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Over 40 years, Israel has consistently misunderstood Iran, its interests, and its leaders . Now former senior IDF intelligence officer, Maj. Danny Citrinowicz, has come forward to warn the emperor has no clothes, and that Israeli policy has been misguided. dangerous and ineffectual. His critique is scathing and convincing.
Citrinowicz characterized Jerusalem’s policy on Iran as a “failure,” and lamented his government’s decision to ignore the shift taking place in the Islamic Republic that he…identified [in 2013]. By encouraging the Trump administration to withdraw from the deal and to impose “maximum pressure” sanctions against Tehran, Israel helped dramatically weaken a more moderate force and blunt the impact of that shift…
Now, Citrinowicz…Israel and Iran are on a “collision course,” with Tehran as emboldened and aggressive as ever. Unlike Rouhani, Iran’s newly elected president Ebrahim Raisi does not prioritize a return to the nuclear deal and believes Tehran can withstand US sanctions thanks to growing alliances with Russia and China…
“Iran will only change its strategy if it feels like the regime is in real jeopardy,” Citrinowicz said. “And they believe that the only country capable of really threatening them is the US, not Israel. The only thing threats from Israel will do is push us toward some sort of confrontation.
He was dismissive of previous attacks attributed to Israel on Iran’s nuclear program, arguing that they at best delayed Tehran’s efforts and at worst led the regime to double down in its effort, craftily evading inspections in the process.
The former head of research at the Military Intelligence Directorate also warned that a more significant strike from either Israel or the US would lead to a regional war, which would include retaliation on Israel’s northern border from Hezbollah.
Citrinowicz also derided the “maximum pressure” sanctions regime imposed by the US and its allies:
…It was a catastrophe. It was very naïve to think that they could force the regime to choose between its survival and its nuclear program. Because backing down from its nuclear ambitions means losing its independence, in a way.
…During Trump they [sanctions] were a hopeless cause. Because (a) you didn’t have Russian support, (b) you didn’t have Chinese support, and (c) the Iranians already knew how to cope with the maximum pressure campaign. They already established a well-oiled system to bypass the sanctions…As a result, the maximum pressure campaign has made no difference.
The former intelligence analyst is downbeat regarding Israel’s ability to influence matters, including the current negotiations, due to its unrealistic expectations:
Israel’s ability to influence the negotiation is slim to none. Israel is still thinking in terms of zero enrichment…That’s like talking about achieving a COVID infection rate of zero. It’s no longer relevant, but Israel still is adopting this position.
Israel is caught in a policy toward Iran in which no one has the political maneuverability to think differently, and I don’t see anyone changing this because then they don’t want to be considered a “lefty.”
…The bottom line is that Israel has never been in a worse place against Iran.
To add insult to injury, even Israeli threats to attack Iran as a last resort seem empty:
…Israel’s threatening to use force. But I think it’s irrelevant. Because bombing Iran now [wouldn’t prevent it from reaching a bomb]. As for sanctions, you need the international community [which Israel doesn’t have]. Israel can [take certain actions], but I doubt that it will have an effect. In the past when the Mossad targeted the nuclear facility in Natanz, it played into Iran’s hands because Iran then challenged and limited inspections there.
Citronowicz also warns against Israeli delusions that it can not only attack Iran without outside support, but that it can also defend itself from the subsequent counterattack without outside (US) assistance:
[Take the slogan] “Israel can protect itself by itself.” Yes, theoretically, it’s true. But let’s assume that we attack Iran. We’ll subsequently find ourselves in a war on our northern border. Do you think that we can wage this war alone without help from the Americans? I doubt it.
So yes, we can say for political reasons that “we’ll defend ourselves by ourselves,” but practically it’s not accurate. It’s not like we can do whatever we want. To say, ‘We’ll always reserve the right to act independently’ — yeah, I agree with that too, but do you think we could act independently without our biggest ally? It doesn’t work like that. It’s too complex.
