August 10, 2012 2 Comments
An article in one of Israel’s major newspapers (“Yediot Archonot”) claims that Netanyahu the Israeli PM and Barack the Defence Minister have decided to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in the autumn, in order to cause the nuclear weapon program a delay. Furthermore the article suggests that this would be pre-US elections, i.e. most probably without Obama’s backing and against the will of most of the heads of army and security in Israel.
Since this article claims to give an answer to one of the most asked questions about the Middle East, it is likely to create a lot of discussion both pro and against. In order to anticipate some of the claims and address some of the likely “conspiracy theories” to follow, here are some of the likely motives behind the decision as well as looking at the winners and losers of each motivation.
It is not inconceivable that just like many other news stories this one has been put out of context. It wouldn’t be impossible for a reporter to choose part of a an ongoing discussion, for example the attack date, and report on it as if it has been agreed. However, this article was published in a respectable national Israeli newspaper, by two senior and experienced reporters.
therefore, while in the short-term the newspaper will probably increase its sales figures and gain credibility, if the article is in fact wrong, the journalists stand to lose some of their reputation (sometime in November, if anyone would still remember).
It could be that the motivation is genuine self-defence. It is no secret that while reports are showing Iran’s economy in decline, some reports are also showing that after 30 years of sanctions, Iran has gotten very good at avoiding restrictions and is bringing in enough revenue to last until a major milestone in their program is reached, at which point all the rules would have changed (mainly the position of anxious neighbouring Sunni countries). Obama’s people’s recent visits to Israel, were probably in order to convince Israel of American support against Iran’s nuclear program, in order to delay any unilateral attack. It is not unlikely that Israel was not convinced that the US is not willing to do enough and in time to alleviate Israel’s risks.
However, if the intelligence is the reason, it doesn’t explain why the security heads would oppose an attack ( as reported in the article), since they would be privileged to the same intelligence reports. The latter reason is more plausible, i.e. American lack of support, since while the security heads may understand the technical military details better, they might not be aware of a political game going on between the US and Israel.
Israel knows that there is one thing the US and Europe don’t want and that is a Middle eastern conflict involving Iran, causing the price of oil to soar and potentially destroying any fragile economic recovery achieved or even throwing the world’s economy into disarray. Economic stability has already been a factor causing Europe and the US to act so slowly until this year (which one could argue brought the world to this junction). Every politician knows that it would be very difficult to show the voters a reason for causing an economic disruption, especially after the failure of finding WMDs in Iraq, Europe and the US are not keen to jump into a conflict with so many unknowns as well as based mainly on intelligence.
The other players that will lose, from this early announcement, are the Iranian leaders. Preparing for a counter attack is costly. Apart from spending money on its army to prepare, Iran would have to start looking at their allies and no doubt rewarding them financially to ensure that they act in the right manner, when needed. It is especially tricky to do of this, while trying to maintain control on civilians, who are going through an economic crisis.
Israel is going through a wave of demonstrations against the economy. While the new budget and austerity measures are being passed Netanyahu is getting a bashing in the polls. Netanyahu’s coalition is fragile and he knows that his worst nightmare might come true, in which, his automatic support from the economically weak sectors of society, might disappear. Netanyahu has also aligned himself with the Orthodox Jews instead of the secular majority, which guarantees him the Orthodox parties, but cost him a lot of traditional votes.
Netanyahu knows that an election winning strategy would be a military conflict, as he and Barack are both decorated war heroes and are still seen as the most competent candidates to lead Israel through a future war. Also, one must remember that Israel is different from the Western world in the sense that a war isn’t about preserving ideals and lifestyle thousands of miles away, rather existential, which gains more domestic support.
This claim however, assumes the worse about Netanyahu, as it suggests that he would drag Israel into a premature war and the world into a major conflict, in exchange for political longevity. The other argument against this claim is that a negative result would bury his political career forever a thing he must have considered.
Netanyahu knows that Obama is not going to support a conflict before the elections. His voters are made of the majority of people, who object the Iraq war and think that the US went to war unnecessarily. However, despite that, it would be very difficult for any US president to turn a blind eye and not support Israel in a time of need (especially if this conflict escalates).
Romney, who chose to include in his campaign a trip to Israel, is no doubt Israel’s preferred choice for the next US presidency. Therefore going into conflict before the elections may show Obama as incompetent on foreign policy and boost Romney’s support.
It is possible that this was leaked. It could be that someone, who opposed the attack, has decided to bring it to the public domain, in order to prevent Netanyahu and Barack’s plan for a stealth attack in the most unexpected date (just before the US elections).
If this is a genuine leak, whoever did it would be found out shortly and either removed from office or excluded from further discussions. However, the discussions are held at such senior levels that it is unlikely to have been a leak.
This article raises more questions than answers, however until a genuine breakthrough release is made, all discussion is pure speculation, since no one can actually get into the heads of the leaders, nor know the full story. Reality is probably made up of a number of the above reasons as well as some unknowns, which might be revealed later in the game. One thing is for sure though, the Iranian’s can’t afford to gamble and ignore this threat, which means that this strategy has already partially worked.