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LQD: Why Israel will never attack Iran

by shergald Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 09:35:36 AM EST

Uri Avnery, founder of Israel's oldest peace activist group, Gush Shalom, often writes as an experienced insider into Israeli politics. In this article, "Hold Me Back!", Avnery tells us why Israel will never attack Iran, its nuclear ambitions notwithstanding. In doing so, he goes beneath the Israeli right wing preoccupation with Iran, which I have always interpreted as a red herring, a distraction from its attempts to colonize all of original Palestine, something Netanyahu is convinced can be done.

Reprinted by permission (in its entirety as requested).

April 3, 2010

"HOLD ME back!" is a part of Israeli folklore. It reminds us of our childhood.

When a boy has a scuffle with a bigger and stronger boy, he pretends that he is going to attack him any moment and shouts to the spectators: "Hold me back, or I am going to kill him!"

Israel is now in such a situation. We pretend that we are going to attack Iran at any moment and shout to the entire world: "Hold us back or..."

And the world does indeed hold us back.

IT IS dangerous to prophesy in such matters, especially when we are dealing with people not all of whom are wise and not all of whom are sane. Yet I am ready to maintain: there is no possibility whatsoever that the government of Israel will send the air force to attack Iran.

I am not going to enter into military matters. Is our air force really capable of executing such an operation? Are circumstances similar to those that prevailed 28 years ago, when the Iraqi reactor was successfully destroyed? Is it at all possible for us to eliminate the Iranian nuclear effort, whose installations are dispersed throughout the large country and buried far below the surface?

I want to focus on another aspect: is it politically feasible? What would be the consequences?

FIRST OF ALL, a basic rule of Israeli reality: the State of Israel cannot start any large-scale military operation without American consent.

Israel depends on the US in almost every respect, but in no sphere is it more dependent than in the military one.

The aircraft that must execute the mission were supplied to us by the US. Their efficacy depends on a steady flow of American spare parts. At that range, refueling from US-built tanker aircraft would be necessary.

The same is true for almost all other war material of our army, as well as for the money needed for their acquisition. Everything comes from America.

In 1956, Israel went to war without American consent. Ben-Gurion thought that his collusion with the UK and France was enough. He was vastly mistaken. One hundred hours after telling us that the "Third Kingdom of Israel" had come into being, he announced with a broken voice that he was going to evacuate all the territories just conquered. President Dwight Eisenhower, together with his Soviet colleague, had submitted an ultimatum, and that was the end of the adventure.

Since then, Israel has not started a single war without securing the agreement of Washington. On the eve of the Six-day War, a special emissary was sent to the US to make sure that there was indeed American agreement. When he returned with an affirmative answer, the order for the attack was issued.

On the eve of Lebanon War I, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon rushed to Washington to obtain American consent. He met with Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who agreed - but only on condition that there would be a clear provocation. A few days later there just happened to be an attempt on the life of the Israeli ambassador in London, and the war was on.

The Israeli army's offensives against Hezbollah ("Lebanon War II") and Hamas ("Cast Lead") were possible because they were cast as part of the American campaign against "Radical Islam".

Ostensibly, that is also true for an attack on Iran. But no.

BECAUSE AN Israeli attack on Iran would cause a military, political and economic disaster for the United States of America.

Since the Iranians, too, realize that Israel could not attack without American consent, they would react accordingly.

As I have written here before, a cursory glance at the map suffices to indicate what would be the immediate reaction. The narrow Hormuz Strait at the entrance of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, through which a huge part of the world's oil flows, would be sealed at once. The results would shake the international economy, from the US and Europe to China and Japan. Prices would soar to the skies. The countries that had just begun to recover from the world economic crisis would sink to the depths of misery and unemployment, riots and bankruptcies.

The Strait could be opened only by a military operation on the ground. The US simply has no troops to spare for this - even if the American public were ready for another war, one much more difficult than even those of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is even doubtful whether the US could help Israel to defend itself against the inevitable counter-stroke by Iranian missiles.

