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Israel’s Strategic Analyst: Attack Iran, Propose Mideast Peace Deal – OpEd


“I’m an elitist. Eighty percent of the critical decisions affecting Israel are shaped by maybe 100 or 200 people, 300. These are my clients.


Prof. Yehezkel Dror

Israel’s premier strategic analyst, Yehezkel Dror, has produced a new study for the Begin-Sadat Center which advocates a military attack on Iran accompanied by an Israeli proposal for a comprehensive peace deal.  Essentially, this paper is a blueprint for Bibi Netanyahu in his march toward war.  It outlines the major issues he faces in persuading the Israeli public and world opinion that his decision is just.  It warns him of the pitfalls that naysayers will suggest and offers him arguments against the nabobs of negativism.

The thinking behind Dror’s analysis is so tortured, so Machiavellian that it’s worth a look.  Dror, who is an emeritus professor of political science at Hebrew University, understands that an Israeli attack on Iran would be highly controversial and likely cause severe disruption both in the Middle East and in the world at large.  One way of offsetting such hostility is by having Israel, as it launches its bombers toward Natanz and Bushehr, to simultaneously propose a peace deal to resolve the outstanding issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  To the uninitiated  this may sound nice, but the truth is in the details.

Dror begins by making the case for Israel attacking Iran.  He does so in a strange way by saying an attack is justified if the following assumptions are valid:

The second working assumption is that Israel has the ability to execute an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities that will delay the acquisition of nuclear weapons for at least three to four years and perhaps more – with a very high probability of success and a very low probability of dismal failure.


I find it strange that even an academic used to theorizing in the abstract would be willing to make such a broad assumption so lacking in supporting evidence; an assumption that is likely to cost many hundreds, if not thousands of Iranian and Israeli lives.  In short, there is not even a remote guarantee that this assumption is credible: not that Israel can set back the Iranian program by four years, not that there is a high probability of success, not that there is a low probability of failure.

He offers further support for an attack by denying the claim that Iranian retaliation would be so severe as to make an Israeli attack foolhardy:

Even pessimistic assumptions about the scope of Iranian retaliation make it clear that the expected damage to Israel will be less, by many orders of magnitude, than the destructive potential of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel.

Well, yes, if you presume that Iran will not only get a bomb, but use it against Israel.  Dror and all the pro-war Israeli hawks automatically make such a presumption without offering any credible evidence aside from the usual blathering about Ahmadinejad and Khamenei supposedly threatening to wipe Israel off the map.  Further, he supports his claim of a future Iranian attack by resorting to Iran’s “imperial tradition.”  There is no such thing.  Iran has not started a war in 300 years, which is more than the U.S., Israel and many western countries can say.

Here again, the Israeli analyst creates a scenario that is riddled with mistaken judgments and false logic.  In this passage, he outlines the scenario facing Israel with regard to a nuclear Iran, saying that in this case:

…The likelihood of realizing the future danger is small or very small, or – and this is very different – unknowable, but the damage that it will cause is by several orders of magnitude greater than the cost of preventive action. An example of such a case is the initiation of war under favorable conditions at present in order to prevent a much harder war, which is likely to break out in the foreseeable future. This is clearly the choice facing Israel in respect to its decision of whether or not to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Note the grave contradiction between Dror’s statement that the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel is “small or very small,” but on the other hand “likely to break out in the foreseeable future.”  In a later passage, he says Iran is likely to use nukes against Israel.  Which is it?  In the world of Israel’s academic chicken hawks, they like to have it both ways.

Oh and now these hawks have another arrow in their quiver.  The Iranian military commander has supposedly threatened to “exterminate” the “Israeli regime.”  This is supposed to translate into an automatic nuclear attack on Israel once Iran gets nukes.

