Israel’s anti-Iranian nuke strike capability undermined by too much chatter

Trying on a gas mask

Measuring up for a gas mask in Israeli distribution center

The local and international airwaves, print media and internet are full of talk about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, yet all this chatter sheds more heat than light on any potential Israeli plans, and possibly undermines those plans altogether. There are several permutations and possibilities of strike plans, whether by Israel, the US, or a combination of the two, with every option carrying varying degrees of risk or success, and yet most of the talk is directed at deterring Israel from attacking, rather than at preventing the further development of Iran’s nuclear capability.

In no particular order, here are some opinions and assessments from recent days:

What seems like a domestic political power-play may have major implications for Israel’s plans regarding Iran. Former Shin Bet chief and Kadima member Avi Dichter, has now left his place in the Knesset in order to join Netanyahu’s coalition government as Homefront Defense Minister.

After Dichter’s resignation takes effect on Thursday, he will officially be sworn in at the Knesset plenum as homefront defense minister. As Dichter will not have any voting rights in the Knesset he is unlikely to alter the coalition’s standing, but his vote may be crucial in the event that Netanyahu asks the government to approve a military strike on Iran.

Dichter’s past statements suggest he would not object to an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations and has recently said Israel should shore up its military capabilities for such a scenario, Army Radio reported Monday.

However, cold water has been poured by the US on any ostensible Israeli plans to attack Iran unilaterally, with the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chiming in with his opinion that Israel alone cannot destroy Iran’s nuclear program.

A possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be able to hinder the Islamic Republic’s atom ambitions but it will no destroy its nuclear program, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday.

Dempsey told reporters that “Militarily, my assessment hasn’t changed. And I want to make clear, I’m not privy to their planning. So what I’m telling you is based on what I know of their capabilities. And I may not know about all of their capabilities. But I think that it’s a fair characterization to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities.”

In a press briefing held in the pentagon, Dempsey and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta were asked for their opinion of a recent media report suggesting Israel was closer than ever to undertaking a unilateral strike against Iran, and whether they believed such military action would be effective.

Yet with all these dire warnings against Israel acting on its own, the message still coming from the US is that Israel should not rely on it either to come to Israel’s aid in finishing the job on Iran:

The US would not necessarily join in were Israel to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, an unnamed source in the Obama Administration told Israel’s Channel 2 News on Monday.

The US feels a profound commitment to the defense of Israel, and so could be relied upon to protect Israel defensively from the consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran, the TV channel quoted the source as saying. But the thrust of the US source’s message to Israel, the TV report said, was “don’t rely on us to finish the job.”

Israeli media has been full of reports in recent days, based on leaks and off-the-record briefings by senior figures, suggesting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are close to deciding on an Israeli attack to thwart Iran — despite opposition from the US, and from current and former domestic security chiefs.

On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US was committed to giving talks with Tehran a chance to bear fruit.

“We continue to believe there is time and space for diplomacy, the opportunity remains for Iran to take advantage of this process,” Carney told reporters, AFP reported.

Carney said he believed talks between the five UN Security Council powers plus Germany, and Iran, should continue.

What do these conflicting and deterring opinions imply for Israel? According to veteran military correspondent Ron Ben Yishai, Israel needs to present its own demands and red lines to the international community about Iran’s nuclear development:

Israel may rule out a unilateral attack in Iran should the US toughen its stance with regards to the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, a senior official in Jerusalem claimed. “The problem is that the Iranians are not identifying determination on the American side. This is why they have been accelerating the pace of their uranium enrichment over the past four months. They are also developing the weapon itself at a fast pace,” the official said.

“The Iranian regime is certain that in any case 2012 will pass peacefully. They assume the US will not attack for fear of soaring oil prices and because of the presidential elections. They do not believe we will attack without a green light from Washington. Therefore, it is in the Americans’ interest to convince the Iranians that the US may attack, not to convince us not to attack.”

[...]

First of all, Obama must repeat, publicly (at the UN General Assembly for instance), that the US will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons and that Israel has a right to defend itself, independently. Jerusalem would view such a statement as a virtual commitment by the US to act, militarily if needed, and would likely cause Israel to reconsider the unilateral military option.

[...]

