Iran: What’s Behind All the Verbiage?



The debate on what to do about Iran has become one of the most fascinating exercises in politicking that I have ever witnessed. Hardly a day goes by without someone leaking something about some aspect of the subject. At the same time, I certainly can’t recall a time when there was so much speculation about a subject about which almost everybody knows almost nothing of real import.


While most people have been focused on whether Israel will attack, so many other issues have arisen as a result of the debate that it has also become a snapshot of the state of the Israel’s self-governance.


In past talks, I have often counseled that people should look at the forest and not just the trees because we tend to focus on individual events and ignore much more important processes that are underway. But, this time because we have become fixated only on the broad issue of whether Israel should attack Iran unilaterally, I would like to do the very opposite and look at some the individual trees that have sprouted in recent months. That is because, as the old saw goes, “the devil is in the details;” and there are too many details that are available that have been ignored or forgotten about.


If one looks, even for just a moment, at how the public debate on whether to attack has developed, one can see that Israelis have also been going through a series of mini-debates on such wide-ranging subjects as what constitutes an “existential” threat to the country, what subjects are fit for public debate, what is the function of the press in the age of the internet, what is the role of “elder statesmen” in Israeli society, how accurate are intelligence assessments, how far can Israeli politicians be trusted to keep their mouths shut when it matters, and how much dissimulation and spin can any society tolerate and still maintain its sanity?


Obviously I can’t deal with all these subjects in one go, but I want to use this forum to try to examine at least some of them…and some others that haven’t been discussed at all.


In order to do that, though, I first have to review what set off the debate in the first place. Until Netanyahu was elected three years ago, most of Israel’s efforts to get the world to confront the potential Iranian nuclear threat had focused on back-room diplomacy. Netanyahu, however, made the strategic decision immediately after his election to “go public” with the issue using the world media.


This effort has been spectacularly successful. However, he is now also having to confront a lot of the fall-out from his decision—and he’s not very happy about that. For some unknown reason, this man, whom many are convinced is an expert in communications, seems to have believed that if you make an issue the centre of almost all your remarks to the media, you can also, somehow, control what everyone else may say in response to the media—and that includes the president of the state, Simon Peres, and one of his predecessors, Yitzchak Navon.


For example, it should not be at all surprising that, among the first people to appear on the scene were the fact-checkers and the reality-checkers.


Take Netanyahu’s banner for this campaign to attack Iran. It is Menachem Begin’s decision in 1981 to attack Iraq’s Osirak nuclear site. Netanyahu and his flaks have claimed that because of that attack, Iraq gave up its nuclear programme. The trouble with this claim is that the very opposite was true.


According to the former head of the Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, who was very deeply involved in assessing Iraq’s behaviour at the time, Osirak posed no real threat to Israel because the French-designed reactor could not be used for producing weapons.


However, almost immediately after the reactor was destroyed, Saddam Hussein launched a three-part programme to produce nuclear weapons. Shimon Peres has confirmed that one part was the planning for the construction of cascades of centrifuges to produce highly-enriched uranium that could have been used in bomb-making.


The Iraqi nuclear project only ended with the American invasion in 1991.


Another example has been Netanyahu’s claim that Israel is facing a nuclear Holocaust. Again, the spinmeisters have gotten ahead of the facts. As Maj. Gen Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, arguably the country’s leading military scientist, has pointed out, as a result of a study that he has undertaken, he has come to the conclusion that an atomic bomb on Tel Aviv would probably kill 23,000 people. That’s a lot, especially considering that Israel has lost only about 20,000 people in all its wars—and, if a bomb were dropped many more would be affected by radiation fallout. But, objectively, the total number still does not represent an existential threat to the country as Netanyahu has claimed.


