Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran

America has made many geopolitical mistakes, some very serious.  Nothing critical for a superpower, so long as we do not make too many.

Israel operates far closer to the edge.   Small, geographically and economically vulnerable, surrounded by enemies, and heir to millennia of western antisemitism (Passages from Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies could be read with applause at some American universities).  This insecurity makes them more likely to take bold gambles — and increases the odds of mistakes having horrible consequences.

In the 20 December issue of Newsweek Michael Hirsch describes Israel as about to gamble, again:

I came back from a trip to Israel in November convinced that Israel would attack Iran,” Bruce Riedel, a former career CIA official and senior adviser to three U.S. presidents–including Bush — on Middle East and South Asian issues, told me Thursday, citing conversations he had with Mossad and defense officials.  “And that was before the NIE.  This makes it even more likely.  Israel is not going to allow its nuclear monopoly to be threatened.”

The mechanics of such a strike are beyond the scope of this blog.  Here are a few key points  (see the links below for more):

  • Israel has not fought against a serious conventional military force since 1973.
  • Air strikes have become much more difficult since they blew off the Egyptians in 1967.   To mention just one aspect of this:  quality air defense have become cheaper and widely available.
  • Sadham’s Osirak reactor was almost undefended, nor was it hardened.
  • Many experts consider that Israel’s forces are not capable of inflicting serious damage on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Long distance, many sites, hardened and well-defended targets — plus they must over fly nations with excellent air defenses (or Iraq).
  • It would mean putting most of Israel’s air assets at risk.  A failure might even put Israel itself at risk, inciting neighbors (worse case:  Egypt) to invade while Israel has greatly reduced ability to defend.

These mechanics might be the least risky aspect of a strike at Iran.  What might happen afterwards could be worse, whether successful or not.  It would make Israel an outlaw state in several senses:

  • An act of war against another State,
  • without justification as either an immanent threat (like 1967) or in response to attacks on their land (e.g., Lebanon in 1982 and 2006),
  • without clear evidence of an active nuclear program (as in their 1981 strike at Iraq), esp. after the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see Wikipedia for a history of Iran’s nuclear program),
  • without authorization by either the United Nations Security Council or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).   Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IARA said on 28 October “(H)ave we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon?  No.  Have we seen an active weaponization program?  No.”

This could give Israel’s many enemies the necessary excuse and motivation to act, emotional hatred and international law combining just as fuel and air do in a fire.  Many of the world’s governments are already hostile to Israel for various reasons.

  • Sympathy with the Palestinians for ethnic or religious reasons.
  • Currying favor with the increasingly powerful Arab oil exports.
  • Antisemitism.

Becoming an outlaw has consequences.  The most dangerous weapon would be sanctions on trade and capital.  Boycotts can be powerful, whether informal by companies and consumers — or formal trade sanctions by nations, regional trade groups, or the UN.  Disinvestment campaigns can also strongly pressure a nation so tightly bound into the global financial system as Israel.  It hurt even so rich and autarkic a nation as South Africa.  The effect of some combination of these on Israel could be catastrophic.

The US can only help so much.  And a Democratic Party Administration in 2009 might be much less supportive than has the Bush Administration.  Worse, Israel has no effective response.  They could not unbomb Iraq.  An apology might not be considered sufficient.  Other remedies might be quite painful.

For all these reasons I doubt Israel will attack Iran.  But that is just a guess.  Any experts reading this are welcome to comment!

Update:  Martin van Creveld notes two recent articles in Yediot that contradict Riedel’s opinion

Dichter:  US report on Iran could bring about another Yom Kippur War, 15 December 2007 — Excerpt:

“US misconceptions regarding Iran could bring about another Yom Kippur War in our region,” said Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter. … Would Israel take the initiative and strike at Iran?  To that Dichter answers with an empathic no:  “Israel may be fourth in the world when it comes to exporting arms, but it is unequivocally not a superpower.  Israel is merely one small country, and it is a true superpower (such as the US) that must address the Iranian nuclear threat.”

