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Why Israel Won’t Attack Iran (II)

Buried in this Jeffrey Goldberg report [1] on the state of U.S.-Israel relations is a somewhat encouraging piece of news:

This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said that Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal [bold mine-DL]. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

Two years ago, Daniel Levy made [2] the case that Netanyahu was too risk-averse as a politician to do anything as hazardous and potentially disastrous as starting a war with Iran. That seemed very plausible [3] at the time, and I still find it persuasive. It has never [4] made [5] much [6] sense [7] that [8] the Israeli government would launch an attack [9] on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Even if Netanyahu were inclined to do this, which he reportedly isn’t, starting a preventive war against Iran wouldn’t prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

On the contrary, a foreign attack would probably make the acquisition of such weapons a priority for the Iranian government. Especially if one believes the worst about the Iranian government’s intentions, it would be the height of folly to take action that would practically guarantee that Iran gets a nuclear arsenal, and that is what an Israeli or U.S. attack would do. The more important reason why such an attack didn’t make much sense is that it isn’t necessary for Israeli security. Even if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, Israel would have a much larger nuclear arsenal with which it would deter unconventional attacks. If Netanyahu is also risk-averse enough that he doesn’t want to take reckless military action against Iran, so much the better for all involved.

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13 Comments To "Why Israel Won’t Attack Iran (II)"

#1 Comment By Jay C On October 28, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

Do we really think it so much that Mr. Netanyahu and the Likudnik hawks have actually become more “risk-averse” wrt Iran, or is it simply more likely that they have just given up for now on the possibilities of someone (i.e. the US) bombing Iran for them, or – at least for the current Administration – reflexively backing them against the inevitable backlash.

One would like to believe otherwise, but I have a depressing feeling that “bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb bomb Iran” is still going to be on the Republican playlist next election campaign…

#2 Comment By a spencer On October 28, 2014 @ 5:53 pm

Goldberg also includes:

>> Netanyahu has told several people I’ve spoken to in recent days that he has “written off” the Obama administration, and plans to speak directly to Congress and to the American people should an Iran nuclear deal be reached.

haha – okay. Like Gov. Perry or the Bret Stephens article you commented on earlier, some folks seem to think this just goes on forever, without any point of diminishing returns. Israel – like the NFL (with its initial domestic violence reaction), as well as other powerful institutions of all kinds – should come to grips with the fact that not everything is a PR problem to be ‘managed’. Sometimes the problems are real and everyone can see them.

Jay C makes a good point – until there are political consequences for Likud, Netanyahu probably feels like he can play a waiting game.

On the notion that the attack could have taken place a couple years ago, perhaps it serves some purpose for Goldberg to say this, but an attack has never seemed plausible, imo, including logistically with refueling and flight paths, Iranian air defense in the difficult Zagros Mountains, and senior Israeli defense analysts who have admitted it would be monumentally stupid, pointless and unnecessary, as you point out. Also, Iran has had the time to prepare since, oh, the words “axis of evil” were uttered, for what its worth.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 28, 2014 @ 6:52 pm

“On the contrary, a foreign attack would probably make the acquisition of such weapons a priority for the Iranian government.”

little doubt on this conclusion – little doubt.

#4 Comment By Myron Hudson On October 28, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

“…“On the contrary, a foreign attack would probably make the acquisition of such weapons a priority for the Iranian government.”

…little doubt on this conclusion – little doubt.”

Right. They key word being acquisition. No need to develop the program, just buy the warheads. From, say, Pakistan or India or Russia. Or from North Korea – how about that good ol’ axis of evil?

#5 Comment By Myron Hudson On October 28, 2014 @ 7:29 pm

Another reason Israel won’t attack Iran: Israel as a state and as a military is geared to defending its own turf, and taking and holding land in small increments.

#6 Comment By tbraton On October 28, 2014 @ 7:54 pm

“Two years ago, Daniel Levy made the case that Netanyahu was too risk-averse as a politician to do anything as hazardous and potentially disastrous as starting a war with Iran. That seemed very plausible at the time, and I still find it persuasive.”

I notice that one of your best commentators posted two comments in response to your Levy blog of two years ago: [10]
and
[11]

It is sickening to read the second comment and realize how all the commentators on the Iraq war have fared very well in their subsequent careers while those who were right have not fared nearly as well.