The Israeli attack on a central Islamic country would unite the entire Islamic world, including the entire Arab world. The US, which has spent the last few years laboring mightily to form a coalition of "moderate" Arab states (meaning: countries governed by dictators kept by the US) against the "radical" states. This pack would immediately become unstuck. No Arab leader would be able to stand aside while the masses of his people were gathering in tumultuous demonstrations in the squares.

All this is clear to any knowledgeable person, and even more so to the American military and civilian leaders. Secretaries, generals and admirals have been sent to Israel to make this clear to our leaders in a language that even kindergarten kids can understand: No! Lo! La! Nyet!

IF SO, why has the military option not been removed from the table?

Because the US and Israel like it lying there.

The US likes to pose as if it can hardly hold back the ferocious Israeli Rottweiler on its leash. This puts pressure on the other powers to agree to the imposition of sanctions on Iran. If you don't agree, the murderous dog could leap out of control. Think about the consequences!

What sanctions? For some time now, this terrifying word - "sanctions" - has been bedeviling everybody on the international stage. They are going to be imposed "within weeks". But when one inquires what it is all about, one realizes that there is a lot of smoke and very little fire. Some commanders of the Revolutionary Guards may be hurt, some marginal damage inflicted on the Iranian economy. The "paralyzing sanctions" have disappeared, because there was no chance that Russia and China would agree. Both do very good business with Iran.

Also, there is very little chance that these sanctions would stop the production of the bomb, or even slow it down. From the point of view of the Ayatollahs, this effort is the prime imperative of national defense - only a country with nuclear arms is immune from American attack. Faced with the repeated threats by American spokesmen to overthrow their regime, no Iranian government could act differently. The more so since during the last century, the Americans and the British have repeatedly done exactly that. Iranian denials are perfunctory. According to all reports, even the most extreme Iranian opponents of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad support the acquisition of the bomb and would rally behind him if attacked.

In this respect, the Israeli leadership is right: nothing will stop Iran's endeavor to obtain a nuclear bomb except the massive employment of military power. The "sanctions" are childish games. The American administration is talking about them in glowing terms in order to cover up the fact that even mighty America is unable to stop the Iranian bomb.

WHEN NETANYAHU & Co. criticize the inability of the American leaders to act against Iran, they answer in the same coin: you, too, are not serious.

And indeed, how serious are our leaders about this? They have convinced the Israeli public that it is a matter of life and death. Iran is led by a madman, a new Hitler, a sick anti-Semite, an obsessive Holocaust-denier. If he got his hands on a nuclear bomb, he would not hesitate for a moment to drop it on Tel Aviv and Dimona. With this sword hanging over our heads, this is no time for trivial matters, such as the Palestinian problem and the occupation. Everyone who raises the Palestinian question in a meeting with our leaders is immediately interrupted: Forget this nonsense, let's talk about the Iranian bomb!!

But Obama and his people turn the argument around: if this is an existential danger, they say, please draw the conclusions. If this matter endangers the very existence of Israel, sacrifice the West Bank settlements on this altar. Accept the Arab League peace offer, make peace with the Palestinians as quickly as possible. That will ease our situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and free our forces. Also, Iran would have no more pretext for war with Israel. The masses of the Arab world would not support it anymore.

And the conclusion: If a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem is more important to you than the Iranian bomb, the matter is clearly not really so critical for you. And that, with all due modesty, is my opinion, too.

THE DAY before yesterday a correspondent of Israel's popular Channel 2 called me and asked, in a shocked voice: "Is it true that you have given an interview to the Iranian news agency?

"That's true," I told her. The agency mailed me some questions about the political situation, and I answered.

"Why did you do this?" she asked/accused.

"Why not?" I replied. That was the end of the conversation.

And indeed, why not? True, Ahmadinejad is a repulsive leader. I hope that the Iranians will get rid of him, and assume that this will happen sooner or later. But our relations with Iran do not depend on one single person, whoever he may be. They go back to ancient times and were always friendly - from the time of Cyrus until the time of Khomeini (whom we provided with arms to fight the Iraqis.)

