Earlier this week, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote this:
A widely held assumption about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is that it would spur Iranian citizens — many of whom appear to despise their rulers — to rally around the regime. But Netanyahu, I’m told, believes a successful raid could unclothe the emperor, emboldening Iran’s citizens to overthrow the regime (as they tried to do, unsuccessfully, in 2009).
Bernard Finel is unimpressed:
Oof. That is pure wishcasting. And the example Goldberg cites as motivating this belief is that the 1976 Israeli raid on Entebbe that “bolstered the opposition’s spirits and proved to them that Amin was vulnerable. Amin’s government would fall some two and half years later.”
Except that, you know, Amin wasn’t removed by some people power revolution, but rather because he provoked a conflict with Tanzania which invaded and remove Amin from power. And anyway, it strikes me that something like Entebbe, an audacious commando operation right in the heart of Uganda, might provide more of a demonstration effect of regime weakness than airstrikes, which often strike observers as vaguely cowardly.
The reason that there is a widely-held assumption that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would improve the Iranian regime’s domestic position is that this is what always happens when a country comes under attack. When a foreign government or group launches an attack on their home country, people instinctively band together behind their leaders, and it usually makes no difference whether those leaders are elected or just. Even Iranians that don’t support the nuclear program aren’t going to respond favorably to a foreign attack on their country, and most Iranians do support the program. There is no nation in the world that would greet foreign military action against their country as a signal effectively to commit treason en masse in order to facilitate the regime change desired by the attacking government. If Netanyahu actually believes that an Israeli attack is likely to trigger an anti-regime uprising (and a successful one at that), he completely misunderstands nationalism as a political force in the moder world. If he thinks the 2009 election protests were an attempt to overthrow the Iranian regime, rather than to protest against the fraud and abuses of particular leaders, he has been reading too many op-eds by Republican hawks about the “missed opportunity” in 2009.