Yesterday, I wrote a blog post featuring Nahum Barnea’s front page Yediot Achronot story warning of an Israeli attack on Iran. In that post, I didn’t delve into the actual contents of the article, which I’ll do now quoting several passages I’ve translated. First, the title of the Barnea article means literally “atomic pressure,” but in colloquial usage it means “enormous stress,” which also is apt to describe the situation today relating to a possible Israeli attack.
While I pointed out yesterday that a number of Israeli commentators have warned about ominous developments pointing to an attack, Barnea, being the consummate media-political insider, adds crucial new detail. He notes that the Israeli public has been distracted by other stories like the upcoming J14 social justice rally, the aftermath of Gilad Shalit’s release and Ilan Grapel’s release from Egyptian custody yesterday. Because of this and due to the enormous complication of the issue, Israelis have devoted little consideration to an attack on Iran. It’s not an issue that’s been properly debated in the body politic.
He also reflects on a dual, conflicted approach within the Israeli policymaking apparatus toward the prospect of war. Many point to previous attacks on Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear reactors which accomplished their mission without casualties and without negative fallout in the international sphere. They say attacking Iran is likely to follow the same scenario. Those like Meir Dagan, who argue that Iran is a different matter entirely, find it hard to gain traction because Israel has never endured the type of counter-attack of which the former Mossad chief warns. Thus, it’s hard to get a nation to focus on an outcome it’s never experienced. Israelis always seem to be fighting the last war rather than anticipating what may be new in the next one. This militates against creating awareness of the dangers of an Iran assault.
Barnea notes that while the current Israeli military-intelligence leadership opposes war as the previous one (which included Dagan) did, the latter was an experienced, tested group which carried its opinions into the boardroom with confidence and energy. The new group is liable to be much more tentative, as it is untested. That would leave room for the veterans of such internal battles, Bibi and Barak, to dominate the proceedings and steer it toward their desired outcome.
The Yediot columnist explains some of the subtleties of how the political and military echelons operate in Israel:
In Israel, the division of labor on security matters is [ostensibly] clear: the political echelon decides, the operational level implements…But the process is more complex that what we are taught in civics lessons: the professional level is an equal partner in the discussions. It expresses its view not only on subjects that are within its realm of responsibility, but in every relevant subject that comes up. The lines of separation are blurred.
In actual practice, the prime minister cannot make a decision that entails risks if the defense minister, the chief of staff, the Mossad director and the GSS director, all of them or most of them, are opposed. Even if he enjoys the support of the majority of the security cabinet members, he would not dare. He will take into account that if the action fails, he is liable to arrive at the commission of inquiry naked and exposed, without documents that prove that he had the support of the professional level.
There is therefore great importance to the question of how the professional level expresses its view. Does it pound on the table, as Meir Dagan would do, or does it delicately and calmly express reservation? Is it an active player in the decision-making process or is it a minor player doing the bidding of its superiors?
Barnea appraises the role of Bibi and Barak as political partners who reinforce each other’s judgments, for good or ill, through their symbiotic relationship:
Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are the two Siamese twins of the Iranian issue. A rare phenomenon is taking place here in terms of Israeli politics: a prime minister and defense minister who act as one body, with one goal, with mutual backing and repeated heaping of praise on each other…They’re characterized as urging action. Netanyahu portrayed the equation at the beginning of his term as: Ahmadinejad is Hitler; if he is not stopped in time, there will be a Holocaust. There are some who describe Netanyahu’s fervor on this subject as an obsession: all his life he’s dreamed of being Churchill. Iran gives him with the chance. The popularity that he gained as a result of the Shalit deal hasn’t calmed him: just the opposite, it gave him a sense of power.
Barak does not use the same superlatives, but is urging military action: he is certain that just as Israel prevented nuclear projects in the past, it must prevent this one as well. This is both his strategy and legacy…There are those who suspect Barak of having personal motives: he has no party; he has no voters. A strike on Iran would be the big bang that would make it possible for Netanyahu to bring him into the top ten of the Likud in the next elections. This way he could continue to be defense minister.
It’s a helluva reason to start a war, but I suppose wars have been started in the past for more selfish reasons, though it’s hard to think of many. And Barak is nothing if not self-important and self-aggrandizing. Most politicians, when they think of legacies think of treaties signed, edifices erected, laws passed. In the ancient past this may’ve been more common, but today in few countries do leaders think of a good war as their personal political legacy. It’s an indication of the pathology and impoverishment of latter-day Israel that Bibi and Barak would think in such terms.
How many contemporary leaders can you think of who single out Winston Churchill for admiration? And what does this say about Bibi that he worships Churchill? Is this truly, in anyone’s mind but Bibi and his far right followers, an era of existential doom and gloom like what the British leader faced on the verge of WWII? Further, if Bibi’s political instincts and historical outlook end up dragging Israel into war, don’t forget that it isn’t just Israel and Iran. It’s the entire region plus all the various allies and proxies involved (including the U.S. as Israel’s protector) who will go along for the ride. Is the world prepared to join Bibi in his crusade to liberate the Middle East from Iranian tyranny?
In a key related development, one of Ehud Barak’s most trusted advisors, a man with deep background in military intelligence, Amos Gilad, was asked to address the major points of Barnea’s article. He said that Israel faced many security threats that must be prioritized in importance. But any such evaluation would place the Iranian threat at the top of the list. If you know the minds of Israel security experts and generals, they’re not given to merely containing threats as we in the U.S. are. If you are Israel’s “top threat” it’s going to take you out. No if’s and’s or but’s.
This is from Ynetnews’ report:
According to Gilad, Netanyahu “was the first who heard of Iran’s forecasted move on the nuclear missile path and he sees it as a massive threat. The defense minister understands the depth of the threat as well.”
This entirely inaccurate portrait of the Iranian view of Israel also carries tremendous weight in making a decision to mount a military strike:
Israel, he explained, has no place under the sun in the Iranian perspective. “[Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah] Khamenei says that Israel has no place. Iran believes that it needs to be an empire equal in strength to the United States. That is the motivation driving the development of Iran’s missile capabilities.”
The false notion that Iran wants to be equal in power to the U.S. is, of course, meant to alarm Barack Obama and make him more sympathetic to an Israel attack.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.