Aluf Benn writes illuminatingly about Olmert’s political calculations in raising the drumbeat of war over Iran. And it has little to do with any imminent danger from Iran’s nukes. Rather, as with everything Olmert does, it is based on cold, hard political calculation:
“A weak prime minister who is dropping in the opinion polls suddenly found himself faced with Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Effi Eitam, who are politicizing the issue, and with a public that does not have faith in the prime minister due to his lack of security experience,” senior officials in Jerusalem explained.
“Olmert is under attack for not being able to deal with the Qassam rockets, so he is under pressure and is moving away from the low-profile approach [toward Iran],” they added.
These officials also said that the Iranian issue had been taken out of their hands and had been placed on podiums and television shows.
Of course, one of the reasons for this is the bellicosity and alarmism of Olmert’s own statements going back many months now. Benn continues by chronicling the inexorable rush to war almost being forced on Olmert due to his, and his political rivals’ rhetoric:
Therein lies Olmert’s problem: After he made his bold statements, Netanyahu’s warnings that Israel is faced with a situation similar to that faced by European Jewry when threatened by Hitler in 1938, and Shimon Peres’ description of Ahmadinejad as “a Farsi-speaking Hitler,” the moment of truth for Israel’s political leadership is nearing.
The public will justifiably want to know what has been done to prevent the threat to its existence posed by Iran
But there seem to clear limits on what even the IDF can do to obliterate the Iranian threat:
…Experts on strategy have voiced doubts regarding Israel’s ability to carry out an effective aerial attack on Iran’s nuclear installations, similar to the raid that destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. The experts say there are three prerequisites for such an operation:
* Accurate and updated intelligence on the locations of the targets, some of which are hidden underground and are well defended
* The right kinds of munitions capable of destroying their targets with a high chance of success
* Diplomatic coordination with the Americans. The U.S. forces in the region could become targets of Iranian retaliation, just like Israel, and therefore there is no way that an independent Israeli action can take place without authorization from Bush. Did Olmert get such a go-ahead and is this why he was pleased with his visit to the White House?
The first and second points above seem to be terribly weak links. IDF intelligence against Hezbollah was woefully lacking. Why do we believe that intelligence against an even more hardened and concealed target would be any better? Regarding munitions, remember those 25 ton bunker busters which supposedly obliterated the Hezbollah offices in Beirut and killed Nasrallah? Apparently, the only thing they killed were a few rats crawling through the underground water lines. So how does Israel presume that it will do much better this time around?
All this is by way of saying that Jim Baker’s approach to reach out to the Iranians with talks rather than a hatchet is the only viable approach. Not just an approach aimed at eliminating the nuclear proliferation threat, but a comprehensive engagement that aims to eliminate or diminish all or most of the outstanding issues standing in the way of normal relations between the U.S. and Iran. It may work; it may not. But could it be worse than bombing Iran and the aftermath?
Benn closes with this ominous passage:
The challenge Olmert has set for himself is not a simple one. But the more his warnings intensify, the more difficult he will find it to back down and convince the public that we can live with an Iranian bomb. Therefore, we can assume that the confrontation is moving closer.
For months I have been on the fence about how likely such a ghastly scenario was. But now I’m moving gradually and inexorably toward a sense that it will happen. May Olmert and Bush prove me wrong.