Olmert: US will continue to spearhead campaign against Iran (11 December 2007)

“Israel has not and does not lead the battle against the capricious government of Tehran. It is not only Israel’s problem but that of the entire international community,” {Israel Prime Minister} Olmert said.  “Israel will work together with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to expose the Iranian military’s plan to develop a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Background information

  1. A Nuclear Iran: What Does it Mean, and What Can be Done, Ephraim Kam, Institute for National Security Studies (in Tel Aviv, not the US DoD INSS), February 2007 — esp. pages 32 – 41.  Perhaps the best analysis I have found on this subject.
  2. Focus: Mission Iran  (The Times, 7 January 2007) — Excerpt:  Nonetheless, Professor Martin Van Creveld, an Israeli military expert, said last week that tactical nuclear weapons were “the only way, if there is a way at all, to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites”.
  3. Three Gulf states agree to IAF overflights en route to Iran (Haaretz, 25 February 2007)
  4. The World Can Live with a Nuclear Iran, Martin van Creveld (24 September 2007)
  5. Arms Control Wonk (9 April 2006) — a brief discussion of the requirements for a successful strike at Iran.

Other posts about a strike at Iran by Israel

Esp. note #2!

  1. Is Iran dangerous, or a paper tiger?   (13 November 2007)
  2. Does reading Debkafile make us smarter, or dumber?  (15 June 2008)
  3. A new story about a possible war with Iran  (21 May 2008) — About the 20 May Jerusalem Post story, originally reported by Army Radio.
  4. “As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon”  (3 June 2008) — About the Fischer story in the 30 May Daily Star.
  5. “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”   (8 June 2008)  — War-talk by a former Defense Minster of Israel.
  6. Der Spiegel: “Israeli Ministers Mull Plans for Military Strike against Iran”  (17 June 2008) — Rumors in Der Spiegel of a strike by Israel on Iran.
  7. More rumors of a strike at Iran by Israel  (1 July 2008)
  8. Leaks about a possible strike at Iran (are there any hotter issues today?)  (7 July 2008)
  9. The most expensive psy-war campaign – ever!  (13 July 2008)

Here is the full archive of posts about a possible strike at Iran by Israel or the US.

24 thoughts on “Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran

  1. Some thoughts:

    Wouldn’t it make more sense for Israel (should they strike) to concentrate their attack on Iran’s infrastructure? More specifically their oil infrastructure? An economic collapse would be just as effective (maybe more so) in halting Iran’s nuke prof. than hitting hardened targets with a questionable success rate.

    Also, consider the spectre of July 2006 must still haunt Olmert.

    Lastly: “it is a true superpower (such as the US) that must address the Iranian nuclear threat.” I’m no expert but should Likud come back into power (and many suspect they will) do you think they’ll rely on a US Democratic administration to halt Iran’s nuke program?

  2. With oil (West Texas Intermediate) at $93, destroying the infrastructure that extracts 4 million barrels of oil perday (aprox 5% of global consumption) might push the global economy into a major recession. Just like in 1979. This might make Israel global enemy #1, resulting in the consequences I describe in this blognote — but even more so than if Isreal hit Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

  3. Israel already is global enemy #1. Their only true friends are the United States of America and Turkey. So they have nothing to lose by being arrogant to world opinion.

  4. rogelio007: I mentioned what Israel has to lose. Dislike or hatred of Israel is one thing; actual sanctions would be far more serious. As for Bush striking Iran, we can only guess. I suspect that the new NIE has eliminated the poltical base for this, unless other evidence surfaces of Iranian atomic programs or aggression against the US.

  5. The more I study Israel the more it confuses me. There seems to be no other place more determined to “snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory”. It has been incapable of turning its military (though some just) wins into any sort of long term diplomatic and economic advantages.

    The disaster in Lebanon (which is even more of a disaster than most people think, because it had been planned for years beforehand), displayed such a dearth of intelligence, vision and strategy that one has to despair about the human condition.

    Their huffing and puffing about them attacking Iran is just that, they will never do it on their own. It is simply an (as usual clumsy) attempt to push up pressure on the the US to do it. They may make a token effort, but it will be just as part of a maskirovka operation for an US attack (think Suez).

    A reading of the Isreali ‘Clean Break’ document (with the handprints of many US and Israeli neo-cons) is instructive. One thing that has to be understood in this strategy is that the ‘changing of the ME geo-political map’ advocated, was to free Israel from US influence and control. With no regional competitors they would finally be free to give the US the finger and pursue their own independent course as the major, if not dominant, regional power.

    If the US does the ‘heavy lifting’ to achieve that, so much the better. It was instructive that the US neo-crazies (which adhere to a varient of this idea, with an added spin) had no success (despite much pressure) in getting Israel to extend its Lebanese war into Syria, much to their (sometimes public) disappointment.

