Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Israel and Iran

Last week I quoted a Reuven Pedatzur op-ed that made the case that Israel should not use its military to take out the Iranian nuclear program and instead "should leave the job to the United States, in the hope that the Europeans will come to their senses and understand the danger to world peace posed by a nuclear Iran." Well it seems that the rest of the world has the opposite idea: let Israel handle it and not worry about the repercussions, give Israel that "oh you guys" look that is expected and brush their hands. Aluf Benn points to this in a column in today's Ha'aretz (titled "Waiting to Bomb Iran").
It is possible that factors in the West, doubtful about the success of the diplomatic effort, prefer to have Israel act in their place. There are signs of that: Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who met with many of his colleagues at the UN General Assembly, heard a great deal of understanding from them about the Iranian danger, and serious doubts as to the chances of diplomacy. Nobody asked Israel to refrain from a belligerent act.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says that Israel is not planning a military operation in Iran, and speaks of developing improved means of defense and deterrence. But the foreign media were more interested in the threats against the Iranians by senior members of the Israel Defense Forces. "We will not rely only on others" (Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon), "We will rely on others until we have to rely on ourselves" (his deputy, Dan Halutz), "The operational capability of the air force has increased significantly since the bombing of the Iraqi reactor" (Commander of the Israel Air Force, Eliezer Shkedi).
It is interesting that nobody asked Israel to refrain from a belligerent act at the UNGA meetings. It seems that Europe is probably not thrilled that Iran might soon have nuclear weapons, but is willing to accept it. They aren't pushing for Israel to take Iran down, but they aren't going to stand in the way either. The US would be very happy if Israel did the military work in this one, since they certainly are vehemently opposed to Iran getting nuclear weapons. Of course, they can't really handle another war right now, what with things going as they are in Iraq (although we'll see what happens in the election). Also, the US is going to look pretty silly after going into Iraq for the WMDs and then sitting there and doing nothing to the country that does seem to be on its way to WMDs in Iran (which would make that twice the case, with North Korea still not "liberated"). So basically, Israel would be doing others the favor of doing the dirty work, possibly taking the hit (Iran has threatened that it would not sit by and take a military attack against it without retaliating - evening threatening "preemption" at one point). Anyhow, the point of all this is that obviously there is some concern as to whether this is actually in the interest of the Israelis. Pedatzur obviously thought otherwise and Aluf Benn expresses his doubt:
A possible attack on Iran will be much more complex and risky [than other IDF operations], and therefore we would do well not to ignore the threats, and to conduct a public debate on the question of whether this course of action is desirable for Israel.
This is bigger than assassinating Shaykh Yasin, bigger than launching attacks into southern Lebanon, bigger even than carrying out assassinations in Damascus, the capital of a foreign and (officially) hostile nation. Essentially a declaration of war, this is something that the Israeli public should be able to weigh in on before it goes down. Sharon can justify ignoring the public in the name of security in the occupied territories and in military strikes on international targets where the immediate repercussions are minor. Not so with Iran. Given Sharon's record of doing things his way, opposition be damned, I would say that Benn is correct in urging some kind of public discussion and going against the gathering opinion that this is an irreversible done deal.

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