In Israel, the portrayal of Iran nowadays is a caricature: a primitive, crazy country, with nothing on its mind but the destruction of the Zionist state. But it suffices to read a few good books about Iran (I would recommend William Polk's "Understanding Iran") which describe one of the oldest civilized countries in the world, which has given birth to several great empires and made a remarkable contribution to human culture. It has an old and proud tradition. Some scholars believe that the Jewish religion was profoundly influenced by the ethical teachings of Zoroaster (Zarathustra).

Whatever the rantings of Ahmadinejad, the real rulers of the country, the clerics, conduct a cautious and sober policy, and have never attacked another country. They have many important interests, and Israel is not among them. The idea that they would sacrifice their own glorious homeland in order to destroy Israel is ludicrous.

The simple truth is that there is no way to prevent the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear bomb. Better to think seriously about the situation that would be created: a balance of terror like the one between India and Pakistan, the elevation of Iran to the rank of a regional power, the need to start a sober dialogue with it.

But the main conclusion is: to make peace with the Palestinian people and the entire Arab world, in order to draw the rug from under any Iranian posture of defending them from us.

This is an optimistic diary. Thanks!

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 12:13:17 PM EST
It's all Avnery. He seems to have pulled together a lot of themes hanging out there, but the most important seems to be: not to take Israel seriously. Iran is just a red herring intended to distract world attention from what it is doing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And what it is doing is not pretty.

by shergald on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 06:00:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am fairly aware of what the Palestinians are going through. For them, optimism is in short supply, and what they are enduring is due to a lack of insight and courage in the rest of the world.

But optimism in that the various nightmare scenarios that would inevitably follow an Israeli attack on Iran, have now receded from possibility.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 06:08:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An Iran attack would certainly have been an excellant strategy for postponing any talk of peace for at least another decade, but the cost-benefit analysis must be so prohibitively high that it is out of the question. As present and in the near future, I assume, the Iran question will be just another way to avoid the Palestinian question.

Just the economic calamity that would be set upon the USA following an attack on Iran would be enough to turn US public opinion against Israel. And that is the worse possible scenario for Israel.

by shergald on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 07:27:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A good find. I agree with both the title and much of the rationale.

My analysis is that the nuclear issue was a non-issue dreamt up by the US neocons to justify attacking Iran once it became apparent that Iran had an effective veto over their Iraqi strategy. But I think that the US had their 'end of empire' Suez moment in the first half of 2007 when the Chinese made clear that energy security is as much a priority for them as it is for the US.

After that it's been sabre rattling all the way, since it suits:

(a) Iran - for whom the nuclear issue is a distraction for economic failure and a useful bargaining chip;

(b) Israel - as a distraction to creating land grab realities on the ground.

European Tribune - Comments - LQD: Why Israel will never attack Iran

the real rulers of the country, the clerics

I disagree here, based on personal experience of meeting a reasonable sample of Iran's (pretty impressive and sophisticated) elite in the last couple of years. IMHO the final vestiges of clerical rule ended last June and Iran is now an oligarchy where the IRGC/Bonyads have essentially made a hostile takeover from the Rafsanjani etc 'oil mafia'.

The reason for the urgency was and is the wave of privatisations, particularly of Iran's complex of energy and petrochemical companies many of which are being flogged off this year, in all probability  to the Bonyads, who will no doubt have favoured access to credit to buy them.

Sound familiar?

The parallels with Russia's Klepto era are quite strong, even down to the 'siloviki' - well over half of the Shah's SAVAK continued after the revolution in the new regime. There they have prospered mightily, in the Iranian intelligence community which reports directly to the Supreme leader, and they are as well placed as Putin's KGB became.

The difference is that I don't think that those now in power can keep control of either the economy or the well educated young population in the information age - I see the women of Iran as key players in the next year or two.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 07:28:36 PM EST
Digging deep.

Thanks for the analysis we can't get from the popular media, which merely pumps out cover stories. What we need is a media which interprets media and cuts through it in a way that we can at least sometimes appreciate realities.

Avnery is jewel when it comes to that kind of thing.

by shergald on Mon Apr 5th, 2010 at 08:45:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is certainly well-reasoned commentary, and convincing as far as it goes.

My concern however is that saber-rattling and stupid rhetoric can take on a life of its own, so that politicians ultimately feel that they have no choice but to follow through.

