Israeli Threats of Attack on Iran Contradict Strategic Reality

Article Summary
Leading Egyptian policy analyst Fahmi Howeidi uses information gathered from intelligence agencies, policymakers and journalists to discuss the potential for an impending Israeli attack on Iran. He warns of the potential consequences of such an attack on the Arab world in particular.

I hope that the Arab Spring will not distract us from the war Israel is planning to start in the Levant with a strike on Iran. The Arab world will not be spared the repercussions of such an attack.

[This threat] is nothing new. [It all started] almost ten years ago, when Iran decided to start enriching uranium to supply its nuclear program. It took [this decision] after Western countries refused to provide it with nuclear fuel. [At the time], Israel wielded a “veto,” announcing that it would not allow Iran to [go ahead with its plans to build nuclear facilities]. It sent out the same kind of message when it bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. The Israelis did not rest until in 2002 they succeeded in persuading the administration of [George W. Bush] to destroy all of Iraq and remove it from the equation of regional power.

Iran embarked on its peaceful nuclear energy program before the revolution, through agreements with a number of German companies. But the 1979 revolution brought the project to a halt and forced the Germans to renege on their agreements. Moscow intervened in the early 90s, and the Israeli “veto” has hindered the [Iranian] project ever since. [Israel] has employed at least four different means [to block Iranian nuclear ambitions]. First, it has made use of politics and the media to incite fears of the Iranian program and the threat it poses to Israel, the Gulf region and the world. Second, it has [encouraged] economic pressures which aim to besiege Iran. These pressures culminated with the EU decision to ban Iranian oil exports as of July 1. Third, Israel has assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists - four so far - and it has tried to sabotage military installations [in Iran]. Fourth, [Israel] has talked openly about [potential military strikes] to destroy the nuclear facilities.

Israel has long employed the first three means over the past years. With regards to the fourth, it now sends messages [about a potential military strike on Iran] from time to time through the media and within political [circles]. Recent evidence brought to light in Western and Israeli newspapers indicates that we will probably see a decisive step being taken within a year’s time. I will now explain how and why [Israel will choose to attack Iran].

On February 3, the Washington Post published an article by David Ignatius, a journalist with an insider’s view of the US administration, in which Ignatius wrote that US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta “believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June - before Iran enters what the Israelis have described as a ‘zone of immunity’ to commence building a nuclear bomb.”

[The article adds that an Israeli] military strike could be limited and will target the [uranium-enrichment facility] at Natanz and other targets. [It contends that] an attack on the [buried] enrichment facility at Qom would be more difficult to successfully achieve from the air. [The article continues that] the scenario of a short-war assumes approximately five days of limited Israeli strikes which will be followed by a UN-brokered cease-fire.

Ignatius’ article is one example in a series of analyses which, in recent weeks, have appeared frequently in the media. [Many surveys of the situation agree that] the Iranian nuclear program will enter a crucial stage before the end of this summer. On January 1, Haaretz published statements made by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak last November, in which he said that the Iranian nuclear program must be halted within a year. [Barak] clarified Israel’s “red line,” saying that “when the moment comes where most of its uranium can be enriched in a protected site, Iran will be in ‘immune space.’ [This will take] the option of a military attack (at least by Israel) off the table.” To expand on this point, Haaretz explained that the Iranians will start [enriching their uranium] at an underground site [near the city of Qom] - hampering the effectiveness of a possible air attack. Indeed, this is what Barak speaks of when he mentions [that the military option will be off the table].

Other secondary reasons will prompt Israel to take military action against Iran before the end of summer. It is important to take into account the following [key points]:

The US president, whose administration prefers not to get involved in a new war, will be in his weakest position. [Obama] will be busy with his re-election campaign and will be in great need of Jewish votes. He will thus not be able to openly object to the Israeli decision.

The European Union - which has been reluctant to confront Iran in past years -  has been excessive in its support of Israeli policy. The EU even approved the [UN] resolution which aimed to besiege Iran through an oil embargo and a ban on all financial transactions with  [Iran’s] Central Bank.

If the Syrian regime has not already been already toppled, it will still be unable to provide any help to Iran or Hezbollah, whose movement will be constrained as well. It is clear that the Assad regime and Hezbollah will concern themselves with [the security of] Iran, and that they will protect its back against any Israeli aggression.

Israel is worried about the developments relating to the Arab spring. In its latest strategic report, it expressed concern over the growing Arab sentiment rejecting [Israel’s place in the region] and its peace treaty with Egypt. It now has a chance to try to destroy the Iranian power, weaken its opposing front and assert its [superiority] in the region.