A third example of reality checking has been the debate over whether Israel actually has the capacity to inflict enough damage on the Iranian nuclear project to set it back by more than a couple of years. In the wake of the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars, Israel promoted an image of itself as militarily invincible. And yet, one of the main reasons why so many former military officials have come out against a unilateral attack on Iran is that they believe that Israel, for all it military prowess, is still a very small country, facing a large, dedicated and well-equipped enemy 1500 kilometers away, and so does not have the capacity to knock out Iran’s nuclear programme completely.


Brig. Gen. Moshe “Chico” Tamir, a highly decorated soldier and the former commander of the Gaza front goes even further. He has noted that Israel’s entire military doctrine was formulated in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. That doctrine stated that the primary task of the IDF is to prepare for a major tank battle between states.


While the doctrine has been tinkered with, for example in the wake of the Intifada, it has never been totally reassessed to take into account the huge changes that have take place in regional warfare in recent years. And that was one of the reasons for the IDF’s abysmal performance during the Second Lebanese War.


With comments such as these, it is, therefore, no wonder that Netanyahu’s flaks keep trying to shut down former military officers’ and intelligence analysts’ participation in the debate.




As a result of Netanyahu’s decision to use the world media as a verbal guerilla battlefield, the Americans have launched the equivalent of a verbal counter-insurgency campaign. Leaks and formal statements from Washington have been coming so thick and so fast that it often appears as though the media—especially in Washington, but also in Israel—are being bombarded by cluster bombs of real facts, half-truths, and outright lies.


This has meant that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are now engaged in what is arguably the most extensive spin and propaganda war since the Cold War ended.


So, the next stage in this analysis will examine who these verbal bombs are directed at.


Contrary to public impressions, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak cannot order a full-scale attack on Iran. The same is true for the 8 man “Inner Cabinet” and the 14 member “Defence Cabinet.” Unlike the United States, where the President is the commander in chief of the armed forces, according to Israeli law, only the full cabinet is permitted to launch an attack that could lead to full-scale war.

One reason for the confusion over who can do what is the fact that the Ministerial Defence Committee can order what is called an “operation” that has limited aims and is needed to respond to an immediate threat. But it cannot order an all-out war. For example, the one-off raid on the Syrian reactor was ordered only by the Ministerial Defence Committee.


There is now a fear among some, though, that Netanyahu may take the decision on whether to attack Iran to a small decision-making forum by labelling the assault an “operation,” or by asking the full cabinet to transfer responsibility for deciding on whether to attack to the Inner Cabinet. That may be the reason for his recent attempt at trying to delegitimize the Defence Cabinet by claiming that it cannot keep secrets. The fact that the so-called “leaks” from the cabinet had nothing new in them did nothing to faze Netanyahu.


That is also why a group of civilian activists have now petitioned the Supreme Court to come out with a declaration that the whole cabinet must make the decision on whether to attack Iran. It also explains why Barak has also been going out of his way to declare that the decision on whether to attack will be taken by the cabinet as a whole.


And so now the plot begins to thicken. The current leaks from Washington and Jerusalem, as well as the open national debate, have all been directed at setting the cabinet’s agenda for making such a decision. And clearly, the critics have found fertile ground. Polls have shown that both Bibi’s popularity and the public’s perception of the country’s politicians are at an all-time low. Therefore, it appears that a significant portion of the public wants to ensure that there are different voices represented when the decision is made.


In very general terms, the US effort has been directed at indirectly influencing the cabinet by shaping Israeli public opinion, while Netanyahu has focused primarily on rallying his ministers directly.


The Americans have been using a combination of stick and carrots. As part of this campaign, Washington has leaked sticks such as news items that Azerbaijan will not permit Israeli bombers or rescue helicopters to land on its territory and that the Saudis will shoot down any Israeli aircraft that enters its airspace. The carrots have included revelations that the US and Israel cooperated on developing cyber weapons such as the Stuxnet and Flame computer viruses that attacked Iran’s nuclear sites, the allocation of more American military aid including money to station more Iron Dome anti-rocket systems, and promises never to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.