    So you have two groups of nut jobs, with an overall common strategy, with with different outcomes desired. The strategy is a broken up ‘Balkanised’ ME, that is the common thread. The differences in outcomes is the US NC’s then want it to be dominated by the US, giving it geopolitical leverage against China, the EU and Russia, under this scenario Israel is the ‘deputy sheriff’ in the area. The Israeli NC’s want the same break up, but that is to make them the pre-eminent regional power, freeing them from the US to follow their own destiny. So their dream is for the US to undertake all this then quietly disappear off stage left.

    How these groups of NC’s (or more accurately NJ’s) reconcile their differences is anybody’s guess. At the moment, in practical terms they have a (sort of) coalition, with some of them (of course) seeming to be in one camp, but really being in the other. Expect a major falling out in the next few years.

    The hubris behind this is breath taking. Firstly they assume they can actually achieve this. Secondly they can control the chaos that will inevitably happen and turn it to their own advantage. Thirdly, that no one else in the world can, or will, do anything to turn things to their advantage.

    The most likely result in the next 10 years is that Israel is going to become even more isolated than it is now and will lose most, if not all, US support, without which Israel is unsustainable under its current model (though there is still time for it to change to soemthing more viable). The rumblings and resentment in the US are already starting and while Israel now has the current crop of politicians pretty much in its pocket, too much of this is through fear. Fear breeds resentment and eventually the worm turns.

    As usual this will all be under the surface for some years until an event catalyses a huge wave of US resentment against Israel. At that point the ‘worms’ will jump up and turn viscously. If I had to make a prediction, Israel, seeing US weakness and decline, will (at some point) attempt to jump ship to China and Russia, using US military technology (and its espionage) as its ‘entry ticket’. When it’s caught doing it …….. expect currently very pro Israel US politicians to jump up and and demand military and economic aid cuts.

    Of course, this is dependent on the current crop of Israeli ‘leaders’ staying in power and not being replaced by some that are both smarter and saner. Unfortunately they seem pretty entrenched. If I was an Israeli citizen I’d kick these clowns out.

    Thus – Hubris, as always followed by Nemesis. As I’ve said before, the only winners in this sorry debacle are going to be Iran, China and Russia (who just scored a huge coup recently).

    As an aside, note the Kurds predictably got shafted again, with the US having to turn a blind eye to Turkish attacks. They are the only ME group that appear to be even stupider than the Israelis.

  6. Both the Israelis and the Turks have shown restraint. The Israelis could very easily remove Lebanon from the map if they used full force. And the Turks could very easily destabilize northern Iraq if they used full force. I believe both have refrained from doing so under pressure from the United States.

  7. Sorry Rog, disagree about Lebanon. Excluding Nukes, which are impossible to use (far too close), Israel cannot take Lebanon.

    Firstly , even with total mobilisation they simply don’t have the population (approx 7 million vs 4 million for Lebanon). Trying to do so would bankrupt them within months.

    Secondly, they’ve tried very hard twice and failed twice.

    Thirdly, go to Google Earth. Examine the terrain of Lebanon (particularly the south) closely. From an invasion point of view .. ugh. From a holding point of view .. double ugh.

    Even if they just tried to grab the South (to the Lantani river say) and pursued a strategy of total ethnic cleansing of the area. They still would have to give it up in 10 or so years after being bled to death. People would just run and then come back fighting later.

    Trying to do this again has been a living example of Franklin’s famous saying: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

    Re the Kurds, Turkey and Iran will never allow an independent Kurdistan. No ifs or buts, not now or ever. They will live with a Kurdish region of Iraq that is fairly autonomous, provided it doesn’t rock the boat too much. The Kurds pushing the limits in recent times is a strategic mistake of mind boggling ineptitude as they’ve got a very good thing going for them now, provided they play their cards right. Unfortunately, given their history, I fully expect them to completely stuff it up.

    Of course this has not been helped by US and Israel using it as a jumping off point for insurgent operations against Iran, forgetting the minor little fact that the same nut cases they are trying to encourage against Iran will also (and have) attack Turkey. As usual when push comes to shove, the same US and Israeli ‘advisors’ will be long gone (don’t call us, we’ll call you) when Turkey inevitably retaliates. In the case of the US it is the same sort of thing as when they encouraged the Kurds to rise against Hussain, then didn’t support them.

    Yes, Turkey has shown restraint, mainly because they don’t want to get sucked into a quagmire. But if provoked too far …. One thing that is different in the dynamics of this is that it is the Turkish Govt and Army that are reluctant, the push is coming from the population which is fed up to the back teeth about the thousands of lives lost to date. Gives a different perspective when they are already losing their sons in larg(ish) numbers, might as well go the whole hog as far as a lot are convinced.

