By Arab News
By Osama Al Sharif
Speculations on the possibility of Israel carrying out a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear sites soon are rife to the extent that a number of Israeli commentators have openly asked President Barack Obama to intervene to stop Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in their tracks.
Earlier this week chief political columnist for Haaretz newspaper, Akiva Eldar wrote: “If the Americans are so fearful of ‘a second Holocaust,’ and feel that they have exhausted the diplomatic option, will they kindly go into action against Iran themselves? If Obama is opposed to a military solution, then he must stop the duo of Netanyahu and Barak before it is too late.”
Another op-ed by Uri Bar-Yosef, a professor at Haifa University, appeared in Ynetnews, Israel’s largest and most popular news website, described Netanyahu and Barak as “Israel’s reckless duo.” In the writer’s view the prime minister “proves that he is playing with Israel’s future and is failing to understand the basic rules of the game. And if this is the kind of judgment he shows when weighing a fateful military move, which Israel’s top defense officials don’t support, there is no escaping the conclusion that Netanyahu too lacks judgment and is reckless.”
There are strong indications in Israel that Netanyahu and Barak have approved a secret plan to launch a military strike against Iranian nuclear installations along the lines of an aerial attack that destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in Osirak in 1981. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to be submitted this week, will say that Iran is on “the threshold” of making a nuclear warhead small enough to be put on top of a ballistic missile, according to the Washington Post which has received leaked parts of the confidential study.
The IAEA’s conclusions, which Iran has refuted, claiming they are based on fabricated evidence, will almost certainly revive tensions between Western capitals and Tehran. But what worries some Israelis, and others, is that the report could provide Israel with the excuse to go ahead with its plan to attack Iran.
An Israeli strike will certainly be reckless and not only because of what it could invite in the form of a response from Tehran. It could trigger a dangerous chain reaction in an unstable region. These are unpredictable times and it will be wrong to compare Iraq’s situation in the 1980s with Iran today. The world and the region have changed since then. The Israeli move will initiate a domino effect that could unleash a vicious cycle of violence and chaos.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the true objectives of its program remain a cause of concern for the region and the world. The IAEA’s report will heighten these concerns, but its conclusions need to be verified before the international community agrees on a unified response. Diplomacy and sanctions must remain the cornerstone of any strategy until Tehran’s intentions are clarified and tested. Resort to military action must be the last choice and it is imperative that it rests on legitimacy and common action.
The latest developments come at a time when Israel is feeling increasingly isolated because of its government’s refusal to commit to the requirements needed to launch a credible peace process with the Palestinians. In response to the recent admission of Palestine into UNESCO, Netanyahu ordered more illegal settlements to be built in Jerusalem and in other parts of the occupied territories – again defying international law. He has taken punitive measures against the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and escalated strikes against Gaza.
Relations between Israel and the Obama administration are tenuous and as the American president focuses on the business of his re-election, an Israeli strike against Iran will be seen as an attempt by Netanyahu to force his hand and get him involved in a crisis that could jeopardize his plans to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and rearrange America’s priorities in the Middle East.
Obama has opted for diplomacy in dealing with the Iranian issue. France supports that approach along with Russia and China. But he is under pressure from Republican candidates to show blind support for Israel, and if the latter moves against Tehran then he will have to take sides. Those who believe involving America in another military adventure in the Middle East — this time against Iran — will help Obama’s re-election bid are mistaken. American’s today are more concerned about jobs and restarting the economy than anything else. A protracted and uncertain military operation against Iran will not make sense for most Americans.
Iran can respond to an Israeli attack in many ways. It has influence in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza. It has undisputed weight in Iraq where thousands of American troops are preparing to leave. It can cause trouble in the Gulf region and Afghanistan. Israel can probably deal a decisive strike against selected nuclear targets in Iran, but that will not neutralize the Islamic Republic’s army, navy and its capability to launch hundreds of conventional long-range missiles against a number of sensitive targets in the region.
As Uri Bar-Yosef wrote: “Both Barak and Netanyahu make pretenses of portraying themselves as great leaders. Both of them like to talk about Ben-Gurion-style or Churchill-style decisions. Yet in terms of their decisions as prime ministers thus far, experience shows that in respect to responsibility and sound judgment they are closer to Mussolini, who entangled Italy in a war he did not know how to escape.”
Iran must be engaged by the international community to come out clean on its true intentions or face the consequences. But Israel must not be allowed to drag the world into war at this crucial stage of the Middle East’s history. The US must be careful not to be sucked into a new conflict when the diplomatic option remains valid. It must keep a keen eye on Iran but a watchful eye on its friend, Israel.
— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.