This has not placated Netanyahu, who is now pressing for heavier sanctions and a public pronouncement from the White House what its so-called “red lines” are. How Netanyahu ever expected that a president, running for reelection, would commit his country to a set of dramatic actions in the indefinite future when no one knows what else will be going on in the world at that time—or even who the next president would be—is, however, beyond me.


Surprisingly, one thing that has been missing from Netanyahu’s demands is a statement by Obama that he actually cares about Israel’s fate. I have found over the years that it matters a great deal to the Israeli public whether a foreign politician who offers advice to this country can show that he or she actually cares about this country’s future. And so Washington’s failure to initiate a statement that can be perceived in that way has had a profound effect on the Israelis public’s interpretation of all the verbiage coming out of the US capital. But maybe that is precisely what Netanyahu wants. He may very well want to project an image of Obama as a cold-hearted bastard.


By contrast, Netanyahu and Barak have focused their leaks and public remarks at responding to domestic criticisms of such an attack. Most of those criticisms highlight the potential dangers involved and the belief that Israel should not take on a task that is the world’s responsibility.


Most of the criticisms have dealt with things that anyone living in Israel can know. The critics, for example, have discussed in exhaustive detail what the relation with Washington means for Israel strategically. And we have also heard and read extensive assessments of Israel’s capacity, or the lack thereof to defend civilians in case of a mass missile attack.


In response, the IDF has been issuing a stream of announcements and videos highlighting improvements made in early-warning radar systems and the use of helicopters.


But, if we are being honest, probably no more than a dozen people in Israel know what the country’s true defensive and offensive capability is.


So, as I just mentioned, Netanyahu’s domestic critics, recognizing that all of Israel’s recent wars have been followed by judicial commissions of inquiry into political and military incompetence, have been trying to ensure that every subject related to a decision to go to war will be discussed in depth so that no minister can claim post-facto that no one thought of raising this or that issue.


Therefore, even before an attack, we can expect a protracted cabinet debate. Prior to the Six-Day War, for example, it took the cabinet 3 weeks of intense, non-stop debate before the opening attack was authorized. And keep in mind that the cabinet debate this time has not yet even begun.


In order to understand how that ministerial debate will shape up, it is also essential to understand the procedures that have been put in place over the years for making such a decision.


Setting the Strategic Objective:


Even before the issue comes before the cabinet, there has to be a decision on what the final objective should be—and no less importantly, what the exit strategy will be.


Netanyahu has ordered his diplomats to demand that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, who are conducting the negotiations with the Iranians and are known as the P5+1, demand such things as a total shutdown of Iran’s nuclear enrichment capacity, permanent international supervision of nuclear weapons-related sites, and the removal of all the enriched uranium from Iranian soil.


Barak’s immediate military objective, though, has been more limited. From all that he has said, it would appear that he has ordered the military to prepare plans for destroying enough of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure so that Iran’s weapons-making efforts will be set back by at least two years.


Barak’s argument has been that because of the turmoil throughout the Middle East even a small delay after an attack may have far-reaching consequences.


I therefore found it very strange the way the media played up US Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey’s remarks at his quickly-assembled press conference at the end of June 2012, when he argued that Israel shouldn’t attack Iran because it cannot destroy all of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure—a claim he repeated at the end of August.


By the way, I have also found it no less strange that the public debate has not included a discussion on how Israel intends to stop the fighting once it begins. After all, one can expect that the Iranians won’t simply sit back and not respond. Not only that, Israelis, after having gone through the first Lebanese war and its 18 year aftermath of bloody occupation in southern Lebanon, know what can happen when you start a war but can’t figure out how to end it.


But to get back to Dempsey. What the media missed out on when it came to Dempsey’s remarks was that he wasn’t using normal English. He was using a combination of American militarese and diplomatese to say “You shouldn’t bomb Iran because we say you shouldn’t.” Unspoken subtexts include the American elections, American fatigue at more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need to cope with budget cuts for the American military because of the world economic crisis, and the decision by Obama to refocus the American military on the threat to America’s economic and political interests in the Pacific Basin…among other things.