I seriously question the capacity of the Israelis to launch and successfully pull off an attack on Iran that would seriously damage Iran’s nuclear program, and that is the real reason for Netanyahu’s reluctance to pull the trigger. That explains in a nutshell the concerted campaign to have the U.S. do Israel’s dirty work.

#7 Comment By tbraton On October 28, 2014 @ 7:58 pm

” how all the commentators on the Iraq war have fared very well in their subsequent careers”

I clearly meant to say that “all the commentators on the Iraq war who were wrong have fared very well in their subsequent careers while those who were right have not fared nearly as well.”

#8 Comment By Lose the Loser On October 28, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

“Netanyahu has told several people I’ve spoken to in recent days that he has “written off” the Obama administration, and plans to speak directly to Congress and to the American people”

He must be kidding. If he tried a stunt like that Obama ought to yank his visa and declare him persona non grata.

It would be better idea if Obama went around Netanyahu to the Israeli people and suggested that they either get themselves a new government or find another patron.

The relationship hasn’t worked out too well for the US so far. We’ve waited very patiently for a very long time but gotten zero return on our investment. Less than zero, actually: Israel turned out to be a huge net loss, and Netanyahu turned out to be the kind of deadbeat who asks you for a loan and then tells the guys in the bar what a jerk you are.

#9 Comment By Jonathan On October 28, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

Perhaps, although for many this would seem naive, Iran might just be seeking to eventually become independent of its oil converting all power generating plants from fossil fuel, coal and water to nuclear energy. And perhaps it is also in Iran’s interest to make these reactors capable of manufacturing nuclear warheads in a short period of time should an aggressive nation arise such as a rejuvenated Iraq that might dare to invade its borders. But since such a threat is far into the future there might not be a pressing need to possess, at present, a nuclear arsenal just a nuclear readiness.

If Iran could export the vast majority of its oil by relying on nuclear power and maybe on electric cars and mass transit it would have greater economic clout. The rial might then become a regional reserve currency for the M.E. Certainly, Iran would gain, over time, some political leverage.

How could it be possible that Iran be that farsighted. Unlike fully democratically elected governments, they have a supreme leader who provides a sense of continuity and imposes his will upon the Majlis. Not worrying about winning elections and alienating constituents, he can afford to be farsighted.

#10 Comment By PGL On October 29, 2014 @ 5:26 am

Let’s hope nuclear deterrence works in the Middle East. So far Pakistan and India haven’t nuked one another. Israel has refrained from nuclear attacks. We need to leave that part of the world to their own sorting out.

#11 Comment By Brandon On October 29, 2014 @ 8:54 am

whoever Goldberg spoke with is obviously not too swift and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Yeah gold ergs piece was a hit but it’s not really that valid. The first thing that should be noticed is the fact that name calling took place which is an instant sign only immaturity. The only thing you need to get in to this administration is the ethical code establish by them which is winning over all non believers as the ultimate ‘truth’. The next thing is Netanyahu hasn’t attacked yet because he is waiting to see if a good deal is struck like we all are doing but he still has to show that he is willing to attack.

#12 Comment By michael in nyc On October 29, 2014 @ 3:28 pm

Israel won’t attack. It simply has to wait for a GOP Restoration in 2016 and sit back and wait for the forever helpful GOP chicken-hawk-axis to drumbeat the US into doing all the heavy lifting for them.

The US picks up the tab and the body count, while Israel returns to the business as usual of land theft and bombing children in UN shelters.

#13 Comment By sam The “other” Man On October 30, 2014 @ 8:25 pm

Sorry – I didn’t mean to hit sent before spell checking…

It’s very rare to read excellent comments regarding an article these days. I find comments, in many cases, an extension to the article itself.
I agree that Israel has abused the US kind and giving will. For all the assistance that the US has giving over the years, you may think the Israeli leaders (including the likudnik party) would say thank you, instead, they use they are becoming so intolerable with their displeasure with the USA like a spoiled child who is not getting his way. It’s time for Israel government and their US supporters (AIPAC, Neocon, and evangelical christian) to understand that Americans should care about America first and foremost before throwing their blood and treasure for a loosing cause, as in the case if Iraq.