There are a considerable number of Middle East analysts and bloggers who dismiss the idea that Israel will attack Iran. My good friend Max Blumenthal doesn’t believe it for a minute. He says there’d be too much “blowback.” Others point out that operationally Israel doesn’t have the means to carry out such a complex military operation without direct U.S. assistance, if not participation. At this point in the argument, many say the U.S. simply won’t play.
I’m not a military analyst so I can’t say that Israel can go it basically alone and attack Iran using the resources it has on hand from its own military stockpile (which include much U.S.-supplied weaponry like bunker buster bombs). But while I believe that Israel’s military is nowhere near as sturdy and quasi-invincible as it once was (long ago), the IDF has shown itself in the past to be quite good at improvisation and taking audacious risks. That’s why I believe that if Israel truly wanted to attack it would figure out ways of doing so.
These naysayers generally argue that the real purpose of the current round of saber-rattling is a sort of psychological warfare against Iran. The hope is that by turning the screws with ever more draconian sanctions and threats of war, that Iran will at some point come to its senses and agree that discretion is the better part of valor. At that point, a chastened Iran will return to the realm of the reasonable and become an obedient servant of U.S. and Israeli interests in the region (or something close to that).
There’s only one problem with this–and it’s a big one. I think Iran is a hardened target not just physically but psychically. The Iranians lost hundreds of thousands in the Iran-Iraq War which they fought for eight years. Persia in general is a place that has known wars for millennia. Does anyone think that Israel, even with its nuclear weapons, can spook them? I just don’t see it. The only way I can see Iran changing course in the context of military action is if Israel can strike a blow and bring the regime to its knees. But barring dropping a nuclear weapons on Teheran, it can’t do that. Not even if it wanted to.
Likewise, some argue that the Israeli drumbeat of war is meant to persuade the Russians and Chinese, who have resisted the newest round of sanctions, that if they continue doing so the only alternative is war. Some see Israel in this scenario as Uri Avnery does, as the U.S. Rottweiler, whom we unleash in order to scare recalcitrant Security Council members into voting our way.
There is only one problem with this overall concept. And it’s a big one. No one believes or cares. If the U.S. and Israel want to turn this into a Las Vegas poker hand bluff, I think the Russian and Chinese are willing to wait them out to see what kind of cards they’re holding. If you think about it, why would they care that Israel would bomb Iran? They realize, just as much of the world realized in 2003, that once the U.S. invaded Iraq, it would only be a matter of time before the decision came back to haunt us–and it did. Similarly, the Recalcitrant Ones would like nothing better than to watch Israel sink into a Persian miasma, while taking us along with them. It would leave them sitting pretty to pick up the pieces after we messed up things royally.
Yes, it’s true that China might be concerned that its energy supplies could be cut off in the event of an Iranian shut-down of the Straits of Hormuz. But the question is whether the Chinese might be willing to withstand such a short-term hit in order to allow the U.S. and Israel to so embarrass themselves that China will come out of it in an event stronger position regionally and internationally. The general rule is if your competitor wants to bet the store and make a fool of himself in the process, you clear out of the way and give him plenty of room.
This means that one of two things can happen: either Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are bluffing and don’t really intend to go to war. If that’s true, I’m afraid they are fools and will find this strategy an abject failure. Or the doomsayers are right and the Dynamic Duo do intend to strike Iran. I’d say I’m a doomsayer who wants to be proven wrong, but is increasingly doubtful I will be.
On a slightly different subject: I adapted this from an Israeli tweet that noted the dichotomy between the J14 social justice movement and an Iran attack. My take:
Bibi to J14: if you don’t have bread, go eat Jericho IIIs.