At this point I have to digress a bit. It is clear that no Israeli plan on the scale imagined can be conducted without taking into account what the reaction of the United States will be, and whether, in the end, Washington will choose to act militarily as well. So, before I go any further, I have to talk a bit about an issue that has been totally absent from the public debate here, but is crucial to an understanding of what is going on.


That issue is this: We have heard a deluge of opinion and analysis about what Israel’s stakes are. But the Israeli media, and even the major American media outlets, have failed totally to explain what America’s stakes are, and what penalties it may suffer. There have been some often-repeated remarks about the potential rise in world oil prices, and the forms of violence that may break out. But there has been almost nothing in the media about the baggage the Americans carry with them into their discussions on whether to attack Iran.


So here is a very short précis of what some of those concerns are.


To begin with, after years of neo-con unilateralism under George W. Bush that led to both military and economic disaster, the Obama administration is committed to a policy of military multilateralism and the legitimization of any military action by the UN Security Council.


Of course, the Russians and the Chinese have stymied every American effort to involve the Security Council in this issue, so UN legitimization is a non-starter. As a result, before an American attack, a new way to get international approval will have to be found.


One forum for such approval could be NATO, because Europe may soon come under threat from Iranian missiles. However, while the Europeans have been willing to commit themselves to staged economic sanctions on Iran, they have been deeply opposed to actual military action against the mullahs. Their caution is understandable. The EU is in the midst of the worst economic crisis in its history. And wars are very expensive.


In Europe, military budgets have either stagnated or fallen over the past decade. For example, during that time, Germany’s military spending has fallen by nearly 4 percent, while Italy’s has shrunk by 21 percent. There is, therefore, no desire at all to raise these figures by engaging in a war with Iran now.


In other words, a war threat by the US, such as the one that Netanyahu has been seeking, would, perforce, commit the US to a return to its old policy of unilateral intervention that Obama has rejected.


And remember, the US is having its own economic problems. Most Israelis and even most Americans don’t realize that last year, even after it had begun its withdrawal from Iraq, the US still accounted for 41 percent of global military spending. That meant that its military spending, even after downsizing, was roughly the same as the next 14 countries combined.


And despite budget cuts, American military spending still takes up half of all the American budget’s discretionary spending—money that could otherwise go to reducing the humungous national debt or to other projects such as repairing the country’s crumbling infrastructure.


But that’s not all. The Americans’ current commitments to Israel and the Gulf States are already stretching the US navy to its limits. Among other things, the US has stationed two aircraft carrier battle groups in the Gulf area. This means, in effect, that 60 percent of the carrier strike fleet has already been committed to defend the Middle East against an Iranian attack. That is because for every carrier at sea, two others are tied up being resupplied, providing home leave or undergoing essential maintenance.


Any attack on Iran would undoubtedly have to be led by the navy, mainly because the Saudis are very reluctant to allow masses of Americans to be stationed on Saudi soil for fear that this will spark terror attacks by domestic jihadists. The US could station tactical aircraft in the Gulf States, but they would be vulnerable to Iran’s huge arsenal of short-range missiles.


There are currently 11 carriers, but one of them, the Enterprise, is about to be retired; and its replacement, is only scheduled to enter service in 2015. That means that there will be only 4-5 carriers available for duty elsewhere in the world. And, as Obama has said, with the growth of the Chinese navy and China’s increasingly assertive stance over ownership of isolated islands, national waters and deep sea mineral rights, America’s future military  planning has to focus on protecting US allies in the Pacific rim.


The Americans and their allies such as Japan and South Korea do have real reason to be concerned. China has been the biggest importer of arms during the past decade, and its overall military spending has risen by 170 percent in that time.


So, with those constraints in mind, let’s get back to how Israel will decide whether and when to attack Iran.


