Der Spiegel: “Israeli Ministers Mull Plans for Military Strike against Iran”

Summary:  more rumors of an attack by Israel at Iran.  Just rumors, but another in a long string of rumors.  Clearly Israel sends signals of some kind to Iran.  Does Iran fear an attack, or hope for one?  Would a strike at Iran strength Israel’s geopolitical position, or destroy it?  We can only guess at the answers.  See the links at the end for my guesses about these things.  (1)  Israel will not attack.  (2) If it did, the results would be catastrophic for Israel.

“Israeli Ministers Mull Plans for Military Strike against Iran”, Der Spiegel  (16 June 2008)

Excerpt from Part I

While the Europeans continue to pin their hopes on diplomacy and are convinced that a negotiated solution that would allow Tehran to save face is still possible, the Israelis already view the UN sanctions regime as a failure. Russia and China, they say, sabotaged the boycott from the very beginning, and even the Europeans have only half-heartedly supported sanctions. More rumors about a strike by Israel at Iran.

Dani Yatom, a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, was invited to attend a NATO conference in Brussels last year. While reviewing the agenda, Yatom, a retired major general, was surprised to see that the meeting was titled “The Iranian Challenge” and not “The Iranian Threat.”

When a speaker with a French accent mentioned that a US military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would be the most dangerous scenario of all, Yatom said, politely but firmly: “Sir, you are wrong. The worst scenario would be if Iran acquired an atom bomb.”

Yatom, 63, has spent most of his life in the military. He was a military adviser to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and, in the mid-1990s, was named head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Nevertheless, Yatom, a member of the Labor Party, is not some reckless hawk. Unlike most Knesset members, he flatly rejects, for example, a major Israeli offensive against the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

But Yatom’s willingness to strike a compromise ends when he is asked what he considers to be the best response to the Iranian nuclear program. “We no longer believe in the effectiveness of sanctions,” says Yatom. “A military operation is needed if the world wants to stop Iran.”

When Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister, expressed similar sentiments 10 days ago, they were viewed, especially in Europe, as the isolated opinions of a card-carrying hardliner seeking to score points with the electorate in a bid to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In truth, however, there is now a consensus within the Israeli government that an air strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities has become unavoidable. “Most members of the Israeli cabinet no longer believe that sanctions will convince President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to change course,” says Minister of Immigrant Absorption Yaakov Edri.

The one question over which Israel’s various political groups disagree is the timing of an attack. The doves argue that diplomatic efforts by the United Nations should be allowed to continue until Iran is on the verge of completing the bomb. That way, Israel could at least argue convincingly that all non-military options had been exhausted.

The hawks, on the other hand, believe time is running out. They stress that there is now a “favorable window of opportunity” that will close with the US presidential election in November, and that Israel can only depend on American support for as long as current US President George W. Bush is still in charge in Washington. They are convinced that the country cannot truly depend on any of the candidates to succeed Bush in office.

Excerpt from Part II

Politicians in Berlin have noted with concern signs of the next war brewing in the Middle East. Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who travels regularly to Jerusalem and Washington for political talks, warns that Israel could see the Bush presidency as its last chance to gain American support for a military strike. “Politically speaking, the window for action is now, in the last months of George W. Bush’s term in office,” Fischer wrote recently. “The Middle East is headed for another major confrontation.”

Others share this sense of unease. Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg, a foreign policy expert and member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), says that he has “the unsettling feeling that the contemplation of a military option against Iran is gaining a new dynamic in Israel.” He wants to see Berlin use its close relations with Jerusalem to deter it from launching a military strike.

… Nevertheless, in Israel it is no longer a matter of whether there will be a military strike, but when. It is clear that the attack would be exclusively an aerial strike. Jerusalem recently received approval from Washington for a purchase of F-22 stealth bombers. The centrifuges used to enrich uranium at the Natanz nuclear facility are apparently the main target. According to Israeli information, the centrifuges are kept above ground and are thus easier to destroy. The reactor in Bushehr is seen as another possible target.

And the Iranian air defenses? “We know that Iran’s air defenses are not among the world’s best,” says former Mossad chief Yatom. “They can be overcome.” Nevertheless, many Israelis still hope that the Americans will do the job for them. “It could still be the case,” says Yatom, “that George W. Bush wants to guarantee himself a place in the history books with this last act.”