Israel is also demanding that Washington inform Iran that if significant progress in the negotiations with the P5+1 group (the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) is not made within the next two weeks, the talks will be suspended. The reason: As long as the negotiations persist, the Iranians will remain certain that they are immune to an attack or additional drastic economic measures and will continue to buy time in order to enrich uranium to a level of 20%. Israel has also suggested that the US present Iran with an ultimatum: Suspend the efforts to refine uranium to 20% during the negotiations, or we will quit the talks. We won’t negotiate while you advance towards nuclear “breakout” capability.

Israel is also urging the US and the European Union to increase the direct economic pressure on Iran. Government officials in Jerusalem have admitted that the sanctions are very effective, but they claim that the Iranian military nuclear program is advancing faster than the sanctions’ “hourglass.”

[...]

Another demand is a noticeable reinforcement of American forces in the Persian Gulf and emphasizing, mainly in the press, Washington’s capabilities to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

[...]

Another Israeli demand refers to the so-called “red line” of Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration claims that it will strike once intelligence agencies identify a “breakthrough” in the development of nuclear weapons, as defined by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Israel argues that Iran must not be allowed to even come close to achieving nuclear “breakout” capability. Jerusalem further claims that it is not at all certain that the US will be able to identify when Iran reaches the nuclear “breakout” point, or whether it will be able to identify it in time. Perhaps by then Iran’s nuclear facilities will be fortified to the point where a strike would be futile. Therefore, Israel prefers not to wait for incriminating evidence regarding nuclear “breakout” capability. It wants someone to act before Iran reaches this stage.

[...]

The problem is that the Israeli-American discourse on the Iranian threat is being conducted in the press, instead of through secret diplomatic channels and direct talks between the most senior officials. It is safe to assume that the reason for this is that both sides wish to take advantage of the influential Jewish vote in the US to leverage their positions. This is not how close allies should be dealing with such a critical matter, regardless of the tense relations between Israel’s leaders and the Obama administration.

Regarding that last point about the discourse being conducted in the press, Dr. Haim Shine (Yisrael Hayom) says that we are all talking our heads off (albeit from a domestic political aspect):

The creative minds of the Left looked for a replacement for the social protest and found it in the form of Iran. Morning, noon and night, in news media and websites, politicians, analysts, and retired Mossad and Israel Security Agency employees have been spreading fear in the hearts of Israelis regarding the potential risks of attacking Iran. All Israelis can do to protect themselves is update their gas masks and seal their doors with duct tape, or buy a ticket to someplace safer.

Never in the history of Israel has there been such reckless public behavior as there is right now. Top secret government issues are spilled all over the newspapers and military abilities are openly being discussed, as Israel’s enemies pounce on the information and accuse Israel of being irresponsible.

I addressed this point myself a few weeks ago. Verbal diarrhoea seems to be a peculiarly Israeli sickness.

Meanwhile Dan Margalit, also in Yisrael Hayom, reassures us that even back in 1948 Israel was warned against going it alone in declaring statehood (and we know how well that warning was received!) and our situation today is potentially more precarious than it was 64 years ago:

The unrestrained and comprehensive debate over launching an attack on Iran’s nuclear program also contains a chapter on historical parallels. A recurrent one is that of Menachem Begin, who over the objections of Israeli military officials and Shimon Peres, wisely ordered the destruction of the Iraqi reactor in 1981. Other comparisons are no less interesting.

On Channel 2 TV, Amnon Abramovich argued against an attack on Iran, saying that David Ben-Gurion would never have initiated such a move without the guaranteed support of a superpower. He was referring to the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and justifiably so. But Abramovich forgot that Ben-Gurion’s biggest decisions were made independently and against the wishes of a friendly superpower, similar to the possible scenario we face in 2012.

[...]

In an interview with Haaretz’s Ari Shavit, a senior Israeli official (apparently Defense Minister Ehud Barak) said that the Iranian sword that is currently up against Israel’s neck is sharper than the threat that faced Israel in the period leading up to the Six-Day War in 1967. That sword caused anxiety. But it was nonetheless less sharp than the one in we faced in 1948.

[...]

Another American aspect to this story is that in 1957, after the Sinai Campaign, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower promised Ben-Gurion that if Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran, the U.S. would establish an international fleet to break the siege. In 1967, the Americans said that they couldn’t find the document.