    Unlike Israel, Turkey has both the population and economic power to put far more troops into Northern Iraq than the US has in the whole country. They wouldn’t stay very long, but they might calculate that they’d have a big enough impact to reduce the current insurgency against them to acceptable levels for quite a while.

  8. Oldskeptic – An excellent analysis. I stand corrected concerning Lebanon. You need to go on Fox News Network to debate Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. They would not have a chance against you.

  9. Kind words Rog. I’ve never seen these people, but if they are like some others that I’ve viewed, then I suspect their thinking is:

    (1) Slogans, rather than analysis.
    (2) Propaganda from one NJ group or another.

    The thing that everyone seems to forget is that Israel is a small and pretty economically weak country. It cannot (and never has) been able to sustain long wars of the conventional or 4GW type. If it doesn’t win quickly, it doesn’t win at all. To date the countries they have gone to war with have gone with this play book (though it was touch and go in 72, without the massive US airlift …). Until Hezbollah of course. They bled them white, with Israel slinking out of Lebanon in 2000.

    Economically, misjudgements over the last 20 years or so (at least) had turned what was quite a dynamic economy with tremendous regional potential into a basket case, ever more dependent on US money, with falling living standards. Absurd expenditure on the military (way beyond any defence requirements, even worst case ones)and boondangles like ‘settlements’ (which have to be amongst the most subsidised people in the entire world) have bled them white, even with the almost unlimited US support.

    To put in context: 4,000 tanks, 402 combat aircraft, 10,000 APC’s, satellite launchers, missle defence systems, 200+ nukes (including H bombs), 3 subs, 168,000 active personnel, et al. From a population of 7M?

    To put this in context take Australia (population 21M and a vastly richer country): 52,000 active personnel, 6 subs, 59 tanks, 700 APC, 92 combat aircraft, 13 frigates. And our defence budget is stretched pretty thin (despite increases in past years).

    You do the $ numbers. Sustainable, nope.

    As many Israeli commentators have made the point, peace settlements with the Palestinians, Lebanon, Syria, et al, are essential for the economic survival of Israel and far, far more important than grabbing yet another few square km of land, every bit of what costs them ridiculous amounts of money.

    Just to add, a few years ago a bunch of leading Israelis and Palestinians got together (semi-officially/unofficially) to hammer out an agreement. Both sides gave up much but an agreement was reached. Polls taken showed majority support in both countries. Predictably the US and Israeli nut jobs, UNJs and INJs, (including the great INJ himself Sharon) killed it and a great opportunity was lost for everyone.

    As another aside, the INJ’s push for their ‘great strategy’ has had the effect of making Israel even more dependent on US economic aid in recent times, which is consistent with these clowns track record. Whatever they try, the exact oppostite of what they wanted results.

  10. Yes, the Palestinians have a strategic advantage, which they are squandering with infighting. It would be interesting to see if Gaza and the West Bank eventually become two separate states.

  11. Fabius, I’m always reminded by by Bill Lind’s profound comment ‘maximalist objectives’.

    The real world is always messy, uncertain and full of compromises. Whenever you try to ‘win it all’ (in war, business, et al) the probability of total success drops dramatically. You can look at this like a Markov chain, where you have to reach the 99% level every time. Trouble is that is only a 1% chance of succces, with a 99% chance of failure. Multiply the chance of success through a few iterations, .01 x .01 x .01 …. 10 iterations and you have only a 1 in 10^-20 chance of success = a lot less than a snowball’s chance in hell.

    Ok, lets take a (say) 30% chance of success the first time around. A gambling person (or an idiotic optimist) might try that, then do the same number of iterations = 0.0000059049 (0.00059%) chance of total success. What we are seeing is gambling on a massive scale, on very low odd’s. A sensible person will take a much higher chance of success with a lower payoff, as your chance of winning is much higher.

    Conservatism pays.

    The neo-crazies (or nut jobs as I call them, NJs for short) continually gamble high stakes on low odds, then wonder why the outcomes are not what they expect! They are fundamentally faith, not reason, based people, which explains their links and empathy to the ‘born again’ crowd.