The Arab world has not been satisfied with Iran’s behavior in recent years - whether it is on the topic of its friendly relations with the Syrian regime despite the latter’s recent atrocities, or its worrying expansion in Iraq which has sharpened [sectarian] sensitivities and angered the [Iraqi] Sunni population. These acts have undermined the positive image Iran had been projecting due to its support to the Palestinian resistance and its rejection of US hegemony.

There has yet to be final confirmation on what is noted above. There is no evidence that Iran seeks to use its nuclear program for military purposes. There is also nothing to confirm that Israel has made a final decision to destroy the [Iranian] program through military force. But what is certain is that Israel wants to stop the [Iranian nuclear] program by any means. What’s more, Israeli military preparations are underway to deal with [the eventuality of] the military option.

A report issued by the US National Intelligence Council covering the activities of 17 intelligence agencies between the years 2007-2010 said that Iran stopped developing its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and that there is no evidence that it has changed course. In 2009, former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned of the serious consequences that an attack on Iran would have. This warning was strongly echoed by Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen in 2010. In 2011, former Head of the Mossad Meir Dagan opposed the idea of ​​an attack [on Iran]. In fact, the Israeli Strategic Report for the year 2011 expressly says that “there is no real intention to take military action against Iran, neither in Israel nor in the United States.” British writer and Middle East specialist Patrick Seale said that the launching of an attack on Iran is highly unlikely in the near future. Israel would not dare to attack Iran alone. [For his part], President Obama explicitly said that the United States would not allow itself to be drawn into another disastrous war in the Middle East after the mess it got itself into in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a January 27 [report by] the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.

In spite of these statements, events on the ground seem to be heading in another direction. There is a US conviction that the Israeli couple - Netanyahu and Barak - is moving towards an [adoption] of the military option before the end of summer, as noted above. Besides, Barak has asked the Americans to postpone the annual military exercises between the two countries scheduled for May.

On January 22, the Maariv newspaper mentioned that during US Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey’s visit to Tel-Aviv, Israel told the US  that it would not seek the United States’ permission to attack Iran. Rather, will rather notify it 12 hours prior to the operation. Quoting the British Sunday Times, the newspaper said that a harsh phone conversation took place between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when the latter refused to fill the White House in on the details of the attack so that the US president would not make any effort to stop him based on knowledge of the attack’s timing.

In his article in the Washington Post, David Ignatius says that the US administration is now examining the consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran. This raises questions over whether an Iranian reaction would target the US bases and ships in the Gulf region, the status of the Strait of Hormuz - which Iran has already threatened to close. 90% of the region's oil passes through the strait with an average of 16.5 million barrels per day. This represents a quarter of the global oil consumption. [Iran’s threat] may have a drastic impact on the high prices of oil, which are already exhausting the weak US economy in an election year. The writer also said that in the event of an attack on Iran, Hezbollah might launch a barrage of missiles from Lebanon, and some Israeli experts estimate that around 500 people may be injured as a result. If this takes place, Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s rockets is a topic open to discussion. The Arab Shia position in this regard is also undetermined.

Nothing is being said - at least in public - about the status of the Gulf region under the [current] circumstances. But we have noticed that the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held a meeting in this regard in Istanbul last week with the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. It is aknowledged that Turkey is concerned with the Iranian file, as it has previously - along with Brazil - worked to broker [a solution] to the issue of the Iranian nuclear program.

It is true that Israel can set a date for its first attack on Iran. However, it will not be able to control the backlash that may result from such an attack. The spark of war may very well spread flames across the wider sphere of the Arab world. Besides, no one knows of the impact [an attack on Iran] may have on the northern Caucasus area adjacent to Iran. An overwhelming Muslim majority lives in this region in a state of tension and anger - a persistent worry to the Russian government.

The important point raised by both David Ignatius and Patrick Seale is that Washington is obligated to ensure the security of Israel under an agreement between the two countries that is difficult to break, especially in a year of US elections. This is why they both warned that the United States may be obliged to intervene in Israel’s interest if it comes under attack by Iran or Hezbollah. They also warned that for Iran to commit any mistake by assaulting US ships or bases would [force] Washington to participate in a war it seeks to distance itself from.

The Gulf states might emerge unscathed from any potential confrontation. Why should the GCC not take the initiative and begin talks with Iran to reach an agreement under which the Gulf states would pledge not to allow their territory to be used for launching an attack on Iran? In return, Iran might pledge not to use the Shiites in the region to destabilize the incumbent political regimes. This could be considered a starting point for the establishment of close security cooperation that would preserve the stability and interests of both parties.

I did not make this last suggestion. Patrick Seale mentioned it in good faith in his own article. I hope it is not too late to discuss this option. But what I find strange is that no one sees a threat to the security of the Arab nation in all these developments; nor do they sense that the situation requires at least some action on the part of the Arab world.

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