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. “As things look, Israel may well attack Iran soon”  (3 June 2008) — About the Fischer story in the 30 May Daily Star.
  6. “Attacking Iran, in order to stop its nuclear plans, will be unavoidable”   (8 June 2008)  — War-talk by a former Defense Minster of Israel.
  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.

10 thoughts on “Der Spiegel: “Israeli Ministers Mull Plans for Military Strike against Iran”

  1. I suggested in 2004 that Israel would have to strike Iran if Kerry were to win. I believe the world is now on track to see Iran get a nuke, and soon after that some not-quite state actor using that nuke against Tel Aviv.

    The diplomatic difficulty in pre-emptive defense is the fact that the worst-case hasn’t yet happened. For all non-Israelis, “discussing the Iran Challenge is fun” (rather than Crusades), but the same kind of non-deterrable irrational Jew hate that Hamas and Hezbollah have seems to be coming from Iran.

    Recently I’ve suggested total and mass evacuation of all Israeli Jews out of Israel, possibly to America — I consider this (unrealistic?) proposal better than allowing Iran to get a nuke.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps; we can only speculate about these things. I suspect that Iran’s mullahs and the Saudi Princes have a more realistic view of these things: nuke attacks on Israel will result in nukes falling on them. Israel might not require evidence “beyond reasonable doubt” about the guilty parties.

  2. If the articles are correct in their assessment that “…in Israel it is no longer a matter of whether there will be a military strike, but when…” then we are truly on the knife’s edge, especially if all other options have been locked out of the solution set (the option of MAD between Israel and Iran, U.S. guarantees to throw nukes along with Israel in the event of a nuclear strike against Israel, etc.).

    I noticed there was no discussion of the blowback that would follow an Israeli airstrike. Even assuming total “success” by such an aerial assualt (and the Summer war with Hezbollah makes one pause in assuming such an outcome), are Israel and the United States political elites truly ready for the potential consequences?

    – $200 oil (at least). Will Iran make good on her threats to strike against shipping in the Persian Gulf and try lobbing some missiles at places like Ras Tanura in the KSA? Would oil only go to $200? Will the world blame Israel for this new price spike?
    – Iraq?
    – A furious U.S. population now facing $7 – $8/gallon gas, at least. Will that be enough to overcome AIPAC’s, uh, influence on the political elites? Probably not, but cars are a third rail type of issue in U.S. politics and messing with them is dangerous. What will that mean for the U.S. subsidies to Israel? Iran sucks at PR, but one would think even those inept fools could get enough propaganda out there to associate support of Israel with high gas prices.
    – Will Venezuela slow or stop exports to the U.S. in “solidarity” with Iran? That’s a big hit to U.S. supplies.
    – Will Israel be branded an aggressor state by the U.N., complete with sanctions and a demand that the Israeli nuclear program come under the NPT?

    That’s barely the start of a list of potential issues. Great set of articles (thanks for drawing attention to them FM) but very limited in their treatment of the situation. The Day After is when the real effects begin to be felt.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: To be clear about this, recapping what I said in the previous 12 posts on this subject.

    (1) I do not believe that Israel will strike Iran (just a guess, of course).

    (2) If they did so, the consequences would be terrible for Israel. The wider effects would depend on many factors.

  3. “Der Spiegel” is only a 2nd class source on security policy matters. Good enough to expose scandals (and to push something till it’s a scandal) in the Bundeswehr, but mostly not very highly regarded on national security as a whole by those who kept an eye on the topic.
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    Fabius Maximus: It is another datapoint in a long series of datapoints. Also, information contrary to existing consensus or paradigms often first emerges in fringe sources.

  4. Fab Max, I share your two-part opinion re. this issue, and further believe that the consequences would be terrible not just for Israel, but for the region, the US, and the rest of the developed world. The oil price spike would be particularly disruptive, I think.

    As for Iranian military capabilities, they are not exactly a paper tiger, but their offensive capabilities are fairly limited and short-range. They can certainly create problems for anyone navigating the Gulf.

    The Israelis are certainly posturing for effect, but as I said, your #1 represents sound judgment, I think. On the other side of the fence, I sense that Ahmadinejad is in eclipse, and apart from its historic support for Hezbollah, Iran’s foreign policy will not show much radicalism, or even much variance for a while. My guess is the Mullahs are concerned about rising internal dissatisfaction with their rule, and might dump Ahmadinejad to buy some moderate credibility. Just a guess.