Here he derides Israel’s ignorance of Iranian leaders and the country’s interests, as they define them:
I think they don’t understand this [Iran]. They don’t understand the nuances. Iran is not a monolith. [Parliament Speaker Ali] Larijani is not like Raisi. And I’m sorry, but they don’t wake up in the morning and think about how to destroy Israel. It doesn’t work like that in Iran. But we’re imprisoned [by the politics of this all], and everything gets mixed up.
In Israel, when the Iranian president is moderate, they tell you that he’s weak and a puppet. When the president is an extremist, they say that he decides everything and eats cake after ordering people to their deaths. It’s a basic misunderstanding of the Iranian system.
Because at the end of the day it’s not just about pushing them back, further from a bomb, but also strengthening those in the regime who believed in the agreement. Now, we’ve found ourselves in a catastrophe, which could lead to war.
…One of the main problems in our research of Iran is that we do not understand Iran. What’s worse, we make incorrect working assumptions about Iranian goals and strategy based on very shaky knowledge…
Zvi Barel, writing in Haaretz, reinforces Citrinowicz’ characterization of the abject failure of both Israeli policy and the sanctions regime. In particular, Barel offers a telling comparison between the strangulation (“maximum pressure”) imposed by sanctions on the Iranian people, and Israel’s siege of Gaza:
Israel should have internalized this lesson [the failure of Iran sanctions] a long time ago, since for 14 years it has been conducting a hopeless miniature version of applying “maximum pressure” in the Gaza Strip. The rationale for imposing a suffocating blockade on Gaza has changed over the years, but in principle, the blockade was meant to prevent Hamas from threatening Israel militarily, to stop its armament and even to generate a revolution in which an impoverished, frustrated and desperate public toppled it.
In contrast to the conflict with Iran, Israel has on endless occasions brutally exercised its “military option.” And the result? Israel, with its Arab partners, is trying to reach a long-term agreement with Hamas, which will include the lifting of sanctions, providing assistance in economic rehabilitation and the building of an infrastructure that would motivate Hamas to hold its fire.
Such an agreement, Israel understands, will not grant it recognition by Hamas nor change its ideology nor lead to its disarmament.
In other words, Israel’s decade-plus siege against Gaza has produced nothing for Israel. Clearly, the only fully successful negotiation with Hamas will offer the latter far more than it offers Israel. Which indicates the utter failure of the policy from its inception.
Iran, on the other hand, if Israel accepted the JCPOA, would offer it far more than the current punitive sanctions regime does. Israel would stave off for years, if not longer, an Iranian nuclear weapon. It could conceivably in the future also negotiate for restraint in Iran’s pursuit of its interests outside its own borders (Yemen, Syria, the Gulf, etc). Continuing the current economic strangulation of Iran will likely lead to rapid nuclearization. The choice seems clear.
The Iranian Bomb that Never Was
Israel has been warning since 1984 that Iran was on the cusp of nuclear capability–and proven wrong every time. The result of all this faulty analysis is mutual hostility and misunderstanding. Israeli leaders believe Iran is lying when it claims it will not build a bomb. Further it believes Iran is hellbent for the Bomb and needs to be stopped by force. Iran believes its enemies will never negotiate in good faith or fully implement any agreement they sign, so it does go hellbent to achieve nuclear threshold status.
Further, Bibi Netanyahu’s successful lobbying campaign leading to Trump abandoning the JCPOA agreement, goaded Iran into speeding up its nuclear enrichment program, and away from compromise and restraint.
The constant lies, the constant distortions, the constant overblown headlines are a self-fulfilling prophecy. Enmity between nations is as much what we project onto the enemy as what that enemy really is or does. In this case, 40 years of wishful thinking has transformed Iran into the enemy Israel made it out to be. But not necessarily what it really is. Therein lies the tragedy.
Though the renewed nuclear talks commenced this week, there is so much bad blood that they appear doomed to failure. The US and Israel are running out of policy options. It becomes more likely Israel or the US might resort precipitously to Plan B, the military option, which would mean regional disruption and catastrophe.