If that were the case, then Mao would’ve dropped nukes on the U.S. in 1964 when he got his first, because he ranted and raged against the U.S. and threatened annihilation, and his willingness to see half the Chinese people die in such attacks.  Yet a strange thing happened: Mao never did anything more than open his big mouth.  When push came to shove he thought better of turning his country into a landscape of nuclear winter.  I, for one, refuse to believe that Iran’s leaders are less rational than Mao Tse Tung.

After dismissing the likelihood of severe damage from an Iranian counter-attack, Dror lists the following possible repercussion-scenarios which sound awfully threatening and damaging to me:

…Renewed clashes on the eastern front, war in the north, confrontations with Egypt, rocket and missile attacks, a new type of Intifada, megaterror, large scale cyber-attacks, innovative forms of passive resistance, non-violent mass aggression, and so on.

I wouldn’t mind so much if Dror stuck to political analysis, but he decides to defend the notion of preventive war as inherently “moral.”  Here his argument becomes even more unglued.  He rebuts the claim of critics of an Iran war who claim it is immoral:

A sometimes expressed view is that initiating a preventive war is morally wrong, all the more so when one cannot be sure that without it a harsh war is sure to occur in the future. However, this view, though honorable, is primitive and should be rejected. It lacks understanding of the nature of policy as a tool that, by nature, must deal with the future, which is never certain; and it does not give any weight to the important value of preventing pain in the future.

Furthermore, such a view clings to what is “certain,” ignoring what “may come” even when very likely or very significant, thus further negating every effort to influence the future, which is always contingent and uncertain.

Hold on for a minute before we go dismissing the peaceniks’ logic as primitive.  Instead of engaging in magical thinking regarding a supposed Iranian attack, let’s see evidence that it will happen.  Alas, you won’t see any from Dror.  So where does that leave us: with one side claiming that it is immoral to go to war in order to avoid a threat of unknown dimensions and likelihood; and the other claiming that the mere possibility of Iran dropping a nuclear bomb on Israel justifies attacking it now.  In short, Dror is prepared to accept the certain damage to Israel and Iran of an Israeli attack now, in exchange for delaying the uncertain possibility that Iran would annihilate Israel with a nuclear weapon at some unknown date in the future.  He accepts the odds of this scenario assuming:

…The danger can, with high likelihood, be significantly reduced…

But will the danger of a future Iranian attack be reduced?  Even if Israel’s strike sets back the Iranian program by the three to four years specified, what does Israel do then?  Attack a second time?  Dror provides an answer to this question–regime change:

This [decisively ending the Iranian nuclear threat] must be done in coordination with the US and other powers, by forcing a change in the Iranian regime, using a variety of preventative actions, or if necessary through additional military measures.

Leaving aside the fact that Dror concedes that the U.S. will be very reluctant to attack Iran, why does he believe that we would be willing to engage in regime change, especially through military means?  Again, he offers absolutely no evidence to support this fantasy.

Returning to the likelihood of a future Iranian nuclear attack, note that the “small or very small” likelihood of Iranian attack quoted earlier becomes, in this passage, “very likely or very significant.”  Thus we begin to see that Dror’s “strategic thinking” isn’t based on any quantitative data at all, but on unsubstantiated assumptions.  In fact, he calls his prognostication a “fuzzy gamble” and acknowledges that such gambles are “tragic.”  What allows him to sleep at night is his belief that his analyses are “good fuzzy gambles,” whatever that means.

He further concedes that Israel has no reliable intelligence that offers a picture of Iran’s leaders, their thinking, their decision-making processes, etc.  As a result, Dror falls back on what he calls a “Gestalt” approach which Israel must use in making its own decisions.  If only Fritz Perls would know the misuse to which Israeli war hawks would put his psychological teachings!

Even he concedes that his own willingness to play poker with the lives of his fellow citizens might not be met with the same level of enthusiasm he feels:

But it is doubtful whether this [ed., fuzzy gamble] can be explained to the Israeli public at large, or to citizens of other countries, before education is radically reformed.

