By Barry Rubin
Here’s a great case study of why so much of the reporting or analysis on the Middle East is so bad. Articles in the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz have led to speculation and concern–even in high levels of the U.S. government–about whether Israel is about to attack Iran. The Guardian and Daily Mail have even predicted that the British government is going to attack Iran. For goodness sake, is anyone actually studying these issues?
In fact, this story is full of holes.
First, Israel has decided not to attack Iran–a point I’m making due both to direct knowledge and direct statements, a few of them made publicly, by those involved in the debate. The reasons for this decision make sense but I won’t list them here to save your time.
Second, there is no new development to prompt such an attack. On the contrary, all of the reports have been about the slow pace of Iranian progress toward obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons. There is no urgency in such an operation.
Third, all the reasons for not attacking Iran are stronger than ever. Israel can expect little international support, the moves toward radicalism in Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Turkey (plus a heightened risk-taking by a shaky Syrian regime) make the environment for such an attack far more dangerous for Israel than a year or two ago. And again there is no vital incentive for launching such an attack.
Fourth, the Jerusalem Post article doesn’t even say that Israel is thinking of attacking Iran but only that there is a plan in place for doing so and that Israel’ military is practicing such an operation. Of course that’s what should be happening but that doesn’t mean an attack is imminent any more than did such practicing in previous years. The Haaretz article says that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has asked the cabinet to make such an attack. If that’s true there’d be a lot more leaks and since Netanyahu not so long ago persuaded the cabinet not to do it that also sounds doubtful. But again, even if true that wouldn’t be an imminent attack but a start for a new round of debate.
How to explain this story? As I said, it is probable that Israeli forces are practicing for a possible attack if it’s ever needed. There might also be a deliberate leak to scare the Iranians, encourage the West to take the issue of stopping Iran more seriously, or to cover another planned operation. I have a short list of what such an operation might be but I’m not going to write about it today.
What’s impressive here to me is the sloppiness of the response. There have been few good analyses on the points raised above. Don’t journalists know how to read newspapers and don’t they remember some key points that have come out in the past? And where is a serious analysis of the factors leading Israel not to attack Iran.
Okay, I’ll list some:
–An attack would not stop Iran’s program but only delay it while guaranteeing that Tehran would be in a state of war with Israel and far more likely to use nuclear weapons.
–There’s no sense in hitting Iran unless it is on the verge of obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons (a situation that would offer some different targets from those available today).
–Israel has gone for the kind of strategy used by the United States in the Cold War. It is building up both missile and plane forces that would simultaneously provide an effective attack on Iranian facilities and launchers plus the most effective possible defense against Iranian attack.
–Keep in mind two key points: Iran is far less likely to attack Israel with nuclear weapons than many people in the West think (I’ll explain that another time) and Iran needs a fair number of simultaneous firings to launch a serious attack (easier to detect if being planned and requiring far more than one or two nuclear weapons).
–Israel simply cannot depend on U.S. or European support for such an operation and for weathering the dangerous aftermath.
Then there’s the British government and the Obama Administration. Are these two more likely to attack Iran or seek a new deal with Tehran? Is anyone looking at their record, rhetoric, and worldview?
There’s a lot more that should also be part of the discussion. As usual, Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post gets it right. But on watching the response of many others to such developments I keep thinking about New York Yankees’ manager Casey Stengel’s famous lament: Can’t anyone here play this game?