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Israel Is Not Going to Attack Iran

Greg Scoblete believes Israel will attack Iran this year:

1. They’ve done it before: Both Syria and Iraq have seen how jealously Israel guards its regional nuclear monopoly.

2. They don’t believe President Obama will do it: Despite copious threats from U.S. officials, a number of reports indicate that Israel’s prime minister does not believe that the U.S. will take military action against Iran.

3. The Arab Spring has made the regional environment worse: Israel’s security used to rest on the acquiescence of regional dictators like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. As the “Arab Spring” produces governments more representative of their public’s attitudes, the regional environment is going to get more hostile to Israel. And while Israel can’t do much about those developments, they can take a stab at addressing Iran’s nuclear program via a military attack – at least in the short term.

In fact, the strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be much more difficult and complicated than the operations that targeted comparable facilities in Syria and Iraq, so past successes, such as they were, don’t mean that Israel will undertake a far more ambitious and risky operation. If the “regional environment” is worse for Israel than it was in 2010, just imagine how horrible it will be for Israel in the wake of an unprovoked military attack on a regional power. It might be worth noting at this point that an Israeli attack on Iran would be completely illegal and have no justification whatever. It would also not serve to make Israel any more secure, and would invite a new round of attacks on Israel, which means that it isn’t actually in Israel’s genuine national interest to do this.

The Israeli military does not seem to have the same confidence of success that quite a few non-Israeli commentators have:

Almost the entire senior hierarchy of Israel’s military and security establishment is worried about a premature attack on Iran and apprehensive about the possible repercussions, a former chief of the country’s defence forces told The Independent yesterday.

Gary Sick addressed these points in his comments on the much-discussed report by Ronen Bergman that concluded that Israel would attack:

He [Bergman] draws this fearful conclusion after recounting his discussions with key Israeli military and intelligence officials, present and former, who describe to him in great detail: (1) why Israel is incapable of conducting such an attack; (2) why such a foolhardy action would fail to stop Iran’s nuclear program; and (3) why it would actually leave the situation far worse than it is now. [bold mine-DL]

Indeed, Bergman describes the difficulties that an Israeli attack would face in some detail:

On the operational level, any attack would be extremely complex. Iran learned the lessons of Iraq, and has dispersed its nuclear installations throughout its vast territory. There is no way of knowing for certain if the Iranians have managed to conceal any key facilities from Israeli intelligence. Israel has limited air power and no aircraft carriers. If it attacked Iran, because of the 1,000 or so miles between its bases and its potential targets, Israeli planes would have to refuel in the air at least once (and more than once if faced with aerial engagements). The bombardment would require pinpoint precision in order to spend the shortest amount of time over the targets, which are heavily defended by antiaircraft-missile batteries.

The likely consequences of an attack would be far worse than they were for previous operations of this kind:

In the end, a successful attack would not eliminate the knowledge possessed by the project’s scientists, and it is possible that Iran, with its highly developed technological infrastructure, would be able to rebuild the damaged or wrecked sites. What is more, unlike Syria, which did not respond after the destruction of its reactor in 2007, Iran has openly declared that it would strike back ferociously if attacked [bold mine-DL]. Iran has hundreds of Shahab missiles armed with warheads that can reach Israel, and it could harness Hezbollah to strike at Israeli communities with its 50,000 rockets, some of which can hit Tel Aviv. (Hamas in Gaza, which is also supported by Iran, might also fire a considerable number of rockets on Israeli cities.) According to Israeli intelligence, Iran and Hezbollah have also planted roughly 40 terrorist sleeper cells across the globe, ready to hit Israeli and Jewish targets if Iran deems it necessary to retaliate. And if Israel responded to a Hezbollah bombardment against Lebanese targets, Syria may feel compelled to begin operations against Israel, leading to a full-scale war.

Worst of all, the attack would fail to achieve its objectives:

In the audience at that lecture was Rafi Eitan, 85, one of the Mossad’s most seasoned and well-known operatives. Eitan agreed with Dagan that Israel lacked the capabilities to attack Iran. When I spoke with him in October, Eitan said: “As early as 2006 (when Eitan was a senior cabinet minister), I told the cabinet that Israel couldn’t afford to attack Iran. First of all, because the home front is not ready. I told anyone who wanted and still wants to attack, they should just think about two missiles a day, no more than that, falling on Tel Aviv. And what will you do then? Beyond that, our attack won’t cause them significant damage. I was told during one of the discussions that it would delay them for three years, and I replied, ‘Not even three months.’ After all, they have scattered their facilities all over the country and under the ground. ‘What harm can you do to them?’ I asked. ‘You’ll manage to hit the entrances, and they’ll have them rebuilt in three months.’ ”

If that assessment is right, an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would result in retaliatory attacks and international opprobrium for no real gain. We would have to believe that the Israeli government is as irrational as some hard-liners say the Iranian government is to accept the idea that they would choose such an obviously foolish course of action.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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