IDF Chief of Staff Affirms Israeli Responsibility for Iran Covert War, Assassinations
Fox News reports that IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz testified in closed session to the Israeli Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee that Israel was engaged in sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program through a series of “unnatural” acts:
“2012 is expected to be a critical year for Iran.” He cited “the confluence of efforts to advance the nuclear program, internal leadership changes, continued international pressure and things that happen to it unnaturally.”
Yisrael HaYom’s coverage further reinforces the notion that he was referring directly to the “mysterious explosions” that have rocked Iran of late. As the FoxNews article notes, it’s no accident that the hearing occurred less than 24 hours before the latest assassination. In addition, an IDF spokesperson posted to his Facebook account the following:
Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said: “I don’t know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I certainly am not shedding a tear.”
It should be recalled that defense minister Ehud Barak chortled to the media after the last missile base explosion: “May there be many more.” These are the “giddy” effusions of a teenage boy breaking open his first chemistry set with which he hopes to create very loud booms. It’s not the response of a mature, sober-minded country. It’s the response of a country which thinks that doing something, anything is better than sitting back and waiting for a regional competitor to become strong enough to challenge it for dominance.
Israel’s go-to man in DC, Dennis Ross (who has just rejoined his old pals at the Aipac-affiliated WINEP think tank), broke out his swagger-stick in an interview with Bloomberg, the main purpose of which seemed to be to remind the Iranians that there are teeth in the American tiger. However, I don’t think anyone finds Ross’ imprecations persuasive:
“There are consequences if you act militarily, and there’s big consequences if you don’t act,” said Ross, who…laid out a detailed argument against those who say Obama would sooner “contain” a nuclear-armed Iran than strike militarily.
The administration considers the risks of permitting a nuclear-armed Iran to be greater than the risks of military action, said Ross…
If Ross truly believes this he’s an utter fool. It even flies in the face of everything Meir Dagan has been saying, which is that Israel can learn to live with a nuclear Iran, but it can’t live with the hell hole the region would become if his country launched a full-scale military assault against Iran. Don’t know about you but if I had a choice between the strategic vision and intelligence background of Dagan or that of Ross, I know who I’d choose.
Ross uses the Bloomberg bully pulpit to shoot down the more pragmatic approach currently offered to deal with the perceived Iranian threat, which is containment along the lines of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War:
While some Iran analysts have suggested an alternative to military strikes would be to “contain” a nuclear Iran, much as the U.S. managed to live with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, Ross said the analogy doesn’t translate to the situation in the Mideast. Nations in the region, he said, lack equivalent Cold War-era “ground-rules,” lines of communication and a protected second-strike nuclear capability, which deterred a surprise attack during U.S.-Soviet tensions.
Ross’ analysis is completely ahistorical, as during the Cuban missile crisis the Russians and Americans faced the same gap in communications and the same tactical blindness by which they had no idea what the other side was thinking and might do. The fact that we both came out of that incident without a nuclear exchange is a miracle as conceded by those who were there at the time. Further, some might argue that the only reason we don’t have the same strategic deterrence (MAD) that we had during the Cold War is that Israel is the only country in the region with nuclear weapons. If Iran had them too, it would create precisely the sort of calibrated and careful deliberations that both powers had to observe during the Cold War. As to second strike: if Ross believes that Israel hasn’t developed a second strike capability he’s out of his mind. Any sensible military power in today’s world would already have such a plan and contingencies worked out. Though it has a less potent military force than Israel, Iran would have such a plan as well.
I do so love to hear the pro-Israel think-tankers presume that the only threat of a nuclear exchange in the Middle East would occur if Iran got the bomb:
A nuclear-armed Iran would…increase the chances of a nuclear strike resulting from miscalculation, he said
It never occurred to them that Israel might be the one to miscalculate and launch its nukes first and ask questions later. If you look at the military history of the Middle East over the past 50 years or so, it is Israel who has gotten itself into extended military adventurism and vastly disproportionate use of force against its neighbors. Use of a nuclear weapon, while certainly on the extreme end of the spectrum is not beyond the realm of possibility considering that Israel has seriously considered using them before.