  5. The fear of an Israeli-Iranian war is several years old now. Just like the fear for an American Pearl Harbor-style attack. I don’t think it will happen for the following reasons: 1)Iran is almost too far away, 2)the Iranian nuclear program is too scattered to be knocked out in a single blow, so the Israelis would have to bomb for at least several days if it should work. 3)if the Iranians retaliate Israel will either have to escalate the air war or seek a diplomatic solution. 4)if Hezbollah decides to launch rockets against Israeli cities the IAF would be forced also to bomb Lebanon and thus weakening the air war against Iran. Perhaps even provoking the need for another ground invasion of Lebanon.

    More than enough to give every just remotely sensible IDF-general headache…

    I also raises the question where the planes and missiles would come from. If they took the shortest route and flew across Jordan and Iraq that would implicate both countries. Would the Iraqi government accept that? Would the Jordanian King? Would the public accept it in both countries accept? I can’t see how. The day after launching an attack people would be in the streets in Amman and rioting and every Iraqi with a gun – whether Sunni or Shia – would be shooting at the Americans from the roof-tops.

    I would also like to mention another possibility: This is simply another fase in a year-long Psywar campaign against Iran conducted by both Israel and the US. Already back in 2005 there were reports about an Israeli attack against Iran and reports about “UFO’s” seen over Iran. There were also a “leak” that Special Forces were operating in Iran and suddenly “something” exploded not far from an Iranian nuclear facility. I think it was close to Bushehr in March 2005. The Iranians even said in the beginning it was a bomb dropped from a plane, but later changed the story. I gave a lecture at the Danish naval academy at that time and I said that these were clear signs of a Psywar waged against Iran. As far as I can tell this Psywar has continued since then. Sometimes less aggressively, sometimes more. But it was always going on. It never stopped.

    For the historical record the Americans have waged Psywar against many other countries. The most famous one was the psywar waged against the USSR in the early eighties. Planes from NATO would fly close the Soviet air space in the Baltic Sea, heavy B52-bombers would fly directly towards the Soviet Union across the North Pole and only return when they noticed the air defence became active, submarines would venture into Soviet waters etc. All followed with a threatening rhetoric. The Soviets knew they were losing the cold war and they were scared to death by the new American policy. 1983 was arguable one of the worst years during the cold war because of this policy. Perhaps the worst since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

    It has happened before and it is happening again. The purpose of the psywar is not to provoke a war, but to put pressure on Iran and force it to make concessions. But it is also an extremely dangerous way of handling Iran. War by mistake is a distinct possibility.

  6. I just spent a two months in Israel doing an archaeological dig outside of Tiberius. I’ve spent a good deal of the time on the ground, traveling and talking to the locals. Anytime politics came up the general consensus was that the average Israeli wants peace and to live a long happy life. That means they’ll fight for what they have. People talked about Iran like Americans talk about Hugo Chavez, mere annoyance not hostility. While attitudes can change, I just left a week ago. Its important to know what your average Joe citizen feels before you make such a monumental decision like this.

    -The majority people I talked to were between the ages of 18-30 so older generation could feel differently.

  7. When have I heard that Bush/Cheney psychopathic fear mongering song and dance routine before? 2003? Iran’s got WMD’s, Iran’s got ties to Al Qaeda… …smoking gun will be a mushroom cloud.

    Get a grip on reality peeps. Can’t you tell when an incompetent psychopath is manipulating you?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: These stories are all about — and sourced from — Israel. The connection you assert is not clear to me.

    Nor am I aware of any evidence that either Bush or Cheney is a psychopath. If you are a psychiatrist or psychologist, please enlighten us. Or link to reports by a psychiatrist or psychologist who has examined them (please, not to someone giving an unprofessional diagnosis by reading the NY Times).

  8. “Fabius Maximus replies: These stories are all about — and sourced from — Israel. The connection you assert is not clear to me.”

    The connection is irony. Smells like the same old neo con fearmongering BS from 2003.

