Playing down the Iranian threat, trying to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran

Nuclear Iran

Iran nuclear threat

The on-again off-again game of deterring Israel from attacking Iran is at play once again, with the US sending its National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to Israel for “consultations” with Binyamin Netanyahu.

The White House announced Friday that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will travel to Israel from February 18-20 for consultations with senior Israeli officials about a range of issues, including Iran, Syria, and other regional security issues.

“Donilon’s travel is the latest in a series of regular, high-level consultations between the United States and Israel, consistent with our strong bilateral partnership, and part of our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security,” read the official White House press statement.

One doesn’t need to have the inside scoop to guess what will be said at these “consultations”. The message is coming across loud and clear in the media:

First we have the US Army Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey declaring that an Israeli strike on Iran would be destablizing, imprudent, and in any case would not achieve its aims. How’s that for positive thinking?

In an interview set to air Sunday, but whose contents were revealed on Saturday, Dempsey told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “It’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran,” adding, “A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their [Israel’s] long-term objectives.”

Dempsey said that launching an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would not be a level-headed decision, telling Zakaria that Washington was confident the Israelis “understand our concerns,” according to a transcript of the interview quoted by Bloomberg News.

“We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor,” Dempsey told CNN. “We also know, or we believe we know, that the Iranian regime has not decided to make a nuclear weapon.”

We also hear of British Foreign Secretary William Hague urging Israel not to strike Iran, all while warning that Iran risks starting a nuclear cold war.

In today’s interview, Mr Hague says that the British Government has urged Israel not to strike.

He said that Iran being “attacked militarily” would have “enormous downsides”.

“We are very clear to all concerned that we are not advocating military action,” he said. “We support a twin-track strategy of sanctions and pressure and negotiations on the other hand.”

The sanctions may very well be biting but Iran might not be getting the message that was intended, since Iran cut oil shipments to Britain and France.

As to the preposterous claim, as quoted above, by Gen. Martin Dempsey that Iran is a rational actor, Boaz Bismuth in Israel Hayom rips this argument apart:

Currently, Iran’s nuclear progress generates headlines around the world, not just in Israel. The world is suddenly realizing just how problematic and dangerous this situation really is. All of a sudden it is acceptable to step up sanctions. All of a sudden it is okay to wonder, out loud, whether sanctions, as tough as they may be, are at all effective. Suddenly the word “attack” is no longer offensive, despite declarations made by U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Only recently, following the decisive report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November, which confronted the world with knowledge it had previously refused to accept, did the international community — at least in part — decide to up the ante. The EU implemented an embargo on Iranian oil and the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank. Over the weekend, the U.S. and the EU also said they were preparing for an unprecedented step: removing Iran from the SWIFT international finance network. Things are starting to move forward.

Sources in the U.S. administration told The Guardian that Iran was not taking any of this seriously: not the sanctions, nor the country’s economic collapse, nor the threat of a military attack. This is not exactly what you’d call a rational regime, despite Dempsey’s thoughts to the contrary. The Iranian regime’s priorities are a bit different from the priorities we are familiar with. The goal of the ayatollahs is self-preservation.

In their view, this means the use of nuclear weapons, terrorism and alliances with regimes like that of Bashar Assad’s Syria and organizations like Hezbollah. This is Iran’s version of logic. On Saturday, Dempsey managed to redefine the concept. For him, the Iranian regime is “a rational player,” and attacking it would not be “prudent.” Perhaps you need four stars on your epaulet to understand this logic.


Elliott Abrams writing in the Weekly Standard, also takes issue with the US Administration’s seeming minimizing of the Iranian threat.

In October, an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. was disclosed by the United States government. And as the means was to be a bomb in a Washington restaurant, it is reasonable to assume Americans dining nearby would have been wounded or killed. In November, a new IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program was the most alarming yet: “After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” This month, Iran made various threats to attack American assets and allies, and conducted a series of terrorist attacks on Israeli officials in three world capitals.

With this in mind, the February 16 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Gen. Ron Burgess looks like a careful effort to play down the threat from Iran.

Burgess, for example, stated this: “Iran can close the Straits of Hormuz, at least temporarily and may launch missiles against United States forces and our allies in the region if it is attacked. Iran could also attempt to employ terrorists surrogates worldwide. However, the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict.” How is it possible to say that Iran is “unlikely” to “intentionally provoke” a conflict with the United States if it is willing to undertake an act of terrorism in our capital?

Then there is the nuclear question. Clapper said, “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”

It is difficult to read the transcript of the hearing without concluding that there was an effort to downplay the threat posed by Iran.

The mystery that emerges from the hearing is not what Iran is up to but what the witnesses were doing. Had the White House asked them to serve as human Prozac doses, calming down what it saw as overly excitable and hawkish senators? Had they decided, within the intelligence community, on that objective? Was this another example of the intel community’s reaction to the accusation that it politicized and overplayed the Iraqi nuclear threat, leading it now to underplay the Iranian nuclear threat? Perhaps it was just a desire not to become part of the heated Iran policy debate on the part of a straight shooter and old pro like Burgess of DIA. If it was the latter, it didn’t work.