Agreeing on Tactical Means to Achieve the Objective:


Once the strategic objective has been set by the prime minister, the Israeli military then responds with a set of plans that are vetted by the prime minister and defence minister for their political, diplomatic and economic implications. The General Staff then makes whatever changes have been demanded and tests out these plans for their viability. Israel has spent more than a decade and billions of shekels on equipment and training for an Iranian attack and in making adjustments to the plans. For example, the Air Force increased the number of military exercises directed at training in in-air refuelling of aircraft and long-distance bombing runs.


It is because of this extended testing period that even recently-retired military intelligence and military officials’ assessments of Israel’ military capacity to wage war can break down… for the simple reason that they may not have a clue about some new and brilliant idea someone has come up with.


Cabinet Vetting:


The cabinet debate only begins in earnest after the Chief of Staff, and usually the Chief of the Air Force and Chief of Military Intelligence, appear before the cabinet, describe the plans that have been prepared, and then give an assessment of the likely chances of the plan succeeding (including the costs). Invariably, no decision on military action is made without the full backing of the Chief of Staff. Pundits too often point out that the decision to bomb the Osirak reactor was taken despite the intense opposition of such major political figures at the time as Ezer Weizman. What the pundits usually fail to note is that Begin did have the full backing of the then Chief of Staff, Raphael Eitan. At the moment, Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Ganz’s position is not publicly known.


Cabinet Debate:


The cabinet debate then devolves into a discussion of the following issues:


  • Is there an alternative to war? Currently, the only alternatives that have been tried have been diplomatic negotiations and the application of economic sanctions. The diplomatic negotiations have so far failed, and the sanctions have yet to run their course and have the intended impact.


Netanyahu understands that he has been up against both his domestic and American critics who want to give the sanctions more time to have an effect. Therefore, he has been pushing Obama to increase the level of sanctions immediately. In particular, he wants the West to impose a ban on international transactions with Iran’s central bank. He argues that while the sanctions have imposed hardship on ordinary Iranians, they are having no impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons development plans.


Obama and the Europeans, though, have remained committed to staged increases in the sanctions in order, in part, to buy more time. Barak, therefore, is arguing that an attack now that results in a two year delay in Iran’s nuclear development programme, may eventually provide enough time for the sanctions to have the intended effect. A counter-argument, though, is that a wounded, but not defeated regime in Iran might then be able to rally the nation to support the building of a bomb as quickly as possible.


  • Does Israel have international backing? Israel has never before gone to war without at least a “yellow light” from a superpower. Netanyahu’s implied threat that Israel would attack Iran before the US elections (or possibly immediately after them) was a failed attempt to see if it could force the Obama administration to give the Israelis at least a grudging yellow light to go ahead with an assault.


  • What are the costs? The need to re-equip the military after the 1973 Yom Kippur War cost two years of GDP, 10 years of economic development and led to hyperinflation. This time, Israel has more than 75 billion dollars in foreign currency reserves and a debt to GDP ratio of about 72 percent. As well, most of the military costs are already sunk costs. In other words, the bombs and the equipment needed to launch an attack have already been purchased.


However, depending on Iran’s reaction to an attack, oil prices could skyrocket and the current economic crisis around the world could intensify and affect Israel too. Such a scenario could also lead to world-wide diplomatic condemnation of Israel, as the Europeans have already warned.


Even more importantly, though, there are at least three new potential costs that were never part of the cabinet’s calculus when wars were declared in the past. An Israeli attack could lead to the first cyberwar in history, with almost unimaginable results.


The Israeli heartland is now vulnerable to massive rocket and missile attacks from Iran, Lebanon, Gaza, and now the Sinai. An estimated thirty percent of Israelis have no access to bomb shelters and only 50 percent have gas masks.


Moreover, Iran has shown that it is willing to try to strike Israeli targets abroad using Hizbollah operatives, Iranian Revolutionary Guards special units and even mercenaries.


In response to the criticisms coming from ministers, Barak has estimated that there would be no more than five hundred civilian casualties in Israel, while Netanyahu has argued that the cost in lives now would be tiny when compared with the potential for a future nuclear Holocaust.


