To Attack Or Not to Attack Iran? For Israel, That Is the Folly

Article Summary
Haim Assa invokes Shakespeare's Hamlet in wondering why Israel always proposes the same remedy: a military strike. The nation no longer appears able to generate alternative strategies, he avers, and this harms Israel’s deterrence ability in a world of real threats.

To attack or not to attack Iran – that is the question [in the words of Hamlet in William Shakespeare's play]: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the arrows of outrageous fortune, the slings of its missiles and threats or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them! That's what Hamlet would have been asking himself these days had he been wandering, lost in thought, through the corridors of power in Israel.

The sea of troubles that seems to overwhelm us, the leaders of Israel,liable as we are to suffer the outrageous fortune of being deemed by history the culprits responsible for the nuclear capability gained by Iran. After all, we have threatened and warned and talked about it over and over again, almost daily, and even hourly, declaring that we have the right to attack Iran – alas, we failed to accomplish it. A bitter fate indeed awaits us if we do not succumb and comply with our own words, with our own threats, with the rope that we are binding around our neck. As how will we be able to look a Jewish child straight in the eye 30 years from now, when he tells us: you threatened to attack, but have never attacked, and that's why Iran has nuclear capability?

And you will not even be able to defend yourselves and say: We did not really mean it, we just sought to induce the world into imposing ever harsher sanctions [against Iran]; we were playing the role of the madman that had to be calmed down. Or would you rather say: Yes, we did mean it, but we did not dare "to take arms against a sea of troubles," to attack Iran and by opposing end our sea of troubles (such leaders that we are) rather than put an end to Iran's nuclear program.

According to [American historian and writer] Barbara Tuchman [the author of The March of Folly, which examines four instances of folly in human history], folly is defined as the pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest. And the folly in this case is becoming clearer, since the rope the leaders of Israel are binding around their neck, that is, around our neck,  in the form of repeated threats and warnings supposedly intended to avoid attack, is bound to lead to attack, even if it transpires that such an attack would be a mistake, contrary to self-interest, futile and so on and so forth, and that their sole purpose is actually to end their own personal sea of troubles. Since, if we do launch an attack [on Iran] and it fails [they must be reasoning], no one would say: You are to blame. After all, in that case, we would not be accountable. We would have done our best. It's the defense establishment that would be held responsible and blamed for the failure.

On the other hand, if we fail to attack, we will never know whether it is on account of our failure that Iran is in possession of the nuclear sword that is threatening our very existence. It is reaching the height of folly when [U.S. Republican Presidential nominee] Mitt Romney is visiting Israel in an attempt to woo the Jewish vote in the US by voicing "insinuated" support for an Israeli attack [on Iran]. And why is it [the height of] folly? As quite a large number of American Jews are expecting the American president to calm down the Israeli leadership, and since in the end, we are liable to attack [Iran] for the wrong reasons – not because we should attack it, but rather because we have threatened and blabbered so much.

Everything is associated these days with the question "to attack or not to attack'." To attack or not to attack Syria, considering the rebellion raging on there and the lineup of unconventional weapons in the country? To attack or not to attack in Iran? And what about Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon – should we or shouldn't we attack there? A slap on the cheek and a punch in the face of the Turkish ambassador to Israel – that's it [referring to a diplomatic incident in 2010]?That's the single magic cure for all our maladies? Could it be the eclipse of reason? Could it be that the State of Israel can no longer think of alternative strategies? As a matter of fact, it's only thus that Israel can be tripped up. It's only that way that Israel could be trapped in the the Marmara [the military operation against a flotilla heading to Gaza on May 31 2010], since it is commonly known that the only two options Israel may consider in events like these are "to attack or not to attack." It's as simple as that: If we attack, they get the upper hand and in the other case, too, if we don't attack, they gain the upper hand. Either way, they hit the jackpot. Israel's rivals are well aware that it has no other cure. They know that Israel is incapable of producing another remedy or even considering other options. It is like a handicapped person with both hands amputated, who has no choice but to manage with his feet alone. Such disability is defined in professional jargon as "limited maneuvering space." In the case under discussion here, the limitation is caused primarily by inadequate reasoning ability. It is a most difficult limitation, more so than shortage of weaponry. In fact, a limited maneuvering space is the major factor that adversely impacts the deterrence capability. So, here's the folly. If the interest of Israel is to deter, than it achieves the very opposite, and if its interest is to avoid attack, then the inevitable outcome of its conduct is bound to be an attack. To attack or not to attack [Iran] – that is the folly, not the question. Which just goes to show how relevant Shakespeare still is, even today.

[The author is a mathematician and military systems analyst; he served as the head of the strategic team for the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and was his personal adviser for strategic affairs.]

Found in: syria, strike, limited leeway, israel, iran, hezbollah, gaza, deterrence

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