By P. David Hornik,

According to the lead article (in Hebrew) in a recent weekend edition of the Israeli daily Maariv, Israel’s top political and security officials have taken a decision to attack Iran’s nuclear program if nothing else is done to halt it.

Senior journalist Ben Caspit writes that “the debate between those who think everything must be done, including a military operation, to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb and those who think one can live with it, has been decided. If the Iranian regime doesn’t fall during the coming year, if the Americans don’t deliver a military blow and if the sanctions don’t break the Iranian nuclear program, Israel will have to take action. In other words: the preparations for an Israeli military option…are already underway.”

Caspit adds by way of explanation: “In the Tehran-Jerusalem-Washington triangle, things haven’t been going well. Israel is desperate to get American permission for an attack on Iran, but is not obtaining it…. The shortest flight route to Iran passes over Iraq, where the Americans are in control.”

Instead of the needed overflight codes, Caspit claims, the U.S. is offering Israel defensive radar—“‘We’ll help you defend yourselves, but we’ll prevent you from attacking,’ say the Americans.” That description dovetails with recent reports of opposition to a strike on Iran—Israeli or American—particularly by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Michael Mullen. A security source told Caspit that “the Americans have accepted a nuclear Iran and are trying to get us to accept it.”

Israel, though, according to Caspit, is not about to do that, and former deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh (now head of a new political party) has been especially active trying to get that point across. Caspit says Sneh sent a document to both U.S. presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, in which he stated: “No government in Jerusalem will accept a nuclear Iran. Once it is clear Iran is at the point of nuclearization, an Israeli military action to prevent it will be on the agenda.”

To avoid that, Sneh wrote to McCain and Obama, the time has come for an all-out U.S. effort to get Europe to cooperate in imposing “real” sanctions aimed at toppling the Iranian regime. Those sanctions, Sneh believes, would have to be a complete embargo on replacement parts for Iran’s oil and refined-oil industry and a total boycott of the Iranian banking system.

Apparently aware himself of how hard that would be to achieve, Sneh recently went to Switzerland and Austria—countries that, as Caspit notes, “have announced huge investments in Iranian gas and oil fields for the next decade.”

Caspit quotes Sneh as telling him that “words about a Holocaust of Jews or Israeli security don’t impress those folks.” So instead Sneh told them it was “too bad” about their investments, “because Iddo’s going to set it all on fire”—referring to recently appointed Israeli air force chief Iddo Nehushtan. “‘Investing in Iran in 2008,’ Sneh told the Austrians, ‘is like investing in the [bombed and confiscated in WWII] Krupp steelworks in 1938, a high-risk investment.’ The Austrians, according to Sneh, turned pale.”

Caspit goes on to mention assessments of the likely military response to an Israeli strike on Iran—not only from Iran itself but also from Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza with their stocks of thousands of missiles. It’s with this in mind, Caspit claims, that Olmert has been holding his talks with Syrian president Bashar Assad. Olmert, according to Caspit, has said in closed forums that “Assad is a smart, sober man…. He’s capable of restraint and doesn’t belong to the world of radical Islam.”

1. Caspit’s status and contacts as an Israeli journalist mean his report shouldn’t be taken lightly. Israel is indeed in political flux, with Olmert very possibly facing indictment on corruption charges and his Kadima Party set to hold primaries in two weeks that may further lead to general elections. Caspit describes, however, a situation where alarm at Iran’s nuclear progress is predominant, with left-of-center Labor Party figures like Sneh and Defense Minister Ehud Barak among the most alarmed. And as if Israel’s political flux wasn’t enough, its leaders will naturally be watching keenly what happens on November 4 and—if still no major events in the security sphere by then—will see the situation as even more stark if the winner is someone who believes everyone is basically nice and just needs to be talked to.

2. Caspit describes the Israeli leaders as, albeit deeply concerned, having a time frame that may not be realistic. Britain’s Sunday Telegraph reported (Aug 31, ’08) that both the U.S. and Israel now fear that Russia stands to supply the sophisticated S-300 air-defense system to Iran in retaliation for Washington supporting NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. The S-300 is so effective that it’s said to be a “game-changer” that would rule out an Israeli raid and seriously complicate a U.S. attack. The system would take up to a year to become operational but the Israel sense of urgency would only be escalating.

3. It’s striking how loath even some Israelis like Sneh, who have no illusions about the Iranian threat, are to give up on the idea of concerted sanctions against Iran in which the Europeans would participate. In addition to Sneh’s Austrian and Swiss interlocutors, most recently Germany—led by the ostensibly conservative, pro-American Angela Merkel—has granted permission to the SPG engineering firm to build three plants for Iran to liquefy natural gas in a 100-million-euro deal. Even in the close-to-impossible scenario that Europe would at last sign on to severe sanctions, Iran’s friends outside the NATO sphere like Russia, China, and India would help it get past the rough patch.

4. Also striking is Olmert’s ongoing insistence on Assad’s reasonableness and potential benign role even in the aftermath of the Syrian leader’s trip to Moscow where he reportedly requested his own S-300 system as well as offensive weapons capable of affecting the Israeli-Syrian strategic balance. Olmert apparently is also not impressed by Assad’s praise for Russia’s invasion of Georgia and what that says about Assad’s geopolitical alignment. Although not shared by the current Bush administration, the belief in the Assad pere et fils regime’s pliability and openness to be enticed—with the Golan Heights—into the Western camp despite decades of drastic evidence to the contrary appears to be a permanent affliction.

5. Although current Israeli leaders Olmert, Barak, and Livni are aware of how badly Israel’s strategic situation is complicated by the Hezbollah threat in Lebanon and the Hamas threat in Gaza, creating the possibility of a four-pronged missile barrage in addition to Syria and Iran, these leaders have not been able to draw the right conclusions or improve the situation. Despite frequent threats to act against Hamas, Barak has remained passive and has now grasped at the straw of a “ceasefire” in which Hamas is feverishly building its forces. It was largely Olmert and Livni’s bungling in the summer 2006 war that further empowered Hezbollah in Lebanon and since then they’ve done nothing to impede that process. Add this to the ongoing U.S. and Israeli impotence toward Syria, and U.S. and Western fecklessness toward Iran, and the picture is not bright.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv.

One thought on “Israel’s Options Regarding Iran

  • It seems as though the war of Ezekiel 38 is even closer than Christians have thought. I’m hoping to see a change of leadership in Israel and not Livni. Get Bebe back in office; he is the only one who seems to have a firm grasp of the true situation in the Middle-East. It is far too late to keep living this fantacy that we can all get along through diplomacy and heart felt speaches and through specious land for peace deals. We are after all dealing with muslims and Russians. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

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