    “Nor am I aware of any evidence that either Bush or Cheney is a psychopath. If you are a psychiatrist or psychologist, please enlighten us. Or link to reports by a psychiatrist or psychologist who has examined them (please, not to someone giving an unprofessional diagnosis by reading the NY Times).”

    Enjoy. Know you know why Boyd/Lind’s military reform movement was doomed to failure. Psychopath’s don’t care about efficiency. They only care about…

    Link to a site about Ponerology
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Agree, there are similarities. But then fearmongering is common throughout history. Sometimes excessive vs. the threat, sometimes insufficiently fearful, sometimes delusional. Perhaps more important is the nature of the fear: sincere or insincere. I suspect this case is excessive but not delusional, and sincere (many in Israel are really afraidd of a guy who wants to exterminate them getting nukes.

  9. I had written my note before reading the articles.

    the mere existence of an Iranian nuclear bomb, the government in Jerusalem believes, would trigger an exodus of the educated elite that could spell disaster for the country, both economically and culturally. “Iran would be in a position to destroy the Zionist dream without even pressing a button,” says Ephraim Sneh, a retired general and cabinet minister for many years.

    This is the point. If Iran gets a nuke, the moderate Israelis who don’t want to be afraid of a nuke strike, all the time, will be fleeing. Total evacuation? Perhaps not quite. But the USA, though afraid of a nuke strike, knew it could survive even if Russia attacked.

    (1) I do not believe that Israel will strike Iran (just a guess, of course).

    Do you believe that, after Iran gets a nuke, nobody will strike Israel within 5 years? While in some “law of large numbers” probability universe, I can imagine saying the probability of an anti-Israeli nuke strike is 20% (or 50% or 5%), my today’s guesstimate is about 20%.

    Israel can NOT survive two or more nukes. Even if they’re from Pakistan, another big fear but not yet as much as from Iran.

    How high does the ‘probability’ of getting murdered first have to be before Israel should defend itself with a pre-emptive strike?

    On the other hand, the Der Spiegel stuff doesn’t mention the current Israeli politics — PM Olmert is looking quite weak in Israel. So why will he be meeting Syria’s Assad in Paris next month?

    Perhaps Israel should be looking for more support among the Iranian Kurds–a small air strike against nuke sites in Iran, coupled with support for Iranian Kurds, could create big problems for the mullahs.

    Finally, the invasion force for Iran might now be in training by the US — the Iraqi Army. When Iraqi Sunni Arabs really want to stop Iranian Shia from getting a nuke, there will be Iraqi politicians calling for retaliation against Iranian sponsored killing in Iraq, possibly including Iraqi military force.

    All of these military options, “on the table”, are designed to be directly usable but to support successful diplomacy, instead. The purpose is to win without fighting because it is clear that victory is possible in a fight.

    The Israelis can’t allow Iran to have a nuke on the table for the same reason.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: “my today’s guesstimate is about 20%.”

    I admire your bookmaking skills, the ability to accurate make odds on geopolitical events with so many variables — about which we have only guesses. If you can do this, you must find it easy and profitable to forecast which group of a dozen guys will best move a ball across a small field.

    More seriously, what’s the point of this guess? This logic impels first strikes in every situation. Hawks would have cited similar numbers in 1958, advocating war with the USSR.

    What we do know is that a strike by Iran against Israel would be suicidal, and history shows few State leaders willing to destroy themselves in exchange for rewards in Heaven.

  10. “What we do know is that a strike by Iran against Israel would be suicidal, and history shows few State leaders willing to destroy themselves in exchange for rewards in Heaven.”

    And that for me is the “500 lb missed point in the room.” The assumptions regarding Iran’s intentions seems to be two fold:

    1) The current blustering idiot that holds the presidency is more than the blustering idiot that he presents as opposed to a convenient for the times mouth piece on the international stage and an exciter of Islamic conservatism at home.

    2) That the ruling mullahs undying vision of Israel boiling in nuclear fire somehow eclipses their own satisfaction and preservation of being…the mullahs that rule Iran. The nihilism, however assumed to be fervently driven by Shia piety and visions of a coming Imam, seems greatly overstated. If the Bearded Sages wanted an apocalypse they could easily bypass all that techno-difficulty in centrifuges and uranium enrichment and merely cross their western border and overtly and concertedly attack American forces.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Nicely said, esp #3. As Mel Brooks said, “it is good to be king.”

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