  • What will be Israel’s deterrent position if it does/does not go to war? Barak and Netanyahu fear that if Iran does get a nuclear weapon, not only will there be nuclear proliferation throughout the region, Iran will be able to use the nuclear threat to protect its proxies such as Hizbollah. Although US Defence Secretary Panetta has promised that the US will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, Israelis point out that Washington made the same promise with regard to Pakistan and North Korea.


It appears, though, that the most effective argument used so far with cabinet members has been that because Iran is now so advanced in protecting its nuclear facilities, if an attack is not launched soon, Israel, for the first time, will become dependent on the United States for its defence. It was for this reason that former US Middle East policy specialist Dennis Ross suggested that if the Obama administration wants to delay an Israeli decision on whether to attack, it should provide Israel with the kind of weaponry that would enable Israel to extend its waiting time.


One reason why that argument resonates so strongly is that, not only is Israel liable to lose a measure of its independence if it has to rely on direct American military force, there is a lack of trust between the two sides.


For example, in early July, Dempsey, announced unilaterally that Israel and the US would now be going ahead with the long-delayed joint military manoeuvres labelled “Austere Challenge 12.” There was no official, public confirmation of this fact from Israel until Time Magazine broke the story that the US would be cutting back on the number of American soldiers taking part in the exercise. And you should remember that Israel delayed this same exercise, which was originally supposed to have been held earlier this year, at least once.


Nonetheless, “Austere Challenge 12,” the largest joint war game ever held by the two countries, will still involve thousands of troops from both sides. It is designed to test the two nations’ anti-missile defence systems, and, according to Dempsey, will take place in “October or November”—just prior to or just after the US presidential elections.


Dempsey’s announcement can be interpreted in two ways—and he has done nothing to clarify which interpretation is more accurate.


A huge anti-missile exercise could have provided Israel with an unprecedented defence umbrella in the event of a mass missile attack on the country.


On the other hand, it would have been virtually impossible for Israel to launch an independent, surprise attack on Iran at that time. The Americans would have been in a position to spot any Israeli preparations for an assault, and the Israelis would have been loath to embarrass the Americans or disobey Washington’s wishes with so many American soldiers in the country. Significantly, the huge logistics operation required for manoeuvres of this type also meant that there would have been significant numbers of American troops on Israeli soil for weeks before and after the war games themselves.


Netanyahu’s decision to announce his “red line” for attacking Iran (Iran’s acquisition of 260 kilograms of uranium, processed to a level of 20 percent purity), has now enabled him to delay a decision on the issue. At Iran’s current processing rate, an assault most likely will not even be contemplated until after the Passover holidays in late March. Another reason is that during period from Mid-November to early April there is too much cloud cover over Iran for certain types of weapons such as laser-guided bombs to be effective.


But there is another unknown that could affect the decision. It is unclear at the moment whether Netanyahu will be able to pass the necessary austerity budget for next year. Normally, the budget is prepared by late June and is presented to the cabinet by early July so that it can be debated and passed by the cabinet by the Jewish New Year in September. This year, though, the budget has not yet even been fully formulated.


If the budget cannot be passed in cabinet by the time the Knesset reconvenes after the last holiday, Simchat Torah in October, Netanyahu will have only two choices—to call early elections immediately or to wait until the calendar year passes, and the budget can go on automatic pilot for 3 months…after which elections are called automatically. By law, the government is required to present a budget by November 1. However, there is no legal penalty for not doing so. The government also has the option of presenting a budget, but then allowing it to die in committee.


It is unlikely that an attack on Iran will be ordered during the interim period between the calling of an election and the balloting because any casualties might become the main subject of the election campaign. And, the former Minister for Homeland Defence, Matan Vilnai has warned that an attack on Iran might take as long as 30 days. That could mean at least 30 days of heavy rocket fire, heavy damage and hundreds of casualties in Israel’s major cities.