“Ladies and gentlemen, history repeats itself, nothing has passed and nothing is forgotten. We remember how under a rain of lead, the Palmach marched in Syria,” wrote Haim Hefer in a song that has been passed down through the generations. Back then in 1941, in Syria, where Dayan lost his eye in battle. The situation today is no less complicated.

And what is the opinion of the regular Israeli man-in-the-street? He’s apparently taking no chances, and demand for gas masks has jumped in recent days:

Public demand for gas masks, rehabbed bomb shelters and other protective measures has risen dramatically as Israelis have become increasingly jittery over a possible Israeli strike on Iran and the ensuing potential retaliation.

Amid numerous speculative reports about the far-reaching implications of such a strike, Israelis are preparing for possible violence by renovating their personal bomb shelters and flocking to pick up gas masks.

Ethan Arkbi, in charge of the distribution of gas masks, told Channel 10 on Tuesday that there had been a “100% increase in the distribution of gas masks,” but that there are only enough gas masks in warehouses for about 60% of the population.

Building engineers are also reporting that they are unable to cope with the influx of requests for building and bomb shelter inspections.

The Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command said a quarter to a third of regional authorities are not prepared to deal with an emergency. Home Front Command sources estimate that the Gush Dan area is better prepared than outlying authorities.

According to the Home Front Command, only 53 percent of the population has gas masks and only 30% of households have a reinforced safety room. A quarter of the population does not have a bomb shelter in their building or even close by.

I’m sure many of us are not going to sleep easy tonight with that unedifying news.

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9 Responses to Israel’s anti-Iranian nuke strike capability undermined by too much chatter

  1. Cormac says:

    Perhaps Israel and America are looking at Iran with the wrong attitude.Instead of looking to hit Iran externally wouldn’t it be smarter to aid internal dissent? After all Iran is made up of many different ethnicities and religions.The Kurds want an independent Kurdistan, Azeris want to be united with Azerbaijan and the Arabs of Khuzestan don’t want to remain within a Persian State.

    Iran are having elections this year, perhaps this is the golden opportunity.Unlike the last time in which the World virtually ignored the Green Movement as they protested the “defeat” of moderate Mousavi you could cause the Iranian people to topple the Government themselves.If an Israeli strike goes ahead it may rally people behind the current regime and give it more legitimacy.

    • anneinpt says:

      Hi Cormac, always glad to see your comments. Your suggestion has validity but I don’t think it is hard enough or fast enough to stop the regime producing their nuclear weapons. Certainly it’s a good idea to destabilize the regime from inside, but that boat was missed a few years ago in the non-starter Green Revolution.

      Yes, an Israeli strike might unite the population behind the regime, but I don’t see how that can make any difference to Israel. It is not the population who hold the power, they don’t have proper democratic elections or institutions as we know them from the West, so whether the citizenry is behind or against the regime is irrelevant as far as Israel is concerned. The regime is determined to develop nuclear weapons, and has repeatedly threatened to use them on Israel. It has also repeatedly threatened to annihilate Israel with conventional missiles too, so destabilization, while a nice clean option, is not a practical solution at this stage of the game.

      • Cormac says:

        Hi Anne and thanks for the compliment but I disagree over your stance towards the Iranian People themselves.I’m not sure whether you can remember the cartoon controversy depicting a cockroach speaking Azeri, rioting ensued throughout Iranian Azerbaijan following its publication.No one is exactly sure on how long it will take Iran to produce nuclear weapons so I wouldn’t rule the option out.The ethnic fabric of Iran is very sensitive, if civil unrest occurs over a stupid cartoon then anything can happen.It’s not just the Azeris but a wide diversity of people who believe in separatism and independence in Iran.

        It’s a shame the Green Movement was brutally suppressed however that doesn’t mean it hasn’t left a legacy, most Iranians especially the young are secular.Iranians are generally well educated and aren’t as narrow minded as the Arabs, Israel has had relations with them before and it could again, Iran was one of the first if not the first Muslim majority country to recognise Israel even the Shah of Iran during the start of the Zionist Movement suggested Jews should buy land and settle.It took less than 20 days to oust Mubarak, with enough international support Iranians could very well overthrow the current Islamist regime, such protests as the ones seen in 2009 weren’t seen since the Islamic Revolution.

