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Former NSC and CIA Analyst, Saban Center Fellow Warns of Folly of Israel Attacking Iran, Urges Accepting Iranian Bomb

iran in cross hairs

Iran in Israel's crosshairs

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and current fellow at the Saban Center, a strongly pro-Israel DC think-tank, has published a detailed analysis of the folly that would be an Israeli attack on Iran:

Perhaps never before has the government in Jerusalem felt under greater threat than with the Iranian atomic program. The temptation is to attack. It is an exercise in futility with likely disastrous results.

Riedel also branches out into Israeli nuclear policy and notes that it is becoming increasingly impossible for Israel to sustain the historic policy of opacity and refusal to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty:

…The Arabs, led by Egypt, are demanding that Israel do so or they will sabotage the future of the NPT regime. They rightly argue that Washington has a double standard when it comes to Israel’s bomb: the NPT applies to all but Israel. Indeed, every Israeli prime minister since David Ben-Gurion has deliberately taken an evasive posture on the issue because they do not want to admit what everyone knows. Now that era may be coming to an end, raising fundamental questions about Israel’s strategic situation in the region.

The wonder is that a figure at a think tank named for, and heavily funded by Israeli media entrepreneur, Haim Saban, one of Aipac’s most powerful donors, has published such a sobering and realistic portrait of the pitfalls facing Israel as it walks the minefield that is its approach to the alleged Iranian nuclear threat.

I would quarrel with Riedel’s approving quotation of this passage from a U.S. report on Israel’s nuclear program:

IN A secret special national intelligence estimate (SNIE) in 1960, the American intelligence community concluded that “possession of a nuclear weapon capability . . . would clearly give Israel a greater sense of security, self-confidence, and assertiveness.”

What this analysis omits is the increasing Arab sense of insecurity, alarm and downright desperation concerning Israel’s nuclear capacity.  With each new Israeli attack, each new war, each new overseas assassination, the fear factor among the frontline states rises exponentially.  One can also argue whether Israel’s nuclear capability has had as felicitous an effect as claimed on Israeli policies in the region.  Might not its nuclear arsenal have increased its willingness to engage in military adventurism?  What is the Israeli policy of “the landlord’s gone crazy” but an expression of Israel’s willingness to go for broke–to Samson-like threaten to tear down the walls of the temple, that is, the entire region.  After all, one man’s self-confidence is another’s megalomania.

Riedel’s warning below follows similarly sobering warnings by military analyst, Anthony Cordesmann.  But it bears repeating.  Here is the money quote that should be noted for its clarity and realism:

AN ISRAELI attack on Iran is a disaster in the making. And it will directly impact key strategic American interests. Iran will see an attack as American supported if not American orchestrated. The aircraft in any strike will be American-produced, -supplied and -funded F-15s and F-16s, and most of the ordnance will be from American stocks.

Iran will almost certainly retaliate against both U.S. and Israeli targets. To demonstrate its retaliatory prowess, Iran has already fired salvos of test missiles (some of which are capable of striking Israel), and Iranian leaders have warned they would respond to an attack by either Israel or the United States with attacks against Tel Aviv, U.S. ships and facilities in the Persian Gulf, and other targets. Even if Iran chooses to retaliate in less risky ways, it could respond indirectly by encouraging Hezbollah attacks against Israel and Shia militia attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, as well as terrorist attacks against American and Israeli targets in the Middle East and beyond.

America’s greatest vulnerability would be in Afghanistan. Iran could easily increase its assistance to the Taliban and make the already-difficult Afghan mission much more complicated. Western Afghanistan is especially vulnerable to Iranian mischief, and NATO has few troops there to cover a vast area. President Obama would have to send more, not fewer, troops to fight that war.

Making matters worse, considering the likely violent ramifications, even a successful Israeli raid would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, not eliminate it entirely. In fact, some Israeli intelligence officials suspect that delay would only be a year or so. Thus the United States would still need a strategy to deal with the basic problem of Iran’s capabilities after an attack, but in a much more complicated diplomatic context since Tehran would be able to argue it was the victim of aggression and probably would renounce its NPT commitments. Support for the existing sanctions on Iran after a strike would likely evaporate.

And to put things even more baldly:

The United States needs to send a clear red light to Israel. There is no option but to actively discourage an Israeli attack…America does have influence and it should be wielded.

Perhaps the most radical statement in Riedel’s article is this (and I never would’ve expected to read this from anyone affiliated with the Saban Center):

PERSUADING ISRAEL not to attack Iran really means convincing Israel that now is the time to give up its regional nuclear monopoly.

In other words, Riedel is arguing that persuading Israel to give up on its attack means tacitly accepting an Iranian nuclear weapon AND giving up on decades of firm Israeli policy upholding its monopoly by military attack if necessary.  That would truly be a revolutionary about-face in Israeli strategic thinking.  If he or Obama or anyone else could persuade Israel to adopt this approach–more power to him.  But given the absolute hysteria emanating from Israeli leadership circles on this subject, I don’t see how such it can work.

Riedel’s piece argues convincingly that while Iran is a troublesome nation, that all of its strategic calculations and actions are based on carefully calibrated and pragmatic (not revolutionary or bellicose) considerations.  Here’s another money quote:

Contrary to Netanyahu’s cries, Iran is not a crazy state. A nuclear security guarantee to Israel, if backed by a credible arsenal, will deter Tehran.