I also find the notion that we should go to war now because there’s a virtual certainty of a nuclear exchange in the future if we don’t, to be the logic of madness:
“You don’t have any communication between the Israelis and the Iranians. You have all sorts of local triggers for conflict. Having countries act on a hair-trigger — where they can’t afford to be second to strike — the potential for a miscalculation or a nuclear war through inadvertence is simply too high,” he said.
Oh and another reason we’ve got to bomb Iran is that we’d “lose all credibility” after swearing Iran would never be allowed to get a bomb, if we allowed it to do precisely that. This seems to be a page torn from the Testosterone foreign policy playbook. Has it never occurred to any of these idiots that the world might actually go on if Iran got the bomb? Even if no one wants that to happen and does everything they can to prevent it, the day after Iran gets it the sun will rise and the world will figure out a way to accommodate the new reality without bringing us to the brink of nuclear oblivion.
I detest fabulists and Apocalyse-seekers like Ross who project a mushroom cloud-future instead of looking at the current situation with clear-eyed realism.
Another element of Ross’ thinking that involves hypocrisy is the fact that our threats of attack are dead-serious, while Iran’s threats of counter-attack are mere “bluster” which no one in his right mind should take seriously:
He dismissed threats by certain Iranian officials to retaliate against oil sanctions by closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world’s oil transits, as “bluster” aimed to send a message at home and abroad, as Iranian leaders vie for power in a struggle that Ross said is as intense as any since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
There seems to be a strange dualistic-Iran that the hawks project: one near omnipotent Iran which has the capacity to send the Middle East up in flames if we allow it to get a bomb; and another that is a toothless paper tiger which couldn’t harm anyone even if it tried (remember Barak’s claim that not even 500 Israelis would die if Israel attacked?). What is missing is a realistic evaluation of Iran’s strategic thinking and capabilities. If I could drill a single idea into Ross’ thick pro-Israel skull it would be the words of Meir Dagan, who has warned that a Middle East following an attack on Iran would be one which Israelis would find terribly inhospitable, much more so than even today. It would be a world that Israelis would not recognize, nor wish to live in.
A further example of the wrong-headed thinking involved in the Israeli approach can be seen in Ronen Bergman’s remarks in the Fox News article:
“The outcome of such assassinations are [sic] the actual neutralization of the main scientists and the intimidation of those left behind.”
No doubt this is the hope of the Mossad regarding this covert war. But the difference between a hope and a fact is something neither Bergman or the Mossad has grasped here. I seriously doubt that Israel has murdered (notice use of the emotionally flat term “neutralization”) the “main scientists.” It has murdered the ones it could find, the ones who were most public or vulnerable. You can be sure that the key scientists are far more protected. As for intimidating anyone, does Bergman think that Israeli nuclear scientists would be “intimidated” by such a campaign against them? Not likely. They would consider it their national duty to pursue such research and risk death if it came, in order to do what is necessary to “protect” (in their view) their country, including creating a nuclear weapon if that was national policy.
Gantz, in his testimony to the Knesset, made some questionable claims. One of them, that Russia is joining other powers in expressing “regret and fear” about the secret Iranian enrichment program in Qom. The Russian statement does not appear to me to have any teeth to it. It’s a pro forma expression of concern of the same type the U.S. makes when Israel builds a new settlement. Such comments by a nation-state are a dime a dozen. And Israel would be sadly mistaken to presume Russia is now joining the U.S. is supporting sanctions or military action against Iran.
Wrong-headedness from Aipac-World is evident in this nonsense from WINEP’s Patrick Clawson, who actually sees Israel’s covert war as one that won’t arouse sympathy among Iranians for the regime:
“Sabotage and assassination is the way to go, if you can do it,” he said. “It doesn’t provoke a nationalist reaction in Iran, which could strengthen the regime. And it allows Iran to climb down if it decides the cost of pursuing a nuclear weapon is too high.”
If Iran were assassinating Israeli scientists or the Soviet Union assassinated Edward Teller or J. Robert Oppenheimer does anyone in their right mind believe it wouldn’t arouse a fierce backlash against the perpetrators? How can “analysts” like Clawson presume that Iranians will react differently than any other human being?
Scott Shane also quotes this particularly noxious Israeli intelligence-hawk wisdom:
A former senior Israeli security official, who would speak of the covert campaign only in general terms and on the condition of anonymity, said the uncertainty about who was responsible was useful. “It’s not enough to guess,” he said. “You can’t prove it, so you can’t retaliate. When it’s very, very clear who’s behind an attack, the world behaves differently.”