        I’m afraid to say this but I also doubt Israel’s ability to tackle Iran on its own.Iran bet off a Western, Gulf and Soviet backed Iraq before too.Iran isn’t weak and it has allies.If Israel were to strike Iran Iran could consistently pound Israel with terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, not to mention new hostile governments throughout the Middle East.These could all make life a living hell for ordinary Israelis, they’d also wrack up a high casualty count.For these reasons I think my suggestion is a better option however I’m not the PM of Israel nor am I its defence minister.

        • anneinpt says:

          I don’t disagree with your assessment of the NATURE of the Iranian population, although truth be told, no one knows how they really feel about Israel and the West, given that they don’t live in a free society where they can freely express their attitudes. However, destabilizing the regime to a great enough extent that the Ayatollahs will fall will take time – much too much time – and that is time that the Iranians are spending rapidly producing and enriching weapons-grade uranium, building their missiles and air defences etc. Israel doesn’t have enough time to wait for the regime to fall, tempting as such a scenario is.

          Comparing Iran to Egypt or other Arab “Spring” countries is irrelevant. True, Mubarak was ousted. But who has come in his place? An extremist Islamist party which is just as repressive. This is progress? Regime change? Further, your words “with international support” are the clincher – there was not enough international support at the time of the Green Revolution, and as I said above, that boat has sailed. It has been repressed and won’t arise again. Why will the international community intervene now when it didn’t earlier? At Israel’s request? Don’t make me laugh! Anything Israel requests is automatically “expansionist” “imperialist” or “apartheid”.

          As for Israel not being able to carry out the act – again, we won’t know until it happens. But no one expected Israel to survive the onslaught of 5 Arab armies against a ragtag army of Holocaust survivors, other refugees and a woefully armed and trained army. And Israel won. Again in 1956, in the Sinai Campaign (Suez crisis) the IDF reached the Suez canal before the British and French had their boots on. In 1967 Israel once again defeated 3 armies who were assisted by Iraq and the Saudis, and quadrupled its size within 6 days. Israel survived and ultimately won a surprise attack on Yom Kippur in 1973. In 1990-91 Israel survived a 6 week Scud attack from Saddam Hussein with the grand total of one casualty (who didn’t listen to instructions from the Home Front command), whereas a similar Scud onslaught on Saudi Arabia caused multiple deaths.

          Just remember, Israel not only has an excellent army and a well-motivated citizenry. We have Help Upstairs. I truly believe that. There’s no other way to explain the miraculous victories we’ve had until now.

          Don’t get me wrong. I’m no war-monger. It is my own family who’d be in the front lines, whether as soldiers in the army or as citizens in a bombarded home front. But if the international community (hah!) won’t tighten sanctions on Iran to the utter squeeze point, then Israel really has no option. America and Europe are further away than Israel and have more breathing space, plus Israel is the one constantly threatened by the Ayatollahs, not America or Europe. If the international community doesn’t want Israel to attack then it is up to them to ensure that Iran stops its incitement and poisonous rhetoric, and most importantly, openly stops its uranium enrichment program. I haven’t seen any sign of any of that. Time really is running out.

          • Cormac says:

            I’m going to finish up on a few points.

            I’m not so sure about how Iranians feel about Israelis but I’m guessing most are tired and sick of the current regime talking about nothing other than the “Zionist Entity” all the time.You mentioned what would replace the Iranian regime, again most Iranians are secular, during the post election protests many complained on “Al-Quds Day” that Iran had no place in the I/P Conflict.Mousavi a moderate Muslim who “lost the election” even said Israel had nothing to do with Iran and critcised Ahmadinejad over denying the Holocaust.Plus there was even a facebook campaign in which Iranians and Israelis expressed their love for one anothers country.

            I’m not disregarding Israel’s abilities nor the motivation of its citizens but Iran has no border with Israel, every citizen lost on your side is a loss to you and a gain to them, Iran doesn’t care about its citizens as we’ve seen before, they even used children as soldiers in the Iran-Iraq War.The leadership in Iran can sit safely at home while many Israelis and Lebanese are in bomb shelters.