Once again, it’s almost breathtaking to see this coming out of the Saban Center.  One wonders whether there may be a policy division among some in the Israel lobby developing about the wisdom of such an attack.

One thing’s for certain, either Riedel or Saban will shortly be facing stern lectures from the Israeli embassy and other lobby elites for having left the “pro-Israel” reservation.

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  • Gene Schulman August 26, 2010, 12:08 AM

    Richard, I’m not sure this article by Reidel is not just a red herring to comfort people. There have been many similar articles published in the past months (albeit not from pro-Israel sources) stating essentially the same thing: the “folly” of bombing Iran. Yet the Lobby, in the form of propagandists like Jeffrey Goldberg, John Bolton, et al., continue to beat the drums. The Zionists accuse the Iranians of being crazies, but I have never come across a regime that seems more irrational than the present Israeli one. There is no reason to trust anything it says, and I am very fearful that it, with or without the aid of the U.S., will act.

  • duck August 26, 2010, 3:25 AM

    We can condemn israel’s paranoia all we want, but something is very wrong if the world is powerless to stop iran from getting nukes. A nuclear ayyatolah regime is gonna last a very long time, and it’s going to get away with any crime it wants. the ppl who will suffer for it are the iranians, who could find themselves getting a lot less international support in their fight for freedom, and ofc the arabs, pashtuns etc of the ME who will be under ayyatolah regional hegemony. Israel will also suffer – while a nuclear attack by iran is unlikly, ppl like bibi and barak will have a permmanent fear of apocalypse to throw at the voters, and tere goes democracy.

    • duck August 26, 2010, 3:39 AM

      Ofc the real crime is that no one stopped the ayyatolahs back in the 80′, but who cares about the rights of ppl who’s gov’t doesn’t threaten US interests…

      • Andy August 26, 2010, 7:13 PM

        Your history is off, duck. The real crime occurred earlier in 1953, when Mosaddegh was overthrown and replaced by the Shah.

        • duck August 27, 2010, 5:23 AM

          That’s a whole other crime. Most liberals agree that the west shouldn’t meddle in other countries for it’s own benefit. Many liberals, however, don’t agree that the west should meddle in other countries for the benefit of their ppl, and that was the point I was trying to make.

          • fiddler August 27, 2010, 9:56 AM

            Actually, where many liberals (as meaningless as that term has become) disagree is that the effect of western meddling in other countries’ affairs is very often to their people’s benefit. And when the claim that such meddling is done with the people’s best interest in mind is made so frequently in a patronising, hypocritical, or downright cynical way, who can tell anymore when it isn’t?

          • duck August 28, 2010, 2:59 AM

            Western meddling is almost universally in the favor of western hegemony. The vast majority of true and honest intervention for the rights of disenfranchised ppls is done by NGOs.

            It’s rarely hard to tell the difference – dick cheney bad, amnesty int. good. Belgium funding civil rights groups here in israel is also good.

            One can only hope that one day the world will care enough to meddle on the side of rights even when it’s a country without any oil or without a west-unfriendly dictator or in a time when starting a war wouldn’t help the polls.

  • Bob August 26, 2010, 9:52 AM

    That’s a schizophrenic argument. “It’s ok to let Iran have nukes because they aren’t crazy” and “if we don’t let them have nukes, they are crazy enough to launch a conventional attack on the United States in revenge for Israel attacking them”.

    Sorry, but if you are nuts enough to attack the strongest military power on the planet because one of their allies attacks you, you are too crazy to be allowed nukes.

    Cowardice and shortsightedness will probably give the Iranians nukes. Countries being preoccupied with other things have let tyrants gain military strength in violation of treaties before. “We don’t want a war with Germany, so we will let them re-arm in violation of the treaties that ended WWI” -European powers before WWII. That doesn’t end well. You end up fighting the war anyway, but against a better armed enemy.

    Iran may not be crazy enough to launch a first strike, but they will certainly increase their terrorist activities once they have nuclear weapons. After all, no one could retaliate against them for it because of the nukes. If Afghanistan had nukes, would we have been able to go after them for the 9/11 attacks? Nope.

    • Gene Schulman August 26, 2010, 10:46 AM

      Iran’s terrorist activities? Where Bob, where?

      Afghanistan? 9/11 attacks?

  • DICKERSON3870 August 26, 2010, 5:39 PM

    RE: IN A secret special national intelligence estimate (SNIE) in 1960, the American intelligence community concluded that “possession of a nuclear weapon capability . . . would clearly give Israel a greater sense of security, self-confidence, and assertiveness.” – R.S.

    FROM GRANT SMITH, 05/10/10:

    …In 1968 as Israel noticeably ramped up activities at the Dimona nuclear weapons facility, Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford placed a final urgent call to Johnson, “Mr. President, I don’t want to live in a world where the Israelis have nuclear weapons.” President Johnson was abrupt before he hung up on Clifford, “Don’t bother me with this anymore.”…

    SOURCE – http://original.antiwar.com/smith-grant/2010/05/09/declassified-gao-report/