“As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon”

Summary:  This post examines yet another rumor of a strike at Iran by Israel, this time by a reliable source.  A successful raid might be beyond Israel’s capabilities, the consequences devastating for Israel, and perhaps even unnecessary.

As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon“, Joschka Fischer, The Daily Star  (30 May 2008) — Fischer was Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, and led Germany’s Green Party for nearly 20 years.  Hat tip to Nouriel Roubini at RGE Monitor.  My comments are at the end.  Excerpt:

A hitherto latent rivalry between Iran and Israel thus has been transformed into an open struggle for dominance in the Middle East. The result has been the emergence of some surprising, if not bizarre, alliances: Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and the American-backed, Shiite-dominated Iraq are facing Israel, Saudi Arabia, and most of the other Sunni Arab states, all of which feel existentially threatened by Iran’s ascendance.

… Iran’s nuclear program is the decisive factor in this equation, for it threatens irreversibly the region’s strategic balance. That Iran – a country whose president never tires of calling for Israel’s annihilation and that threatens Israel’s northern and southern borders through its massive support of proxy wars waged by Hizbullah and Hamas – might one day have missiles with nuclear warheads is Israel’s worst security nightmare. Politics is not just about facts, but also about perceptions. Whether or not a perception is accurate is beside the point, because it nonetheless leads to decisions.

… Third, the outgoing commander of the Israeli Air Force declared that the air force was capable of any mission, no matter how difficult, to protect the country’s security. The destruction of a Syrian nuclear facility last year, and the lack of any international reaction to it, were viewed as an example for the coming action against Iran.

… While Israeli military intelligence is on record as saying that Iran is expected to cross the red line on the path to nuclear power between 2010 and 2015 at the earliest, the feeling in Israel is that the political window of opportunity to attack is now, during the last months of Bush’s presidency.

Although it is acknowledged in Israel that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would involve grave and hard-to-assess risks, the choice between acceptance of an Iranian bomb and an attempt at its military destruction, with all the attendant consequences, is clear. Israel won’t stand by and wait for matters to take their course.

The Middle East is drifting toward a new great confrontation in 2008. Iran must understand that without a diplomatic solution in the coming months, a dangerous military conflict is very likely to erupt. It is high time for serious negotiations to begin.

Comments about this

Fischer sketches out what I consider an unlikely scenario, one which we have heard repeatedly for the past year at least.  Most of the the following is from my post of 22 December:  Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran

(1) 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):

  1. Israel has not fought against a serious conventional military force since 1973. 
  2. Many experts consider that Israel’s forces are not capable of inflicting serious damage on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Long distance away, many sites, hardened and well-defended targets.
  3. 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.
  4. Sadham’s Osirak reactor was almost undefended, nor was it hardened.
  5. Israel’s recent strike at Syria attacked a nearby, lightly defended, amall single target, not hardened.
  6. Israel’s aircraft must over fly nations with excellent air defenses, or Iraq.  Both are problematic.
  7. This would put most of Israel’s air assets at risk. 
  8. A failure might even put Israel itself at risk, inciting neighbors (worse case:  Egypt) to invade while Israel has greatly reduced ability to defend.

 Doing substantial damage to Iran’s nuke program is at the edge of *US* capabilities. Something less than a knock-out — just twisting Iran’s nose — risks much for little gain.  These mechanics might be the least risky aspect of a strike at Iran. 

(2) Whether successful or not, a strike might make Israel an outlaw state.

  1. A strike is an act of war against another State,
  2. without justification as either an immanent threat (like 1967) or in response to attacks on their land (e.g., Lebanon in 1982 and 2006),
  3. 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),
  4. 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.  Disinvestmentcampaigns 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.

(3)  A strike may not be necessary

Many A-team strategists believe that an Iran with nukes is nothing to fear. The idea that they would court certain death from Israel’s retaliatory strike ignores one of the great rules of history, as explained by Mel Brooks: “It’s good to be King.” National rulers seldom do suicidal attacks. As explained by the greatest living military historian: “The World Can Live with a Nuclear Iran“, Martin van Crevled, The Forward (24 September 2007).

For all these reasons I doubt Israel will attack Iran.  But that is just a guess.  Any experts reading this are welcome to comment!  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com.

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).

My posts about a strike at Iran by Israel

Esp. note #2!

  1. Is Iran dangerous, or a paper tiger?   (13 November 2007)
  2. Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran  (22 December 2007)
  3. Does reading Debkafile make us smarter, or dumber?  (15 June 2008)
  4. A new story about a possible war with Iran  (21 May 2008) — About the 20 May Jerusalem Post story, originally reported by Army Radio.
  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)

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

4 thoughts on ““As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon”

  1. Not a chance. Israel has just squibbed it over attacking Lebanon again, facing Hezbollah frightens them out of their trousers. So they will do nothing. But they will push the US into it with everything they’ve got. And that’s a lot.

  2. “Israel will disappear whether we are involved in it or not”, Ahmadinejad today at the food summit in Rome.

    The Israeli lobby is already actively criticising the Democratic candidates in the US presidental elections obviously prefering the Rep candidate, but you make a valid point, any unilatteral (and illegal?) strike by Israel is going to turn many more states against them. Yet how could they hope to achieve anything by it? The recent war with Lebanon was a wake-up call, things have changed and Israel’s military capablities are limited to a ‘mini cold war’ scenerio of MAD in respect to Iran.

    Though I have always thought that even though Iran may never develop a nuclear bomb there still remains the real possibility of ‘dirty’ bombs being detonated in Israel by previously unheard of groups leaving leaving a badly scarred country with no clear target to retaliate against.

  3. I wouldn’t expect an air strike. Israel has some SSKs and acquired some torpedo tube-launched missiles (Harpoon at least). That should be enough to hit something, albeit it wouldn’t destroy any hardened components of a nuclear tech program. Maybe they’d hit some university buildings full of physicists and an electronics company instead.

    The best argument against a strike is this; Israel feels responsible for the safety of Jews in the whole world. About 20-40k Jews still live in Iran (*surprise*) and would be in danger if Israel attacked Iran.

  4. Of course the world can live with a nuclear Iran, because like the Chinese and Russians they are not about to start something that eliminates their largest cities and monuments, and places their entire culture in jeopardy.

    If the right wings in Israel and the US don’t figure that out and launch any sort of a strike, the results could be catastrophic not just for Israel and the US, but for civilization and humanity in general. The likelihood of a mass Shiite uprising all across the Mideast and Asia is fairly high, and some of the results of that include the loss of the US forces in Iraq, all of Iraq, oil prices in the hundreds of dollars per barrel, and an unprecedented worldwide depression.

    At which point, the US and Israel aside, powers in transition such as India and China might find themselves under intense internal pressure to take radical action to secure some kind of energy supply at some kind of reasonable price. Which could easily mean a nuclear war and one that would spread.

    The obvious comparison would be with World War I, where unintended side effects multiply and the contagion spreads out of control. This is a consummation devoutly not to be wish’d.

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