            I’m not doubting your claim to having help upstairs, the creation of Israel was a miracle and the fact that Jews could revive their ancient language while also recover from 2,000 years of discrimination, abuse and genocide is a fantastic achievement that no other race of people have been able to do.Here in Ireland our language has been surpassed by Polish now, which is just fantastic!(no button for sarcasm on this).I’m not very religious myself as I don’t really see the need for religion in any modern society, nor am I Jewish but Iran also believes it has God’s support, if Israel were to go to war with Iran it certainly would be a huge test for the IDF and you have to take numbers, equipment and moral more into account than Divine Intervention.Sorry if that last comment came off a little critical of religion, I’m merely trying to say there are many more factors to be considered and Hezbollah certainly gave Israel a bloody nose in 2006.

            The problem with the International Community always is and always will be is that someone’s foreign policy also comes into conflict with another’s.Russia and China support Iran a great deal, even though China has attempted to ease its dependence on Iranian oil.Russia has been helping Iran all along and unfortunately neither the US or Israel can prevent Russia from doing so.Perhaps Israel should try to stall Iranian nuclear development by assassinating more scientists, infecting their computers with viruses and literally blow up several power plants, this would give them time to spread discontent among Iran’s diversity of people, you could supply the Kurds as you no longer have to fear a backlash from a friendly Turkey if the Kurds decide to hand the weapons over to the PKK, the Azeris, the country they want to be unified with is hardly hostile to Israel, MEK, the Arabs, the Balochs etc.The Green Movement isn’t necessarily dead it’s just dormant, hopefully the Iranian people realise soon that their government isn’t looking out for their interests.I really believe if Israel strikes Iran it will be the start of World War 3 and unlike crazy Evangelic Christians I don’t want to see that happening.

            • anneinpt says:

              Hi Cormac again. I don’t disagree with any of your points really. I think it’s now simply a matter of timing and urgency. All your suggestions are good, and have all been promoted by many Israeli politicians and military personnels. Certain of your points have even been carried out, e.g. computer viruses, assassinating scientists etc. The trouble is that these methods have only managed to delay the Iranian’s nuke development for a short while, and not to derail it in any meaningful manner. Your other suggestions sound intriguing but I’m sure the Israeli gov’t has considered these, and either rejected them for whatever reason or is storing them up for future use. I can’t imagine that our leaders have not considered all these options.

              I understand your point about religion – it’s just that I wanted to remind you (all of us rally) that a defeatist attitude isn’t always the ideal attitude, even if logically it makes sense. There’s so much that doesn’t make sense in Israel’s history that it should be taken into account. Of course we can’t go trigger-happy invading Iran and relying on miracles. That is not the Israeli way and it certainly isn’t the Jewish way. I just wanted to point out that we mustn’t lose faith.

              Re the Kurds, Israel has to be very careful. The Iraqi and Iranian Kurds are friendly towards Israel but the Syrian Kurds are anti-Israel. It’s a very fine line we’re treading here.

              In all this war talk and chatter, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that Israel doesn’t plan (as far as I know) to actually send in the IDF into Iran itself. The talk is all about a limited bombing campaign. No one wants war less than Israel, you can be sure.

              Anyway, we’ll only know what happens after the fact. We can speculate to our heart’s content until then. :-)

      • Matt K. says:

        Now in November…
        We also know that democracy is not the solution to this dilemma either. The only thing the Arab Spring has proven is that middle east democracy does not encourage moderation. The heart of the people is easily swayed toward Islamic extremism and anti-Zionism. The American reelection of Barack Obama is like a dog surrendering its soft underbelly to its enemy hoping that the gesture will assuage the deep hostility that Islamists harbor toward infidels in Israel and the West. Unlike America, Israel knows that it must bare its teeth and show strength to its enemy. This is an enemy that does not share our values of life and peace. If we are to survive this threat, it must be clear to all that Israel has the right to exist and will never count on the kindness of its enemies for safety. Pray for peace in Israel.

        • anneinpt says:

          Thank you for your comment Matt and welcome to my blog.

          Democracy might be the solution in Iran, since Iran is not an Arab state and Islamism is an alien import to them. However, I said above, we have to be careful what we wish for, and secondly, there isn’t time at the moment to wait for democracy to take hold before the Ayatollahs have the Bomb.

  2. Hunter says:

    “Israel’s anti-Iranian nuke strike capability undermined by too much chatter” – no kidding! If Israel were really preparing a strike there would be no talk about it. Every Autumn the media (particularly the British media) have “Israel about to attack Iran” screaming headlines. The fact is that Israel cannot logistically do it – only America.

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