Last week, US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, spoke to two hawkish Jewish groups, the Conference of Presidents and the Jewish Institute for National Security of America , and issued a startling statement. First, he offered the usual bromides about Israel and the US being on the same page about Iran. But then he made an unprecedented, even shocking remark:
As President Biden has said, we will not stand by and watch Iran get a nuclear weapon, number one. Number two, he said, all options are on the table. Number three, Israel can and should do whatever they need to deal with and we’ve got their back,” [Ambassador Tom] Nides adds.
No US diplomat or president has ever said anything remotely comparable. This was essentially an invitation to war for Israel. The sort of green light two Israeli prime ministers have sought–and failed to receive–for decades. Indeed, there have been at least two and possibly three times Israel was prepared to attack Iran. Only two things stood in the way, a US veto and the intelligence and military chiefs themselves, who refused to approve it.
A high-level meeting of US and Israeli security officials strengthened the impression that the US is closer than ever to pulling the trigger on an Israeli attack. In this description of the meetings, you can almost see the satisfied smile on the faces of the Israelis at what they were hearing from their American counterparts:
The U.S.-Israel talks on Iran this week…showed that the two countries are looking at the issue from a “much closer point of view,” a senior Israeli official told Axios…
The officials also discussed the recent joint Israeli-U.S. military exercises, which Israeli officials said were focused on training for a possible military strike against the Iranian nuclear program.
The hawks on the far right in Israel and the US are exercised by Iran’s uranium enrichment which, they claim, has reached 84%. Weapons grade is 90%. The hawks are saying that means Iran is a few weeks from having a bomb. Of course, what they (deliberately) omit is that Iran does not have a ballistic missile that can carry such a payload. But even more important, Iran has never expressed any intent to make a bomb, whether they enrich to 84.1%, 90% or 100%. There is a difference between having the capability to make a bomb (which Iran cannot yet do) and actually making one.
CIA director Nicholas Burns echoed this sentiment in an interview:
To the best of our knowledge, we don’t believe that the Supreme Leader in Iran has yet made a decision to resume the weaponization program that we judge that they suspended or stopped at the end of 2003…
Burns reiterated that the CIA has no knowledge that Iran has resumed their nuclear weapons program.
Peace groups demand Biden renounce Nides statement
A coalition of 40 US anti-war groups has sent a letter to Pres. Biden urging him to renounce the statement of Amb. Nides. They warn that Israel is looking for justification for such an attack; and Nides has just given it one. As they wrote:
…Publicly or even privately offering unconditional U.S. support for unspecified military action by Israel, or any ally, sets an extremely dangerous precedent and risks further escalation…
…A bombing campaign against Iran would only make certain that it eventually secures nuclear weapons, completely undermining a core U.S. security objective, while also setting back Iran’s grassroots movement for democracy and human rights. The United States must make its opposition to the military option known, publicly and privately.
All the bellicose talk from Tel Aviv and Washington about an Iranian bomb and it being the world’s foremost terror state, conceal what the consequences of such an attack would be.
First, the Iranian people are the ones who will suffer the most from such an assault. Not the Revolutionary Guards, nor the ayatollahs. There will likely be thousands of dead, if not more. One simulation estimated there would be 85,000 casualties and “devastating consequences.”
We can see Israel’s military approach to the Palestinians does not distinguish between military targets and civilians. There is no possible way it can avoid massive casualties from such an attack. On the other hand, Iran’s nuclear facilities will survive. Even with US and Israeli bunker-buster bombs, the former are too fortified and widespread to be able to deliver a knockout blow.
Second, Iran will retaliate on a massive scale. Even though its capabilities are dwarfed by those of Israel and the US, it can still inflict an enormous amount of pain. We have thousands of US troops throughout the Middle East who will become targets and victims.
Finally, a war against Iran will destabilize the entire region. Iran has allies in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere. Iran has a long-term relationship with Russia, which provided the engineering expertise to build the Bushehr nuclear reactor. The former is providing Russia with drones in the fight against Ukraine. If Israel attacks Iran, Russia may come to Iran’s aid, especially if doing so gives the US a black eye.
Iran will call on all of them to join in the fight. They don’t have to have nuclear bombs. All they need to do is mobilize their militias and they will take vengeance for the havoc wrought against Iran. Imagine what would happen if a swarm of Iranian speedboats attack a US aircraft carrier and inflict serious damage, or sink it entirely. Imagine what will happen if Hezbollah invades northern Israel or an Iranian missile lands in Tel Aviv killing hundreds. Imagine 2-million Israelis huddling in air raid shelters for weeks on end. Regardless of how many direct hits Israel achieves in its air sorties against Iranian targets, it will pay a serious price. And Iran, because of heedless reckless statements like Nides’ will see us as Israel’s enabler. We will not be unscathed.
Bibi Netanyahu knows how to gin up a war to divert the voters’ attention from political problems back home. He has countless times launched major attacks against Palestinians in Gaza when his coalition faced a crisis. Now, he faces perhaps his most challenging opposition ever in the form of hundreds of thousands of Israelis clamoring for the fall of his government. A war would put an immediate end to this powerful movement. Israelis fall into line when there is a security crisis. They forget all their other interests and fall into step with the patriotic line.
There are only three options regarding relations between Iran and the west: peace, war and Cold War. Peace would be optimal, but Israeli and American right-wing hawks have foreclosed this option. War would be disastrous. The only remaining option is the least bad, but certainly not good. It is the current state of affairs. Where all the parties limp along aimlessly with no plan or long-term strategy. In a Cold War, neither side gets what it wants. Neither side can pursue its real interests, and instead pursues its interests piecemeal and in a scattershot approach. But if one side miscalculates, Cold can turn hot instantly.
Tom Nides statement is the sort of verbal miscalculation that could very well do that.