The former Israeli official noted that Iran carried out many assassinations of enemies, mostly Iranian opposition figures, during the 1980s and 1990s, and had been recently accused of plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington.
“In Arabic, there’s a proverb: If you are shooting, don’t complain about being shot,” he said.
Iran hasn’t used assassination as state policy in over twenty years and it only used this tactic against its own citizens. Israel has used assassination as state policy through its entire existence and has killed both its own citizens and foreign nationals. Indeed the entire history of the Zionist movement going back to the late 19th century has seen repeated incidents of assassination used as a sort of enforcer-policy to compel discipline and uproot those views seen as dangerous or deviant. Iran is not “shooting.” But Israel is indeed shooting, but expects to suffer no political fallout for the damage its weapons, both real and metaphorical, inflict.
Here’s more “wisdom” from Shane’s source:
“I think the cocktail of diplomacy, of sanctions, of covert activity might bring us something,” the former official said. “I think it’s the right policy while we still have time.”
“Might bring us something.” Imagine a nation which tramples on the sovereignty of another, kills its scientists, bombs its scientific facilities, brings down its planes from the skies, all in pursuit of a policy which just might bring some benefit. Can you hold the policymakers of such a nation in anything but contempt?
Surprisingly, even the U.S. appears to be growing concerned by Israel’s behavior:
United States appeared to reflect serious concern about the growing number of lethal attacks, which some experts believe could backfire by undercutting future negotiations and prompting Iran to redouble what the West suspects is a quest for a nuclear capacity…
…Some skeptics believe that it may harden Iran’s resolve or set a dangerous precedent for a strategy that could be used against the United States and its allies.
I find it interesting that the U.S. has rushed to distance itself from the killing, making clear that it had nothing to do with it before anyone even accused them of doing so. What’s disingenuous about this approach is that the U.S. and Israel are joined at the hip in this black ops war against Iran. They developed Stuxnet with Israel. The very same MEK terrorists sticking magnetic bombs to the car doors of Iranian scientists are the ones our government is considering giving a clean bill of health by removing them from the terror list.
We’re playing a double game here. We want to enjoy the fruit of Israel’s Chinese water torture approach to sabotaging Iran. But we want to retain plausible deniability and not be seen to get our hands dirty.
Thankfully, the Times story does quote an establishment realist who adds some sobriety as an antidote to the fantasies of the Israel lobby-analyst crowd:
“It’s important to turn around and ask how the U.S. would feel if our revenue was being cut off, our scientists were being killed and we were under cyberattack,” [Gary] Sick said. “Would we give in, or would we double down? I think we’d fight back, and Iran will, too.”
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The key quote in that bloomberg fluff-piece does not come from Ross but from Panetta: “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No”
The CBS transcript fleshes it out: “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us. ”
That’s a startling walk-back by the Administration, because it is a tacit acknowledgement that however much the USA is “concerned” about Iran developing “a nuclear capability” there isn’t anything that’s actually wrong with Iran possessing such a capability.
After all, lots of other countries have that same capability e.g. Germany, Japan, Italy, Australia, Canada, etc.
As far as Panetta is concerned Iran is allowed to develop the technology needed to make a nuke, so long as they don’t actually, you know, attempt to build one.
It’s a nuanced argument, and light-years in advance of Ross’ ever-enthusiastic and oh-so-predictable beating of the war-drums.
Jim Lobe’s take is very interesting,
Whoever Killed the Scientist Was Aiming at Much More
January 11th, 2012
I haven’t read all the commentary — or nearly all the commentary — on the assassination of the Iranian chemist today, but I have the distinct impression that whoever targeted him had a much broader agenda than simply killing yet another scientist working on Iran’s nuclear program. I think the prospect of renewed negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran was the bigger target.
My sense of the last week or so was that the mostly verbal confrontation between Iran and the U.S., particularly regarding the Strait of Hormuz, was spinning out of control much more rapidly than anyone had expected and that the possibility of a conflict had suddenly become very real in ways the Obama administration certainly never intended.
What do you propose be done?
Iran should put a Persian Jew in charge of its nuclear energy program.
They’d happily comply, but the obvious candidate’s in for a 7 years term in the slammer.