Could the Islamic Republic use threats as an excuse to strike first?
The chatter about a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has become loud and dangerous. At one point the Netanyahu government found the extensive discussion related to an imminent Israeli attack on Iran useful, as it expedited Western action against Iran in the form of tougher sanctions. However, all this talk may now put Israel in a dangerous position wherein Iran may use it as a pretext to strike first.
A February 2 report in the Washington Post that stated “U.S. Secretary of Defense is concerned Israel will launch an attack before Iran enters so-called ‘immunity zone’ when military strike won’t bust Iran’s nuclear facilities.” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is reported as saying that he believes that Israel will attack Iran in April, May or June. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius wrote that Panetta thinks that Israel will attack because after the ‘immunity zone’ expires the nuclear facilities will be heavily fortified and a military strike will no longer succeed.
On Sunday, February 5, 2012 President Obama was interviewed on NBC-TV during the Super Bowl pre-game show. In the interview, Obama contradicted his Defense Secretary, saying he “does not think Israel has decided whether to attack Iran over the disputed nuclear program.” The president added, “I don’t think Israel has made a decision on what they need to do, we are going to make sure that we work in lockstep, as we proceed to try to solve this - hopefully, diplomatically.”
In an Earlier NBC program top figures in the U.S. and Israeli defense establishments were interviewed and confirmed that Israel has long-range Jericho missiles whose warheads can penetrate Iran’s nuclear facilities. According to these experts, while the warheads will be conventional and not nuclear, their accuracy can be depended upon. They further suggested that Israel would employ F-15i fighter planes along with the Jericho missiles that have a range of 2400 kilometers. In addition, they speculated, Israel would use its drones, and flight paths that would conserve fuel consumption. The experts believe that Israel will not employ cruise missiles from its submarines since Israel does not have enough of them in its arsenal.
According to this same report, Israel would target only those facilities which are critical to Iran’s nuclear bomb weaponization strategy. American military experts believe that such an attack would delay Iran’s nuclear development by at least two to four years. Israeli experts however estimate that the attack will set back the Iranian plans three to five years, and that if Iran persists in its plans to acquire a bomb, Israel would then attack again in four years.
U.S. Intelligence assessments prepared in the summer of 2011 concluded that any Israeli attack on hardened nuclear sites in Iran would go far beyond airstrikes from F-15 and F-16 fighter planes and likely include electronic warfare against Iran’s electric grid, internet cables, cell phone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers.
Israel, according to these intelligence sources, has developed a weapon capable of mimicking a maintenance cell phone signal that commands a cell network to “sleep;” thus stopping transmissions. The Israelis, they suggest, have jammers capable of creating interference within Iran’s emergency frequencies for first responders.
Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking at the Herzliya Conference on February 3, 2012, stated that “if sanctions don’t achieve the desired goal of stopping Iran’s military nuclear program, there will be a need to consider taking action.” Barak views Iran as nearing the stage “which may render any physical strike as impractical,” and he said, “A nuclear Iran will be more complicated to deal with, more dangerous and more costly in blood then if it were stopped today. In other words, he who says in English ‘later’ may find that later is too late.”
The increased chatter about an imminent Israeli attack on Iran has made the Iranian leadership nervous and heightens their level of unpredictability. In his Friday sermon, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranians that if his country is attacked, it would be “ten times worse for the interests of the United States than it would be for Iran.” He added, “Threatening Iran and attacking Iran will harm America, and added, “Sanctions will not have any impact on our determination to continue our nuclear course … In response to threats of oil embargo and war; we have our own threats to impose at the right time.”
ABC-News recently reported that Israeli facilities in North America and around the world are on high alert. Iran’s threat to target Jews and Jewish institutions worldwide are taken very seriously, especially in light of the July 1994 bombing attack – carried out by Iran’s sub-contractors, Hezbollah – that killed 85 people and injured hundreds when they destroyed the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires.
On Friday, February 3, 2012, Khamenei called Israel a “cancer tumor” that would definitely be cut off, and according to a report this past Sunday on Israel’s Channel 2 TV, the head of the Iranian Parliament’s research center, Ahmed Tavakoli, called for a pre-emptive missile attack on Israel before the end of the year to prevent an Israeli attack on the Islamic Republic.
Israel’s superior intelligence and geographic proximity to Iran prompts it to take action against Iran while they feel it is still possible. President Obama is currently more concerned about getting elected in November than he is about Iran becoming a nuclear power and a worldwide menace. A U.S. strike against Iran would help boost his reelection chances, however, there is a risk of economic consequences - like skyrocketing oil prices – which might further damage the U.S. and global economy, and possibly ruin his chance for re-election. Clearly, Israel cannot wait for Obama to act, and will not ask Obama’s permission to deal with its existential threat.
Sanctions, as the Ayatollah Khamenei stated, will not deter Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. Yet, President Obama is counting on diplomacy and the sanctions to avoid war. He may yet face the shame of being considered a “second Neville Chamberlain” for his appeasement of Iran, and the war, when it inevitably comes, will be more costly.
This chatter, then, about an imminent Israeli attack, from both from American and Israeli leaders, is unproductive and dangerous. The Islamic Republic is fully cognizant of Israel’s military capabilities, knowledge of which has served to deter them starting a war against the Jewish State. Iran’s “messianic” leadership, however, is heavily influenced by eschatology of martyrdom and, to expedite the arrival of the Hidden Imam (the Shiite messiah); it may unleash a preemptive strike against both Israel and the U.S. with grave consequences. It would be much better therefore to “speak softly and use a big stick.”
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