February 7, 2012
By GERSHON BASKIN 06/02/2012
I have begun to change my assessment regarding a possible Israeli attack against Iran. In the past months, as the Iran chatter intensified – particularly after former Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s remarks against such a strike – I was somewhat relieved because I believed that the more chatter, the less likely an Israeli attack. Recently, though, there has been both a quantitative and a qualitative change in the nature of the chatter, and I am beginning to believe that a military strike against Iran may actually be in the advanced planning stages. The arguments regarding the potential damage to Tehran’s nuclear weapons program seem to be less relevant in light of the assessment that the sanctions regime against Iran will not convince its government to drop its nuclear weapons plans. It seems, for decision- makers in Jerusalem, even if an Israeli strike only sets back Iran’s nuclear ambitions by a couple of years, the risks are worth the payoff. If Tehran is in fact only 12-24 months away from having enough high-quality enriched nuclear fuel to construct several bombs, then, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said, later might be too late. A nuclear Iran is a real strategic threat to the entire Middle East and to the world. No one in the region, especially the Saudis, will be particularly upset with an Israeli strike on Iran. No one in the region, especially the Saudis, can admit this in public. There is no chance that the US will attack Iran, and without a US-led action, EU countries will also stay away. They might object verbally to an Israeli strike, but I am quite sure that none of the European powers will be disappointed if Israel decides to do it alone. I imagine that such an attack would be the all-out ultimate show of force for Israel. Israel will use everything it has, except a nuclear weapon, to hit as many targets in Iran as possible. It will probably be an attack from the ground, the air and the sea. It could include targets of the nuclear program that are known, as well as those of which the public is unaware. The attack could also include targets such as Iran’s very vulnerable oil refineries, which would completely cripple the Islamic Republic’s economy, sending it back to the 19th century. I imagine that the Israeli assessment of the fallout includes a limited rocket response from Gaza, which Israel can absorb and deal with by hitting several strategic targets there, sending the message to Hamas leaders that no real escalation will be tolerated. Israel’s leaders probably believe that Syria is out of the game now with the escalation of the internal civil war there, and while Assad may believe that targeting Israel will unite Syrians around him, this could also be the point when the Syrian people make the final push to get rid of the Assad regime. A new regime led by Sunnis is not going to cry over the Israeli attack on Iran and will not risk launching a major rocket attack against Israel, fearing its response. Similarly a crippled Syria and a possible Sunni regime in Damascus may have a significant impact on the Hezbollah response. Hezbollah’s line for rearming through Syria from Iran will be cut, and the group may feel compelled to reserve its force to defend its own position within the Lebanese domain rather than risk the wrath of Israel, which could very well bring about a public uprising against Hezbollah within Lebanon – if the Israeli retaliatory strikes are limited to Hezbollah targets and don’t extend to the Lebanese people and infrastructure, as happened in the Second Lebanon War. The United States will probably be relieved by a successful Israeli attack against Iran, and even if there are voices of displeasure from the White House and the State Department, behind the scenes Washington will be sending congratulatory messages to Jerusalem. The US withdrawal from Iraq has actually made it easier for Israel to use Iraqi airspace to conduct its attack without fear of encountering the US air force on the way. I don’t know to what extent the attack would set back the Iranian nuclear program. I do imagine that it would increase public pressure inside Iran to end the regime of Ayatollah Seyed Ali Hoseini Khamenei and his President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian people do not want to be part of a country that is against the whole world. I think there may be some unintended consequences for Israel that may not be perceived as positive for its current regime but, in my opinion, would have long term strategic advantages for Israel if the government were wise enough to advance them. I imagine that international pressure, including from Washington, would push Israel to reach an agreement on the Palestinian issue, including compromises that the current government is not willing to accept – particularly regarding Jerusalem. This step would also increase international pressure for Israel to positively answer the Arab peace initiative, which would create a platform for the rest of the Arab and Islamic world to engage Israel and would lead to peace agreements between Jerusalem and all of the Arab capitals. If these unintended consequences do advance, I imagine that the US and others will insist that Israel enter the non-proliferation treaty and place its nuclear facilities under international inspection. With this, the international community and the regional states will work toward a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. One of the main fears of a nuclear Iran is the beginning of a rapid arms race in the region. The crippling of its nuclear program could have the reverse effect and that would be good for Israel, for the region and for the entire world. The writer is the co-chairman of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for Gilad Schalit’s release.