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The NY Times published a story last weekend in which a number of current and former senior military and intelligence officers cast doubt on Israel’s ability to do any meaningful damage to Iran’s nuclear program. Brig. Gen. Relik Shafir, who piloted a warplane which destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in 1981 went further (see video interview above) to claim Israel cannot deal a knockout blow to Iran without US weaponry and warplanes.
The same officer warned of yet another fallout from such an attack:
…Even with these improvements and a superior air force [to IAF’s current capabilities], he said, Israeli airstrikes would not end Iran’s nuclear program.
They would likely, however, set the region on fire.
During one Israeli invasion of Gaza, Palestinian rockets sent over 1-million Israelis to bomb shelters for weeks. Since then, Iron Dome has afforded protection. But after an Israeli attack on Iran, Iron Dome will not be able to handle the tens, or hundreds of housands of rockets aimed at Israeli targets and fired by Hezbollah in the north, Hamas in the south, and Iran from the east.
For over a decade, the IDF and intelligence apparatus have expressed skepticism when pressured by Netanyahu to launch such an attack. In one instance, all four chiefs of the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet and AMAN, all united to resist a prime minister hell-bent on war.
Maj. (res.) Danny Citrinowicz, the former chief Iran specialist with Israeli military intelligence, echoes these concerns in an article for the Atlantic Council (I profiled his views here recently). He warns that even if Israel could knock out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, there is no way it can eliminate the thousands of scientists and engineers who created it. They would simply begin over again and reconstitute it within a few years (at most).
He also warns that an Israeli attack would provoke a massive response by the “axis of resistance:” Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, etc. The $1.5-billion Israel has allocated toward its military budget for such an assault would be a tiny fraction of the “astronomical” cost of defending Israel from Iran and its allies. He calls it a “difficult campaign” with “perhaps unbearable” costs.
The former intelligence officer rejects the notion held by some Israeli leaders that the world would join in supporting such an attack. On the contrary, he says that Iran is entitled under the JCPOA and UN resolutions to enrich uranium under IAEA supervision. Israel has laid down its own unilateral claim that the final goal must be “zero-enrichment.” No one supports such an extreme position, nor would they support a military assault designed to implement it.
He has called Israel’s Iran policy “a failure.” This includes the sabotage of the Natanz uranium enrichment centrifuges via the Stuxnet virus, and the assassination of nuclear scientists. The only they have done is provoke Iran to double down on the nuclear program and speed up enrichment, drawing the country closer to nuclear breakout.
As for the sanctions regime intended to exact a price from Iran for pursuing nuclear weapons: it has been “a catastrophe” and a “hopeless cause.” Anyone who knows anything about Iran would understand that it would never accept a choice between its survival and a nuclear program. The country and its national honor are bound up in this project.
Citrinowicz also criticizes the Israeli military-political echelon for its rigidity:
Israel is caught in a policy toward Iran in which no one has the political maneuverability to think differently, I don’t see anyone changing this because they don’t want to be considered a “leftist.”
You would think that before planning to go to war against an enemy, that Israel would engage in deep research about Iran, its leaders, their beliefs and interests. But the level of knowledge of that country in Israel is abysmal:
…One of the main problems in our research of Iran is that we do not understand Iran. What’s worse, we make incorrect working assumptions about Iranian goals and strategy based on very shaky knowledge…
Yet even now, with a new prime minister, the politicians continue to rattle sabers, while the generals urge caution, if not outright rebellion. Not a day goes by without a news headline highlighting Bennett, Lapid and Gantz urging a military attack on Iran. But such urging rings hollow when the army and intelligence arms assert a contrary view. It makes Israeli leaders appear as if they’re promoting a charade. And it certainly tells Iran not to believe all that Saber-rattling (if they were ever inclined to).
In a second major development, Shlomo Ben Ami, the last foreign minister in a Labor government, proposed the heretical (by Israeli standards) notion that unlike Iraq in 1981, Israel cannot end Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Its infrastructure is so well-dispersed, reinforced, defended, and with built-in redundancy that it would take weeks, if not months of repeated strikes to even begin to dent its capability.
It would need the most powerful bunker-buster bombs, which only the US possesses. And even if Israel had them, it has no warplanes capable of carrying their 30,000-pound weight. Only B-2 bombers can do that. Meaning the US would have to join in the attack, which won’t happen. Israel would need advanced fuel tankers to refuel its warplanes flying 1,000 miles to Iranian targets. The US has just told Israel it will not advance the sale of two K-46 Boeing tankers to Israel.
It would be far better, Ben-Ami argues, for Israel to accept that Iran will obtain such a weapon, while doing its best to restrain Iran’s overall program. The best way to do this, he says, is by returning to the 2015 JCPOA and negotiating new safeguards which limit Iran’s development.
Though there are other figures espousing such a view, Ben-Ami is one of the first senior Israeli officials to do so. His view is quite radical (and realistic) in the Israeli context. With senior government leaders constantly bellowing that the sky is falling if Iran gets nukes; and threatening Iran with full-scale devastation, the former foreign minister appears a voice calling in the wilderness.
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.