An automatically-called election campaign that begins only at the beginning of April would mean that a new government with a mandate to order an attack will probably not be in place until mid-July. But by that time, at least according to Ehud Barak, the Iranians’ “zone of immunity” will already be in place; and Israel will not be able to bomb effectively without direct and heavy American support.


So what we are currently witnessing is a political shadow ballet.


If I were a conspiracy theorist, which I’m not, I would say that everything that is going on now is just an elaborate game to enable all the actors to play to their domestic audiences. Too often in the past, for example, Israeli leaders have used a real or supposed threat to the country as a way of diverting attention away from pressing domestic issues—in this case, the need to pass a highly contentious replacement for the Tal Law which granted exemptions from military service to the ultra-Orthodox and was recently declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and to cut the budget drastically, among other things.


So, instead of focussing on conspiracy theories, we should ask: Can what is going be explained in real military terms? For example, since whether Israel will assault Iran has been the most talked about and most analyzed surprise attack in the history of warfare, would Israel nonetheless be able to create an element of surprise?


If you look closely, everything that has been happening does bear at least a superficial resemblance to Egypt’s behaviour just prior to the Yom Kippur War. In the years just prior to the conflict, Anwar Sadat kept threatening war. But after every set of military manoeuvres, and after the Israeli military reserves had been called up, the Egyptian troops were sent back to their barracks—that is until October 1973, when, after the Israelis had become tired of calling up the reserves and had convinced themselves that Egypt would never be so stupid as to attack, the war actually broke out.


Could it be that what we are seeing now is just a huge ruse to lull the Iranians in the same way that Israel was lulled in the period before the Yom Kippur War?


At least according to Israeli intelligence sources, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenai has come to just such a conclusion—that Israel and the US wouldn’t dare attack now.


Nonetheless, Iran’s Supreme Leader does seem to be taking the Israeli threat seriously and so ordered the holding of the manoeuvres at the very moment that Austere 12 was underway. Such war games are enormously expensive and are coming at a time when the Iranian economy is being affected by sanctions. So, then we can reasonably ask: is all the war talk deliberately designed to further weaken the Iranian economy?


I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but they are worth thinking about.


And so, to conclude, despite my promise at the beginning that I would focus on the trees and not the forest, I cannot help but take note of several very important processes that are underway.


The first is that the open debate on whether to attack has finally led to a real discussion on what are the real capabilities of the IDF. In the years before the Six-Day War, the country was terrified of an all-out Arab attack. After the victory in that war, the pendulum swung to the other extreme and Israelis became convinced that the IDF was invincible and capable of effecting miracles. That impression has persisted to this day despite the fact that all of Israel’s subsequent wars were partial victories at best.


So, even if we don’t know the details of Israel’s true military strength, we are beginning to learn what may be its outermost limits.


The second is that there is now a huge national discussion on whether Israel’s almost total dependence on military deterrence and American military aid is sufficient to keep the country safe. It is very clear that military deterrence, rather than diplomatic efforts, have taken precedence in Israeli strategic planning, for a very long time. However, it is becoming ever clearer that Israel is dependent not just on the United States, but also on Europe to ensure that the sanctions efforts are maintained and strengthened. The recent chiding that Israel has been subjected to by the two countries that are leading the sanctions effort in Europe, France and Germany, should act as a warning that Israel’s diplomatic efforts need a lot more work.


And finally, I find it quite astounding that an issue as incredibly complex as what to do with Iran—and what the fall-out from those efforts could be—has now evolved in the press into an almost soap opera-type serial that focuses almost solely on the personal relations between Netanyahu and Obama, how much or how little they trust each other, how often and in what ways they insult each other, and who is trying to screw whom by working behind the other’s back. The behaviour of these two leaders, at least as we have seen it described in the press recently is certainly no way to run a war—unless, of course, you believe that this all an elaborate ruse…or you believe in the conspiracy theory of your choice.




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