By Arab News
By Osama Al Sharif
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta predicts that Israel will direct a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities “in April, May or June,” according to David Ignatius, the widely-circulated Washington Post columnist. In the view of many Western analysts, Israel has taken the decision to bomb Iran and is only waiting for an opportune time to direct its blow.
The New York Times writer Ronen Bergman, who interviewed Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other prominent Israeli officials last month, says that there are three categories of questions that matter today: Israel’s ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and its readiness to withstand an inevitable counterattack, securing overt or tacit support from the United States, and deciding that this is really the last resort; a virtual point of no return for Israel.
According to Bergman the answer to all these questions is in the affirmative, although there is some doubt over the stand and the reaction of the Obama administration. Ira Chernus, an American political science professor writing in The Huffington Post last week, believes that the US government, while unhappy about the Israeli decision, is also sending the message that it will do little to stop it.
Chernus believes that the motive behind striking Iran goes beyond the usual rationale of defending Israeli security. There are reasons to believe that Israel and US Republicans want to drag the Obama administration into a new Middle East conflict.
Iran’s nuclear program remains, technically, under international inspections and Tehran continues to insist that it is geared for civilian purposes. Europe and the United States have chosen to stick to a political solution by tightening sanctions against Iran in a bid to force it to meet international demands. Russia is against any military intervention and recently French President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated the same position. German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere said this week that the chances that an Israeli attack on Iran will succeed are not high, but will cause political damage.
Even high-ranking Israeli officials like former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and the former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi have warned that Iran’s threat was not imminent and that a military strike would be catastrophic.
So why are Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his defense minister exaggerating Iran’s threat? According to Robert Haddick, writing in Foreign Policy last week, there are four reasons to do so; time pressure as Iran expands its nuclear operations, especially its uranium enrichment capabilities, failure of other alternatives especially political and economic, the need to escalate the crisis by dragging the US and Gulf countries into the conflict, and finally managing the endgame in the form of a long-term war of attrition that will keep Iran bogged down.
There are other reasons as well. Israel’s security is indeed threatened but not by Iran as much as by the changing geopolitical realities in the region brought about by the Arab Spring. Israel is not happy with the arrival of the Islamists to the helm in Egypt and other Arab countries. It is concerned that the United States is now willing to open dialogue with moderate Islamists in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and others.
Moreover, US withdrawal from Iraq last year has marked a drop in American influence in the region. Lack of action over Syria is proof that the West is considering its options in the Middle East after discounting military intervention. This has encouraged Russia, and to a lesser extent China, to play a bigger role in the region’s future as evident from the double veto at the Security Council two weeks ago. Since the Obama administration is occupied with the business of re-electing the president, Iran’s threat will not take center stage in an election year, unless Israel and the Republicans make it so. From an Israeli point of view any Republican contender, with a conservative agenda, will be better for Israel than Obama.
The stakes for Israel are high. To launch a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities it will have to engage in a lengthy military operation. Israel does not have the means or the resources to maintain a prolonged onslaught against Iran, a far-away and vast country. The only way to extend the conflict is to involve the Americans. And the only way this could happen is if Tehran retaliates by launching missiles against Israel while carrying out its threat to close the Straits of Hormuz.
In effect Israel is looking to trigger a regional war in the Middle East; one that forces the Americans to step in as it lures Iran into committing a reckless action. Israel’s sense of security can only be augmented by increasing the insecurity of others in the region.
Israel stands to gain big time if it succeeds in rearranging the region’s priorities. War against Iran would give it the time it needs to step up its colonization efforts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while burying the peace process forever.
The main threat to Israel’s security, from the standpoint of Netanyahu and Barak, is not really Iran but the increasing legitimization of Palestinian rights on the world stage. A war with Iran would end all that!
— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.