drawing some nasty comments by US commanders on their European counterparts.
By all accounts, any Israeli air strike has little chance of success. Iran has a much bigger nuclear program and much of it is dispersed and underground. It has a very strong air defence capabilities. Any strike against Iran's nuclear facilities can only have some chance of success if there is continuous set of sorties across a range of targets – it will require virtually taking out all major Iran's military and industrial infrastructure. This is not a repeat of the Iraq's Osiris reactor air strike – Iran's program is much broader and it has also learnt lessons from Iraq. So for any chance of success, the US forces have to participate and it cannot be a one-off strike, which is all that Israel is capable off.
Any attack launched by Israel will precipitate a counter strike by Iran against quite possibly US forces. It might not be direct Iranian military attacks but could be unleashing its supporters, for example, in Iraq, where it has actually helped the US and UK to stabilise the current coalition in power. It could also lead to an immediate backlash in the entire region as anger of such a strike will spill over to other countries and on the streets.
In 1956, Israel, the UK and France attacked Egypt without US support. Without US support, they had to retreat, not militarily but because they were completely isolated diplomatically. Israel can roar all it wants, but without US support, it cannot survive in today's diplomatic environment and it knows this very well.
This is not to say that Israeli leaders, particularly the duo leading Israel -- Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister and Ehud Barak, the Defence Minister -- cannot be stupid. So an act of extreme stupidity on their part to embroil the whole region in a war cannot be ruled out. But looking at the military reality, the game-plan here is more likely to stampede the US and NATO into a military action on Iran, with the threat that if you don’t, we will and you will be drawn in any case.
It is here that the current policies of the US in the region become important. The US today is far more willing to intervene militarily as well as through physical sanctions than at any time in the past. The policy under Obama has been regime change, not through direct occupation but a variety of means including military intervention. It has also shown in Libya that its words mean nothing. The US had reached an agreement with Gaddafi in 2003 that if he agreed to dismantle Libya’s nuclear weapons program, relations would be normalised and the west would give up its enmity. Gaddafi became a trusted ally against ‘War on Terror’ and was a party to renditions and the torture program of the CIA in this period. Nevertheless, the US and NATO forces not only participated in, if not initiated the military campaign against the Gaddafi regime and also were the ones instrumental in his capture and gory execution.
On the nuclear weapons issue, much is being made of IAEA having discovered that Iran is performing computer simulation of a nuclear weapon and conducting “explosions” in Parchin, near Tehran. What the media reports do not tell us is that these explosions are of conventional explosives that are used in the nuclear weapons trigger. Nor are these reports new. In any case when has anybody doubted that Iran wants to acquire nuclear weapons capability? The critical question is has it crossed the Rubicon and started building actual nuclear weapons? This is what NPT bars, not paper designs, not computer simulations, nor dreaming about nuclear weapons in your sleep. There is no evidence that it has yet one so.
After Gaddafi’s brutal death, what is the lesson that the world will draw, is it that one should give up nuclear weapons as Gaddafi did and reap the ‘benefits’ of disarmament? Does anybody doubt that Iranian leadership will draw the conclusion that having nuclear weapons can be a possible deterrent to the US, giving it up achieves nothing. Yes, nuclear weapons are completely immoral and cannot be justified on any count. But the US with its nuclear arsenal and Israel with its undeclared stock-pile of 200 weapons are hardly the countries to talk about the morality of nuclear disarmament.
Israel's long-term problem is that its regime of occupation of the West Bank, complete blockade of Gaza and domestic apartheid is rapidly becoming untenable. It will increasingly be difficult for the west to pose as proponents of democracy and yet be a partner to Israel and its brutal policies. For Israel therefore, it is important to shift the international gaze from Palestine, its quest for UN recognition and the Gaza blockade. That is why the need for shifting the discourse to Iran and its nuclear weapons.
What Israel wants and the US backs is that it must have complete military dominance over the region, and the sole possessor of nuclear weapons. Iran’s nuclear weapons would breach this dominance. That is why Israel will never accept Iran’s proposals, backed by the entire Arab world for a nuclear weapons free region.
What we are seeing now is Israel’s threat of a regional conflagration if the world does not disarm Iran. A country now that can only talk language of war. A country out of touch with today’s reality. A rogue state in every sense of the term. This is what the world needs to address, not Iran.
 Image Courtesy: flickr.com



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