News reports from Israel feature army generals threatening Iran with imminent destruction if it refuses to return to the JCPOA nuclear deal which Donald Trump axed (though Iran itself never formally withdrew). The chief of staff threatened an attack and the latest news features a claim that the new budget will allocate $1.5-billion for an all-out attack on the country’s nuclear facilities:
It includes funds for various types of aircraft, intelligence-gathering drones and unique armaments needed for such an attack, which would have to target heavily fortified underground sites, the unsourced report said.
The series, planned by the 780th Test Squadron and performed by the 40th Flight Test Squadron, began on July 23 and marked the first time the 2.5-ton bomb was loaded, flown and released. Times of Israel claims US military tested this new weapon–which could be used against fortified Iranian nuclear facilities–with data provided by Israel from its air attacks on Gaza tunnels last May.https://t.co/16ylG30aRz
— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) October 14, 2021
During meetings in Washington, the Israelis even prevailed upon Secretary of State Antony Blinken to switch from warning that “other” options would be on the table should Iran bail from negotiations, to “all” options. The subtle difference purports to show the US is ready to entertain military options as well.
People–as the Crosby Still Nash song lyrics say: “We have all been here before.” And not in a good way. Israel has been threatening such an attack for nearly 15 years and over the terms of three different prime ministers. Former intelligence chiefs have even recounted that they personally stood in the way of such attacks. Regardless, Israel never followed through on the threat. In some cases, a US president (Bush, Obama) rejected an attack. In other instances, it was the generals and spooks who stood up to the PM.
Pres. Biden has already made clear that the Middle East is no longer the priority it once was under previous administrations. We’ve backed away from our former Saudi allies (and they in turn appear to be warming up to their former Iranian nemesis). Despite statements to the contrary, there will be no major peace initiatives arising from this President. Given that, why would Biden agree to an Israeli attack, let alone join one with Israel? Why would he want the headache of dealing with the fallout from such an operation?
Events over the past few years have shown that China is our most powerful global rival, which threatens our alliances with numerous Asian nations. While Obama announced a pivot to Asia, and Trump introduced draconian trade sanctions, Biden is feeling the full brunt of the Chinese play for power on the global stage. Given this, Biden has absolutely no stomach for an Iranian diversion.
Would Israel attack Iran in defiance of Biden? Or if the US gives tacit approval, but refuses to join the assault? I strongly doubt it. My sense is that PM Naftali Bennett’s budget announcement is a political gambit meant to shore up his right flank. Bennett’s main rival is former PM Netanyahu, who will watch for any opening to mercilessly attack Bennett. He’s already harangued the Knesset claiming, in a page ripped from the Trump playbook, that Bennett “is not a real prime minister.” Now the latter can wave that budget at Bibi when he launches his attack and say: “I won’t make the mistake you made by letting the Iranians inch ever closer to a bomb. I’m going to be ready to attack when the time is right.” But he’s no more likely to actually attack than Bibi. Which means this is all for show. Israel is the boy who cries wolf once too often, till no one believes him when the wolf is at the door.
In case you’re asking yourself: what sort of country spends billions to prepare for a war its leaders don’t intend to fight? Ah, that’s the $64,000 Question. If you can answer it, you may understand Israeli politics and consciousness even better than I.
But in the unlikely event Israel does attack, what would be the outcome? Yes, there would be considerable damage done to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Some sites would be destroyed and some damaged. But with months or at most a year or two, Iran will be not only right back where it was in terms of its capabilities, but even farther along. And what will Israel have to show? It mowed the grass with a dull lawnmower blade. The grass will grow back even taller and stronger.
Iran is no pushover. It is prepared to withstand punishment if necessary to protect its prerogatives and interests. You can give it a bloody nose, but you cannot land a knockout blow. Unless you’re prepared to mount a ground invasion and topple the regime. But that’s definitely not in the cards.
Not to mention that anyone who attacks Iran will pay a heavy price on the global stage. Israel is already under investigation by the ICC for potential war crimes during its 2014 attack on Gaza. Such new military adventurism will only strengthen the case for serious sanctions. Israel will lose what few friends remain, and further alienate its enemies, motivating them to harden their defenses and advance their offensive capabilities against Israeli threats.
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.