via Gary’s Choices
By Gary Sick
Every few months there is a concocted “crisis” involving suggestions that Israel is just on the verge of attacking Iran. This cycle started almost a decade ago, and it has repeated itself roughly annually, though sometimes more frequently.
In the early days, these alarms typically began with a series of “leaks” by anonymous sources, usually to well connected Israeli or pro-Israeli reporters. For years it appeared that the US and world media would bite every time, with no apparent recollection that they had heard that tune before.
But when you have cried wolf so many times, even the main stream media, which loves an exciting story, begins to wonder if it is not being led by the nose. More important, over the past two years, as the veiled threats of an attack became ever more shrill, virtually the entire Israeli security establishment came out in opposition to such an operation. For a good summary, click here. Their reasoning was simple:
- Israel could not finish the job by itself; it could launch an attack by aircraft and cruise missile, which might do damage to the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, but Israel could not finish the job. For that, they needed the United States.
- A unilateral Israel strike would very likely speed up Iran’s nuclear weapon development; Iran might well withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, kick out the IAEA inspectors who are our eyes and ears on the ground, and announce that, since they had been attacked by a nuclear weapons state, they were no longer bound by their pledge not to produce a weapon.
- The entire Persian Gulf region would be thrown into chaos and the price of oil would probably go sky high for some time. The costs to delicate world economies, still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, would be severe.
- The Iranian people, at least initially, would probably rally around their hard line leadership, as they have in the past when their national sovereignty was challenged. The Green reform movement would be undercut, since they would not dare associate themselves with external invaders.
- The United States would be blamed (and not only by Iran) for complicity in the attack, regardless of whether it was true. Iran and its allies might well retaliate against US military and civilian targets, in addition to Israel, thus sparking a much wider regional conflict.
- If an air strike did not work, the logical next step would be to go after the leadership. And, as we learned in Iraq, that means boots on the ground.
In short, an Israeli (or American) attack would very likely leave the situation much worse than it was before taking military action. Israel’s security would not be improved; in fact, it might be imperiled by the negative response of even Israel’s closest allies. And Iran’s creeping approach to nuclear capability might turn into a sprint.
This awareness of the “day after” effect has persuaded many security specialists that an Israeli attack would be the very definition of a Pyrrhic victory.
It is worth remembering that Israel acquires significant leverage from this constant perception of imminent war. By keeping the Iranian nuclear case at the forefront of the world’s media, political leaders everywhere are more likely to pay a price in the form of lost revenues and political sparring with Iran, rather than facing the calamity of an outright war.
The problem is that economic sanctions and covert interference with Iran’s nuclear program have been pushed to such a level that they are morphing into outright economic and political warfare. Iran has lost roughly fifty percent of its national income in the past six months, in addition to a series of assassinations and cyber attacks on its infrastructure. Inflation and unemployment are soaring — affecting all levels of society, especially the poor. There is no longer even the pretense that these are “smart” sanctions directed only at Iran’s political and military leadership.
Iran has responded to this onslaught by entering into negotiations and offering some compromise positions, such as potentially terminating its uranium enrichment to the 20 percent level and eliminating its stockpile of such uranium. But the US and its allies have taken a hard line position that Iran must cease ALL enrichment if they want to see any relief from the sanctions.
It is doubtful that the US can make any significant concessions during an election year, and Iran has shown little willingness to yield to the pressure by terminating all uranium enrichment.
That is the context for the latest crisis about a possible Israeli attack.
Based on the experience of a decade of such crises, all of which faded away with no military action, I can only be skeptical. I am aware that “This is the Middle East…” i.e. that nations are capable of acting against their own interests in the hysteria of the moment.
My only concern is that Prime Minister Netanyahu, having made the case so often and so publicly for Israel’s right and even duty to attack, will have painted himself into a corner where there is no escape without actually risking national catastrophe.
Yes, that is a possibility. But I have sufficient confidence in the operation of Israeli democracy and the instinct for self preservation of its leaders to regard that possibility as vanishingly small.
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