    Back to the Palestinians, they and the Israels are locked into a death spiral at the moment (thanos is dominating). Two peoples with their hands around each others neck, fighting to the death in quicksand. The eventual end of this is predictable. Because Israel, at the moment is superior then, on current trends, extermination (attempted, via ‘transfer’, etc) is the predictable end. At that point Israel will lose the support of 99%+ of every Jew in the world, and that, my friends, is the real end of Israel. Israel can (maybe just by the skin of its teeth) survive the loss of US support, it cannot survive the loss of world wide Jewish support.

    Alternatively, it all continues at the same level for decades and the Palestinians become dominant (through demographics) and the same (but in a different way) end of Israel happens. Not through extermination, the Palestinians will never have that power within our lifetimes (despite what some Palestinian NJs may desire), rather people start leaving Israel and it steadily whithers away.

    That’s why the forces of life (to use an analogy) must break free of this and BUILD. The Geneva Accord in 2003 showed that a start (at the very least) can be made. It is messy, uncertain, no major wins by anyone, but it has the grace of achievability (bit like life overall).

    In the end, the economic gains in a decade will have everyone saying: why didn’t we do this 20 years sooner?

  12. I should add, that the comment “Israel will lose the support of 99%+ of every Jew in the world” comes directly from a very, very close friend, who just happens to be Jewish, because they are some of the finest, most honourable people in the world. He wont say that, because he thinks the Scots are ;). Ok, he’s right. Ok laddies here’s my mate’s hierarchy of ‘honour’:

    (1) Scots
    (2) Jews
    (3) Australians

    Oh well….. I suppose that is what makes the world so interesting. ;)

  13. One interesting aspect of American political debate is that one side attributes to other behaviors common to *both* sides. So it is, imho, with Lind and “maximalist objectives. Both sides of the American political specturm have developed utopian aspirations. The Left seeks to remold our society to match its ideological dreams, while the Right supports foreign crusades.

    It would be amusing to watch if occuring in another country.

  14. Demographic trends don’t just affect Israel. They affect the United States also. If current trends continue, in one-hundred years Spanish will be the dominant language in the United States with English falling to secondary importance.

  15. That is not demography, strictly speaking, but the extrapolation of current “open borders” and multiculturalist public policy. If we restricted immigration and returned to policies encouraging assimilation (those of the early 20th Century), this might not be a problem.

    Europe’s crisis is strictly demographic: fertility levels far below replacement. That will be, I suspect, very difficult to reverse. It might even be structural. Modern western culture, esp with respect to women, might inherently result in below-replacement fertility and be — from a long historical perspective — an aberration.

  16. Israel will be fine, the USA will do it it is a must to save the world. Iran must not have nukes as Rice, Bush and Cheney put it. Leaders of Israel have already urged Bush to attack Iran several times in the past two years. According to Newsweek, the USA will attack Iran soon. It is not if but when. Sounds very logical to me, since Iran has threatened to annhilate both the USA and Israel.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: It does not sound logical to me, but who knows?
    .
    I have added an update with my various posts about the many waves of rumors about the US or Israel attacking Iran.

  17. The U.S. of A saves the world by savin’ Israel’s ass?Let’s SAVE the whole world by turnin’ everybody into pseudo – Americans.Some dudes…Iran threatens to annihilate the “Great Satan” and the “L’il Satan”.As if.

  18. I’m confused, why USA doesn’t embraces the rest of the world that hates Israel? the problem would be all solved. USA would get all the oil from iraq, iran, peace would reign in middle-east, etc… Why supporting one nation instead of all the others? Take Israel out of the map and everything would be fine.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Ah, the old throw allies to their enemies in order to placate enemies and win friends. I think you will find history shows few examples of this working.

    More often it reveals great moral weakness — probably fear — which encourages enemies. Worse, it tells our remaining friends that we are useless as allies.

    This is exactly the opposite of what the late John Boyd (Colonel, USAF) recommended. He said a grand strategy focused our nation’s actions — political, economic, and military — so as to:

    Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.
    Weaken our opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
    Strengthen our allies’ relationships to us.
    Attract uncommitted states to our cause.
    End conflicts on favorable terms, without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.
    From Patterns of Conflict, slide 139.

  19. are you kidding you liberal geeks israel could easily destroy iran does this liberal writer forget israel kicked all the arabs at once? a new mit report says israel could crush iran with only 25 jets

    yes youre right nazi retard boy lets kill off the jews cause evil socialist nutcases like you hate them hey didnt the bible say all the evil nations would be against israel wow thanks for proving it

    israel defeated 6 arab armys then 3 then 3 again israel has the finest military in the world and 1 megaton weapons iran cant even make 1 kilaton

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