Ah, yes Dr. Strangelove, if only the untutored masses could understand the profundity of your strategic analysis…Most democratic nations of the world would never make such gambles nor takes such risks because they are led by rational men and women who are far more cautious and far less willing to throw away the lives of their own citizens and those of their enemy.  What a way to run a nation’s strategic military decision-making!

Dror notes the Israeli and world public opinion polls generally opposing a unilateral Israeli attack.  In reply, he says that the military-strategic information on which such decisions are based is so privileged and available to so few, that the public can’t possibly know or understand the issues.  Therefore, any Israeli poll may be safely ignored:

The inescapable conclusion is that no weight should be given to public opinion in governmental decisions on this issue even when the views of the public are reliably known and stable – which is not the case.

Again, this is a misstatement as Israeli opinion is “reliably known.”  It opposes an Israeli attack on Iran unless the U.S. joins in.  Of course, the Israeli professor doesn’t explain what to do if the military mission fails and the public demands its pound of flesh from those who executed the disastrous policy.

Dror argues that the views of the Israeli public should be ignored because it was this same public that elected the current government and entrusted it with the security of the nation.  Of course, this ignores the fact that when Netanyahu went to the people last he didn’t campaign for war against Iran.  If he had told the people that if they vote for him they’ll get a war against Iran, the outcome might’ve been different.

Next, Dror takes on Meir Dagan’s claims that by demonizing Iran we are completely distorting reality.  The former Mossad chief in fact told Yael Dayan on Uvdah that Iran’s leaders are supremely rational in their decision-making and pragmatic, which leads Dagan to believe that they will be willing to make a deal and not incinerate the Middle East if they get a bomb.  The strategic analyst responds to this claim by likening the Iranians to terrorists who coldly and “rationally” prepare their acts of mass-killing.  This feeble argument on Dror’s part is based on meanings of the word “rational” that have nothing to do with each other.

He continues by claiming that Iran’s deliberations regarding its nuclear program and whether to attack Iran “deviate from those accepted as reasonable in western culture.”  On what basis does he advance this condescending and racist thesis?

He further adds that the:

“…Extreme beliefs of its [Iran’s] leaders do, to some extent, corrupt their perception of reality.”

What is wondrous strange about this passage is that any “reasonable” observer of the Israel-Iran conflict would say the exact same thing about Israel’s leadership.  What disturbs me in particular is that Yehezkel Dror, in this paper, becomes a facilitator of this corruption of reality that afflicts Israel’s decision-makers.

The political science professor further adumbrates his theories of Iranian psychosis in this fashion:

…Facing a domestic revolution, the endangered rulers of Iran may attack Israel with nuclear weapons under their direct control with the intention to “let me perish with the Zionist enemy.”

This is little more than the “suicidal mullahs” theory which posits that the Iranian Shia religion is a “death cult” and that its leaders take supreme joy in leading the nation to self-immolation.  First, there is no Iranian domestic revolution and little likelihood of one in the near or even medium term.  Second, there is no evidence whatsoever that the mullahs want to tear down the columns of the Philistine temple as Samson did.  Once again, Samson is a Jewish tale, not Iranian.

Dror further adds that Iran could instigate a “nuclear attack by proxy” against Israel.  All of which presumes that Iran would give its non-existent nuclear weapon to a terrorist group like Hamas or Hezbollah, which would use it against Israel.  Let’s leave aside that this nuclear weapon doesn’t exist and turn to the “proxies” Iran might employ.  Where would they get the means to explode a nuclear weapon against Israel?  How would they deliver it?  A shoe bomber perhaps?    Not to mention that Iran, while it has allegedly exported some of its conventional weapons to Syria and Hezbollah, has never exported its nuclear technology to outsiders.  This is something, by the way, that current nuclear powers like Pakistan cannot claim since a Pakistani nuclear scientist was one of the most prolific nuclear proliferators in history and U.S. scientists helped Russia get the hydrogen bomb.

