Every few years we have an outbreak of media and official speculation that Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran, perhaps in coordination with the United States. These mini-orgies of incestuous reportage typically involve reports of Israeli military preparation, a flashy show of long-range bombing runs, politicians saying that Iran is so close to a bomb that only bombing can stop them, and worried commentary that American and other officials seem to be persuaded that this time Israel is serious.
Often these word bursts come just before a UN event that is likely to produce more sanctions on Iran and near the end of a US presidential term, apparently on the theory that a first-term president is subject to charges of being soft on Iran while a second-term president will conclude he no longer has anything to lose politically by striking against the Islamic regime.
The pro-war pundits — and yes they really do exist and are just itching to be heard despite the less than favorable reviews about their previous productions in Afghanistan and Iraq — assure us that this time the threat seems to be real and that there is really nothing to worry about since the war will be swift, surgical and short.
The article below, by two respected Israeli writers in Haaretz, is a particularly good summary of the current reincarnation of this spectre that refuses to die. I was especially struck by the following comment: “At least some of these moves are part of a carefully orchestrated campaign whose purpose is not necessarily an Israeli attack. It could be a means of sparking a broad diplomatic maneuver to ratchet up sanctions on Iran.”
That happens to be my position exactly. We have been around this track many times before, with exactly the same level of manufactured hysteria, peaking with a campaign of sanctions and then just as mysteriously vanishing.
How can you tell this is not the real thing? Well, if Israel were actually considering a highly dangerous strike on a well-armed enemy, would they be kicking the idea around for everyone to see? Before their successful strike on the Syrian reactor site, there was not even a hint that anything was in the works. When they struck the Iraqi reactor years ago, no one within or outside the region saw it coming.
But if the real reason is propaganda, intended to stir up support for new sanctions against Iran, then the more public the better.
Do we always have to be taken in by this transparent ploy?
IsraelandIranare fighting a war of nerves
What’s happening now betweenJerusalemandTehranis war of public threats, but the way declarations are translated into actions in international forums will dictate developments in the coming weeks.
Israel conducts a rare ballistic missile test; the Israel Air Force reports a successful exercise in Sardinia, far from home; Iran’s chief of staff says the “likelihood is low” of an Israeli attack, but threatens that his country would respond forcefully.
British sources tell The Guardian of preparations for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites coordinated with the United States; Britain’s chief of staff makes a secret visit to Israel. The defense minister goes to London for talks; MKs from the extreme right demand that the former head of the Mossad be put on trial (! ) for daring to object to an Israeli attack. The speed of events on the Israel-Iran front is beginning to recall the eve of a war.
What’s happening now between Jerusalem and Tehran is a war of signals and public threats. But it’s the way the declarations are translated into actions at the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council, and in Western capitals, that will dictate developments in the coming weeks.
Almost anything goes in this war of nerves. Reasonable citizens, at this point quite worried, should take into consideration that a great deal is happening covertly. At least some of these moves are part of a carefully orchestrated campaign whose purpose is not necessarily an Israeli attack. It could be a means of sparking a broad diplomatic maneuver to ratchet up sanctions on Iran.
News outlets, especially on the Web, have a tendency to link every unimportant scrap of news to a general conspiracy. But the fact that a search-and-rescue exercise is taking place on Thursday in the Petah Tikva area doesn’t mean we’re on the verge of a regional war.
Even the controversy over the media’s preoccupation with the possibility of an attack is misleading. Ostensibly, if the prime minister and defense minister were going to strike, they would be the first to be worried about supposedly secret operational details exposed in the press. But Ehud Barak was interviewed at length on Army Radio Monday and did not mention any damage. And two people who did attack the chatter are ministers considered opponents of an attack, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor.
The most interesting event on Wednesday was the ballistic missile test. Foreign sources say Israel has the ability to attach a nuclear warhead to a ballistic missile. Only a few days ago a British report said Israel was working to increase the range of its Jericho 3 missile. Such a test now suggests that maybe the missile test was a signal to Iran.
The problem with that explanation is that a test launch requires months of preparation, with hundreds of people involved. It’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision. Still, the defense minister approved the launch, with the prime minister’s knowledge. Presumably the two were aware of the spin it would be given, yet they did not cancel it.
So what’s really going on here? It seems that only Netanyahu and Barak know, and maybe even they haven’t decided. While many people say Netanyahu and Barak are conducting sophisticated psychological warfare and don’t intend to launch a military operation, top officials, including some in the forum of eight senior ministers, are still afraid.
Ostensibly, Israel is in a win-win situation. If its scare tactics work, the international community will impose paralyzing sanctions on Iran. If the world falls asleep at its post, there are alternatives.
But this is a dangerous game. A few more weeks of tension and one party or another might make a fatal mistake that will drag the region into war. Barak, the brilliant planner, should know this. More than once in the past his complex plans have gone seriously awry.