There is a better than 50-50 chance that Israel will attack Iran after next July, but many Israeli officials think a better solution to the Iranian nuclear threat would be an American strike on its nuclear facilities, Atlantic Monthly’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes.
Under the title of “The Point of No Return, Goldberg’s article describes a probable scenario if sanctions, an internal Iranian revolution or local sabotage does not stop Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his tracks.
“Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft,” Goldberg wrote in the new issue of the magazine.
“Israel would get only one try. Israeli planes would fly low over Saudi Arabia, bomb their targets in Iran, and return to Israel by flying again over Saudi territory, possibly even landing in the Saudi desert for refueling—perhaps, if speculation rife in intelligence circles is to be believed, with secret Saudi cooperation. These planes would have to return home quickly, in part because Israeli intelligence believes that Iran would immediately order Hizbullah to fire rockets at Israeli cities.”
One general told Goldberg, “Our problem is not Iranian air defenses, because we have ways of neutralizing that. Our problem is that the Saudis will look very guilty in the eyes of the world if we keep flying over their territory.”
With the likelihood that Iran will be able to deliver a nuclear weapon in 1-3 years, Goldberg said that the Holocaust echo of “Never Again” will leave Israel no choice other than to attack Iran without asking the United States for permission or even notifying it in advance.
The growing conclusion among Israeli leaders is that the alternative to bombing Iran would be the annihilation of the Jewish State.
“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the journalist. “When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the world should start worrying, and that’s what is happening in Iran.”
Israeli leaders have tried to drum in the message that the Iranian threat is aimed at the entire world and not just Israel. The reasoning leaves open the option—and hope—that U.S. President Barack Obama will step into the breach and carry out a military strike on the Islamic Republic. It is speculative whether the young president, who was elected on the back of sentiment against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, would order an attack.
An unnamed Arab foreign minister told Goldberg, “This is not a discussion about the invasion of Iran. We are hoping for the pinpoint striking of several dangerous facilities. America could do this very easily.”
Israeli military officials also have their sights set across the Atlantic Ocean. Goldberg said that Israel’s security advisor Uzi Arad related that Prime Minister Netanyahu often tells visiting foreign officials, “Let me tell you a secret. The American military is bigger than Israel’s.”
“If the choice is between allowing Iran to go nuclear, or trying for ourselves what Obama won’t try, then we probably have to try,” the official added. Our time would be better spent lobbying Barack Obama to do this, rather than trying this ourselves,” one general told me. “We are very good at this kind of operation, but it is a big stretch for us. The Americans can do this with a minimum of difficulty, by comparison. This is too big for us.”
However, President Obama’s style of oratory and “engagement” of enemies has left Israeli officials doubtful. “We don’t believe that he is the sort of person who would launch a daring strike on Iran. We are afraid he would see a policy of containing a nuclear Iran rather than attacking it,” one policy maker told Goldberg.
Would Prime Minister Netanyahu be the man to “pull the trigger” on Iran? The answer goes back to the Holocaust. One official who “spends considerable time” with Prime Minister Netanyahu told Goldberg, “The only reason Bibi [Netanyahu] would place Israel’s relationship with America in total jeopardy is if he thinks that Iran represents a threat like the Shoah [Holocaust]. In World War II, the Jews had no power to stop Hitler from annihilating us. Six million were slaughtered. Today, six million Jews live in Israel, and someone is threatening them with annihilation. But now we have the power to stop them. Bibi knows that this is the choice.”
One mitigating factor against attacking Iran is the effect sanctions are having on its nuclear development. Despite the fanfare of a new centrifuge for enriching uranium, U.S. National Security Council official Gary Samore said, “The particular centrifuge machines they’re running are based on an inferior technology. They are running into some technical difficulties, partly because of the work we’ve done to deny them access to foreign components. When they make the parts themselves, they are making parts that don’t have quality control.”
Regardless of the effects of the sanctions, one Arab foreign minister pointed out the mentality of Ahmadinejad—that others might apply to all Muslim radicals—that while President Obama acts out of “reasonableness,” “Iran will continue on this reckless path, unless the administration starts to speak unreasonably. The best way to avoid striking Iran is to make Iran think that the U.S. is about to strike Iran. “
Goldberg wrote, “Based on months of interviews, I have come to believe that the administration knows it is a near-certainty that Israel will act against Iran soon if nothing or no one else stops the nuclear program; and Obama knows—as his aides, and others in the State and Defense departments made clear to me—that a nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat to the interests of the United States, which include his dream of a world without nuclear weapons.“