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.