האם ישראל מתכננת לתקוף באיראן לפני ה-20 בינואר? ה”סקופ” של ברק רביד על הכנות בצה”ל לאפשרות של תקיפה אמריקאית עשוי להיות סיפור כיסוי להכנות לתקיפה ישראלית
WEBINAR: Biden: Toward a Progressive U.S. Middle East Policy, Friday November 27th at 11am Pacific. Register here. Panelists: Omar Rahman, visiting fellow, Brookings Doha; Muhammad Sahimi, Professor, University of Southern California; Richard Silverstein
Tonight, Israeli journalist Barak Ravid reported that Israeli officials told him that the IDF has been alerted to prepare for a U.S. attack on Iran:
The Israel Defense Forces have in recent weeks been instructed to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will conduct a military strike against Iran before President Trump leaves office, senior Israeli officials tell me.
…The Israeli government instructed the IDF to undertake the preparations not because of any intelligence or assessment that Trump will order such a strike, but because senior Israeli officials anticipate “a very sensitive period” ahead of Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
The IDF’s preparedness measures relate to possible Iranian retaliation against Israel directly or through Iranian proxies in Syria, Gaza and Lebanon, the Israeli officials said.
Though the report does not specify the timing of such an operation, it would clearly have to happen in the next six weeks before Pres.-elect Biden takes office. The report does not say that Israel will join in the attack; rather that the IDF will ready itself to protect the country in its aftermath.
After reading this story, I queried Israeli sources about the authenticity of the sources for it. As I suspected, a confidential source tells me that Ravid’s leak was likely from either the Netanyahu or Gantz camp (the latter is defense minister). Given that Gantz, when he was army chief of staff, adamantly opposed an Iran assault, I doubt this news came from him.
Netanyahu would, of course, have abundant motive to circulate such a story in order to divert from the disaster he has made of things since the last election: a raging COVID pandemic, massive economic privation, and three corruption charges in an Israeli court. He’d like nothing better than to change the subject and get voters thinking about the purported danger Iran poses.
My source threw an intriguing wrench into the works by saying that the story fed to Ravid was intended as a diversion to conceal that Israel itself is planning such an attack, not the U.S. Iran is thinking the same way as a journalist close to Hezbollah and Iranian sources wrote. Eli Magnier said:
…The “Axis of the Resistance” led by Iran has declared a maximum alert on all fronts, as a preparation for a possible battle or war breaking out in the Middle East prior to the arrival in office of President-elect Joe Biden.
Sources within the “Axis of the Resistance” say that “the US may not be planning for a war against Iran with President Donald Trump leaving office soon. However, it is not excluded that…Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, would like to carry out a swift hit on the Iranian nuclear facilities in order to sabotage the nuclear deal ready for when Biden takes over. In the case of an Israeli bombing followed by an Iranian retaliation, the Trump administration can then intervene with the pretext of “defending” Israel.”
Though Trump has enormous reason to gum up the works for Biden by mounting such an attack, almost every national security advisor and the military itself argued him down from such a position only a week ago or so. After hearing of an IAEA report that Iran now has twelve times the enriched uranium it had during the Obama administration, Trump told his top advisors he wanted to bomb its nuclear facility at Natanz, which houses the Enrichment production plant. But they argued strongly against this and Trump eventually dropped the subject.
These advisors understood that it’s one thing to assassinate Iran’s top commander or to murder an al Qaeda leader in Tehran. It’s quite another to mount a massive air assault on the Iranian homeland and it’s nuclear capability. This, as a senior advisor to Rouhani said recently, would mean war. Even if one discounts this as bravado, surely Iran’s military and intelligence apparatus would mount a counter-blow of some sort. At that point, all bets would be off; and we could easily fall into a scenario similar to the one which started World War I.
Further evidence that a major new development is in the offing comes from this week’s unprecedented three-way meeting in Neom among Netanyahu (who was the first Israeli PM ever to visit the country), Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. You don’t hold such high level talks for show. They almost always indicate a major escalation in the regional conflict is planned. Also, Defense Minister Gantz spoke twice in the past two weeks with interim U.S. defense secretary Christopher Miller.
Note that before the assassinations of Qassem Soleimani and Abdullah al-Masri, some of the most senior U.S. military and intelligence officials visited Israel to consult with the political, military and intelligence echelons. Undoubtedly, they were briefing each other on these covert ops plans. No doubt, that’s why Pompeo joined the two other leaders for their meeting this week. Something is definitely afoot.
The only caution I have about the report that Israel is planning such an attack is that it has been making such threats for over a decade. Years ago, I even published an Israeli war plan for such an assault. It had been passed to Binyamin Ben Eliezer, who had been a confidential source of mine for several years (before his untimely death), by a former Israeli intelligence official. After leaking the document to Ben Eliezer and discovering I had published it, the source denied the authenticity of the document he himself leaked and claimed it to be a fraud.
Twice in the past, Netanyahu has pressured senior military-intelligence officials to prepare for war; and twice they demurred. Have they capitulated this time and agreed to join in Netanyahu’s military adventurism?
I’m afraid to say that today more than any time in the past, such an Israeli provocation is possible. In the past, Bibi had to deal with strong U.S. opposition from George Bush and Barack Obama. This held him in check. There is no longer any check at all. Just the opposite: Trump and Pompeo are urging Bibi on. And knowing this, the IDF might be more willing to engage in such an enormously risky venture.
An attack by either the U.S. or Israel would not only threaten to ignite a regional war; it would enormously complicate Joe Biden’s foreign policy agenda. He wants to return to status quo ante and resume engagement with the JCPOA nuclear deal. He wants to tone down the rhetoric and return to a semblance of stability in the relationship. A major attack will throw all that out the window.
It is in the president-elect’s interest to find out what is planned and mount intense resistance. Given Trump’s nihilist impulses to destroy the country rather than concede defeat, it’s unlikely Biden or Secretary of State-designate Blinken have much leverage. But they certainly can make their fierce opposition known to the CIA and Joint Chiefs. That could have some effect.
If it is the Israelis planning to attack, then despite Biden’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials, he doesn’t have a hope in hell of stopping Bibi. The latter detests Democrats, and despite protestations to the contrary, he doesn’t give a fig what Biden thinks or wants. In fact, it is the Israeli way to “create facts on the ground, ” which force rivals or enemies to confront the fact that Israel has pre-empted any power they might have to influence conditions in their favor. Thus, Netanyahu, knowing he faces four years of a Democratic administration which will not view his demands kindly, would feel a need to act now before Biden takes the reins.
For his part, the incoming president must prepare measures in the eventuality of an Israeli attack. He must impose a cost on Israel for wreaking havoc in the region. Will he? Odds are he won’t, as U.S. presidents seem to lose what little spine they have when it comes to confronting Israel on such matters. If he folds, that will tell us an enormous amount of what the next four years portend. If he doesn’t and he announces serious sanctions against Israel that would be a welcome (and unexpected) message that impunity and adventurism against U.S. interests has a high cost.