Israel’s supposed premier strategic analysis appears not to understand that the Iron Dome anti-missile system cannot shoot down Iranian rockets:

Israel must also consider how it could reduce the danger of an Iranian nuclear attack by combining a multi-level defense system with ultimate deterrence. Such a defense system, which…would include the wide deployment of Iron Dome, can help.

Iron Dome shoots down Qassams, not the type of rocket that either Iran or most of its “proxies” would use in a counterattack against Israel.  And as I’ve reported here, the other anti-missile systems Israel does have which it will use to defend against Iran’s missiles will only shoot down 80%, at best, of those incoming rockets leaving 20% to hit their target.

Dror reverts to the “crazy mullah” syndrome in this passage:

…The regime and governance patterns in Iran are not stable and the leadership may in some situations be pushed to engage in “crazy” behavior.

There is, of course, not a jot of evidence to support this claim.  In fact, I’m struck by the analyst’s earlier admission that Israel has almost no reliable intelligence about Iran’s leaders.  This is true of Dror as well.  He knows next to nothing about the Iranians.  In fact, he’s whistlin’ in the dark.  And this is the quality of thinking of one of Israel’s most distinguished strategic analysts!

Dror does Bibi a favor too in outlining the arguments he should use at the same time he’s dropping bunker busters on Iran.  To the Iranian people he should say precisely the same thing the IDF tried to get away with as it murdered 1,400 Gazans during Operation Cast Lead: we have nothing against you; it is your leaders who dragged you into this mess; if you’d only overthrow them everything could be copasetic.  Israel must:

…Explain to the Iranian people that responsibility lies with its leaders who forced upon Israel a targeted military action despite the history of prosecution shared by the Shiite people and the Jews, the respect of Israel for Iran and its culture, and Israeli society’s strong desire to live in peace with the Iranian people.

Hey, that’ll go over super well with the Iranians as they see their compatriots brought out of burning building in body bags and the smoking wreckage of their nuclear plants.

The final component of this report is the proposal for a positive Israeli response to the 2002 Saudi Peace initiative.  Dror’s thinking is that if Israel proceeds to radically destabilize the Middle East with an attack on Iran, it may lessen the damage by putting forward its own peace plan that would resolve many of the outstanding hostilities facing the parties to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

There’s only one problem and it lies in the fuzziness of his proposal:

The Israeli initiative should…include, for instance, the establishment of a comprehensive and stable Middle East peace as a basis for the development and thriving of the region and its inhabitants, Israeli withdrawals and an accord on Jerusalem, full relations between Israel and Arab and Islamic states including measures to “break hostility,” reliable security arrangements, a Palestinian state, a solution to the refugee problem, progressive stages towards turning the Middle East into an environment free of weapons of mass killing after a stable peace and credible security arrangements are established, and more.

This betrays the same sophistry characteristic of many Israeli “peace initiatives” of the past.  There is nothing but platitudes here.  He doesn’t suggest that Israel give up anything or offer anything or compromise on anything.  He merely says Israel should make reference to the Saudi Initiative, proclaim its own bold plan, and sit back and bask in the world’s approval.  Man, things are way past the point where such a charade will be greeted with anything but derision.

Of the making of many Israeli peace initiatives, there is no end, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes.  There is no need for yet another.  What there is a need for is a specific Israeli proposal that involves a return to 67 borders, sharing Jerusalem, return of refugees, and mutual recognition.  Without such specifics, Dror is just whistlin’ Dixie.

So I think that what the Israeli academic has really proposed is that Israel attack Iran and then advance a “fuzzy” peace plan that will buy Israel some time and bleed off some of the steam from the controversy this will engender on the world state.  Once again, this is pure Machiavellian cynicism for which Israel is well-known.

It’s no accident that the esteemed Israeli professor’s paper comes out as Iran begins its second round of deliberations with the P5+1 nations regarding its nuclear program.  Dror provides all the academic/intellectual ammunition Bibi needs as he shoots down the efforts of world powers to avert war.

This article appeared at Tikun Olam.

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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