The trouble with all these confusing, if not appeasing, messages is that they give unnecessary and undeserved confidence to the Iranian regime. They see the West as being not united in its determination, wobbling under pressure, and trying to deter Israel from attacking, and this is sure to give them a morale-boost. Hiding from the truth will not make it go away, and as Winston Churchill famously said, feeding the crocodile will only make it eat you last.

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7 Responses to Playing down the Iranian threat, trying to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran

  1. Of course Donilon, a state department and federal mortgage executive/lawyer by trade, favors “diplomacy” and believes in the gains to be had with a good cop/bad cop approach of sanctions and appeasement. It has worked so well in North Korea, right? Oh, wait, they have the bomb now. Say, hey, move to Seoul and live where nuclear devastation could be delivered by a pick up truck while simple modern field artillery pummeled you meantime. Do we really want this repeated in the middle east?

    No me, but I am fully cognizant of the conundrum faced by civilized people both in Israel and outside of it. I’ve seen what 175mm, 155mm, and 8 inch artillery can do, what HE, willy-pete,and napalm, can do from the air … it is a horror to behold. Nuclear events would be far far worse … and to have illogical players at the table with nuclear weapons heightens the risk of an overplay that once initiated cannot be called back. My opinion is that proliferation diminishes the concept of MAD by dilution of the effect. We are at a perilous juncture.

    Churchill was right, of course, and in his time we, the United States, finally entered the war in Europe, but not until Germany declared war on the USA first, following Pearl Harbor, which is what brought us in to the Pacific war. Not our finest hour, simply put. Truth was, in our dithering we didn’t have a military capable of the fight, and didn’t develop one until the threat reached our shores. We were lucky it wasn’t too late. We were lucky the idiot in Berlin invaded Russia and paid the price of such folly in the end. Our contribution to the war thereafter is not in question.

    Our handling of the post-war period, particularly in the Pacific theater, is dubious at best….and absolutely contributed to the advent of “my war.” The fine points of it all, historically, can be debated, but the simple fact is still that the general US populace, as well as Congress, did not want to engage in either the Pacific or in Europe until they had no choice (which is not really a choice is it?)… a rare instance when our Executive Branch was trying to do the right thing while the bulk of the nation dithered. A few “radicals”, such as my parents, felt otherwise … but they had short wave links to England at the time and knew more than the news was disseminating. Suffice it to say that in my youth the predominant cause of single parent (moms) families in my neighborhood was not divorce. For me it was a time for learning, whether I wished to do so or not.

    The statement (Clapper) that we don’t know if Iran will try to build nuclear weapons is classic … head in the sand logic. They-are-already-building-one. Hello? What we don’t know, but can surmise, is just what they might do with it once deployable. In a very real sense, we in the west, and most of the middle east, are on a dangerous precipice. We’re at the fight with our guns, but we’re waiting until the enemy drops it’s knife and finds a gun. Regrettably, the Marquis of Queensbury Rules seldom apply to war fare. Trying to be “fair” is the last thing you should consider in a military threat environment. “Fair” is coming home alive, surviving, with your enemy not so much. Even then you will feel survivors guilt, as I do, just for the salvation.

    • anneinpt says:

      Aridog, thank you once again for one of your excellent educational comments. The benefit of your hindsight, and of all those others who fought alongside you, should inform the decisions of the current Administration, but somehow they seem to sit inside an airtight bubble, refusing to see reality or learn from history.

      Regrettably, the Marquis of Queensbury Rules seldom apply to war fare. Trying to be “fair” is the last thing you should consider in a military threat environment.

      Those words should be carved in stone in the President’s office and at the State Dept.

  2. Roxymuzak says:

    I reckon that after Israel attacks Iran that the USA, the UK, Europe and most states in the ME will roundly and publicly condemn Israel.

    However, in private they’ll all be thinking the saem thing – Thank God for Israel.

    • I truly fear for Israel if they attack and are not fully supported by the United States, both in the attack and afterwards in the political salons. We need to thank God for Israel, certainly, and we also need to quit dithering and support them totally. We’ve waited too long and it will now take a combined effort of arms and will. I have no doubt Israel can execute a serious blow … but it would be even more assured if the US joins in, even if covertly.

      I’ve commented earlier that proliferation dilutes the effect of MAD (mutually assured destruction) because when too many guys at the table have nukes, someone eventually will feel paranoid and ignored, left out, whatever, and can act out to draw attention. Add to that phenomena a regime that is inherently religiously fanatical, unstable and paranoid, and we have a recipe for the end … in fact they say so for the most part vis a vis the Mahdi.

    • anneinpt says:

      @Roxymuzak – Oh yes, we’re all sure of that. It’s happened before, e.g. Osirak in 1981, Syria 2 years ago, and it will happen again. It’s just so unfair that Israel has to be the world’s whipping boy. If only we could afford it, it would be such fun to sit back and tell the world to do their own dirty work. Unfortunately, it is Israel’s existence that is first on the frontline.

    • Brian Goldfarb says:

      Add Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to that list, and not just because they’re not Shia Muslims, but because they fear an unstable Iran to their North-East more than they fear a stable & sane Israel to their North-West.

  3. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Aridog, you say that you fear for Israel if they “are not fully supported by the United States, both in the attack and afterwards in the political salons.” Somewhere below this article, I source a claim that Israel has already received up to 52 US Bunker-Busting bombs from the Obama regime (which were refused by the George W. Bush regime). I would think the support is already there, implicitly, at least.

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