So we're not safe unless/until this analysis is shared by a broad majority of the Israeli public.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Tue Apr 6th, 2010 at 03:46:40 AM EST
I too do not underestimate the irrationality of the Israeli right wing, but the government must know about Iran's military capability, as well as the imperfections of its new anti-missile system, which in any case is now positioned to intercept rockets from Lebanon.

A more likely attack would therefore be centered on Lebanon, possibly in preparation for a face-saving effort against Hezzbollah, which fought Israel to a standstill in 2006. Now that prospect is also irrational, but...anything to stop the peace process.

by shergald on Tue Apr 6th, 2010 at 10:15:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]

They have many important interests, and Israel is not among them. The idea that they would sacrifice their own glorious homeland in order to destroy Israel is ludicrous.

It is maybe time for both the Palestinians and Israelis that they are used as tools and fools by others that don't really give a damn about them. That festering wound in the Middle East is a mighty convenient distraction.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Apr 6th, 2010 at 04:56:17 AM EST
This was roughly Robert Baer's take.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Apr 6th, 2010 at 03:04:47 PM EST
Yes it was.

Robert Baer: Iran strike would cause 'serious depression'

October 2, 2008

A former CIA agent and expert on Iran offered a grim assessment on Tuesday of American options in dealing with that nation, saying that "sanctions have failed," surgical strikes will lead to unacceptable retaliation against US interests, but a conventional war and invasion would "look like World War III."

Robert Baer is the author of a new book, The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower, which argues that Iran has already become the leading power in the Middle East and the United States has no choice but to negotiate with it.

"[The Iranians] called Bush's bluff," Baer told Fox News's Brian Kilmeade. "The Israelis are preparing for an attack. ... Could be early first quarter of next year."

Baer said that Israel has been pressing the US for a go-ahead and support in bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, but "Bush said no" to outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"It cannot be a surgical strike," Baer explained, because "they are going to retaliate. They, the Iranians, are going to hit Saudi oil facilities, they're going to hit tankers, they're going to hit our troops in Iraq. ... They're going to take off 17 million barrels of oil a day in the Gulf."


by shergald on Tue Apr 6th, 2010 at 05:50:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Complete bollocks IMHO, but no doubt it sells books and gets him speaking engagements.

Anyone who thinks Iran is a regional superpower is deluded.

They do have the potential to be, however, but I doubt whether the population would put up with the necessary sacrifices unless they were under threat....ohhh...wait....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Apr 6th, 2010 at 06:55:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
whenever i see i'm a the iranian president ranting, i think how this guy is too good to be true for all the hawks and their death inc. profitability.

if he didn't exist, they would have invented him, every time he opens his mouth, millions are made.

central casting strikes again...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Apr 6th, 2010 at 08:11:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure about that.  When you have the capacity to take Saudi Arabia's oil offline in the event you're attacked, thereby crippling your opponents, can you really not be considered a superpower?

Or do you not think the Iranians are capable of that, militarily?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Apr 6th, 2010 at 08:59:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Firstly, if they have that power, it would be transient in the face of the US response.

Secondly, what power they do have is essentially defensive. For me, a regional superpower,if it means anything, is one which is able to project power to dominate its neighbours militarily, which I think Iran is in no position to do, even were they so minded.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Apr 6th, 2010 at 09:22:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So the EU isn't a regional superpower in North Africa?

That seems to be slightly at odds with my normal understanding of the relationship between the two sides of the Mediterranean Sea.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Apr 7th, 2010 at 05:14:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The EU isn't a superpower, IMHO, and never will be. I think that the project/dream of the EU as a coherent quasi-State entity is finished.

The EU as a collaborative of EU members? Different question.

As for North Africa, France and Italy have a lot of influence: I don't think that the EU does.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Apr 7th, 2010 at 07:55:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that the project/dream of the EU as a coherent quasi-State entity is finished.

how refreshing your viewpoint is, Chris!

the king is dead, long live the king...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Apr 7th, 2010 at 11:45:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that the project/dream of the EU as a coherent quasi-State entity is finished.

The current configuration is unstable - fiscal and monetary authority are located at different levels.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Apr 7th, 2010 at 11:56:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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