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Will They?

Israel and Iran are fighting a not-so-secret clandestine war. But Israel is likely to attack Iran’s nuclear program this spring, making it official.

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An Israeli Air Force pilot and fighter planes at Ramat David Air Base in northern Israel. (David Silverman/Getty Images)
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Can They?

An Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear program would be tougher today than a few years ago, but it would still be likely to succeed

For all practical purposes, the state of Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran are already at war. Consider Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s comment after the mysterious explosion at a Revolutionary Guard missile base near Tehran on Saturday: “There should be many more,” he said in an interview with Israeli Defense Force Radio. In this, he once again confirmed what has become an open secret within Israel’s defense establishment: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his former special-forces commander, Barak, have decided that Israel must attack Iran.

When that attack happens, most likely in the early spring, Israel’s second Iranian war will officially begin. The first has been going on through much of the last decade in the battles Israel has been fighting with Iran’s local proxies—Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip—and in the secret war being waged against Iran’s nuclear program. The front lines of this war extend thousands of miles, from Bandar-Abbas, an Iranian port on the Persian Gulf, to the eastern Mediterranean and in the Arabian Peninsula, northeast Africa, and north into Turkey. This secret war involves the interdiction of Iranian arms bound for Hezbollah and Hamas and of vital components bound for Iran’s nuclear facilities. Few of these operations, such as the commandeering of cargo ships carrying missiles, are ever revealed as official Israeli actions.

When senior Revolutionary Guards officers, Iranian nuclear scientists, or key Hamas and Hezbollah operatives die or disappear under mysterious circumstances, Israel never takes credit, but it also never seems to dissuade the media from pushing the Israel-did-it angle. Same goes for Stuxnet, the computer worm that plagued Iran’s nuclear facilities at Natanz and Bushehr, which contained Jewish history clues in its code and featured briefly in a farewell video shown last year at an event honoring departing Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. (Stuxnet is widely believed to be the work of Israel, and the Jewish state encourages that view without actually confirming it.) Saturday’s missile-base explosion, which killed Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, the founder of Iran’s missile program, was only the latest act in this not-so-secret secret war.

The great champion of clandestine war against Iran was former Mossad chief Meir Dagan. During his time at the helm of Israel’s spy agency, from 2002 until early this year, Dagan argued that the only way to counter Iran’s nuclear threat is through secret warfare, close coordination with the Western powers, and quiet alliances with Arab regimes threatened by Iran, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Dagan is a believer in the Ariel Sharon view of things—namely, that the Iranian nuclear program is a problem for the whole world, not just the Jewish state, and therefore Israel should do everything to avoid seeming like it is facing Iran on its own. In the meantime, clandestine warfare can slow Iran’s nuclear progress.

Netanyahu’s decision to replace Dagan—coupled with Barak’s insistence on removing popular army chief Ashkenazi in February—was seen by many as an intentional strategy to remove opponents of a military strike on Iran from positions of influence. In his last week as spy chief, Dagan infuriated Netanyahu and Barak by telling a group of journalists that Iran would not achieve military nuclear capability until 2015—a clear warning against a military strike in the near future, which he has since repeated emphatically in various forums.

The changes at the top of Israel’s security establishment, along with reports on intensive preparations for a strike, prompted U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to visit Israel in early October. Panetta publicly stressed during his visit that the United States is “very concerned” about the Iranian threat but emphasized that countering that threat “depends on the countries working together.” Panetta demanded that Jerusalem warn Washington in advance of an attack on Iran, but he did not receive clear assurances it would, according to American diplomatic sources.

Meantime, Israeli preparations continue. In late October, six Israeli Air Force squadrons sent aircraft 1,500 miles across the Mediterranean for a joint exercise over Sardinia with the Italian and German air forces. This is just one of over a dozen such exercises that have taken place in the last three years, in which Israeli pilots have trained in flying long distances over unknown terrain and facing fighter pilots and anti-aircraft batteries of foreign forces. Fighter pilots aren’t the only component in these maneuvers: Aerial refueling planes and search-and-rescue helicopter teams also take part. The object of these exercises is clear: to prepare an air force that primarily operates in the nearby theaters of Gaza and Lebanon to undertake long-range missions.

The lieutenant colonel who commanded the most recent exercise said cryptically after returning to Israel that “there was no mention of the third circle in the exercise, but we are training over distances and preparing ourselves for all terrains so you could say that it contributes to our long-range preparedness.” The “third circle” is the current air-force euphemism for Iran. (The first circle is the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel’s immediate borders; the second circle is countries around Israel.)

***

Ever since Saddam Hussein launched 39 Iraqi Scud missiles against Israel during the Gulf War in 1991, the Israeli Air Force has been preparing for one primary mission, a long-range attack against weapons of mass destruction aimed at the Jewish state. The lion’s share of Israel’s defense budget has been devoted to this. Five new squadrons of the most advanced versions of the F-15 and F-16, specifically modified for the long-range strike roles, have been acquired since 1998. And the numbers of spy satellites, aerial tankers, unmanned reconnaissance drones, and search-and-rescue helicopters have all tripled in the past two decades.

“Ninety-percent of our equipment and training is for a much larger war. The fighter jets weren’t built for attacking Gaza or even Lebanon; the real war is where we will have to prove ourselves,” one squadron commander recently admitted to me. The air force is eager to do just that. As one brigadier general told me last year, “Come the hour, I will have pilots breaking down my office door demanding to go on the mission.” And come that hour, when at least some of Israel’s defense chiefs are expected to counsel against a strike, it will be the Air Force commander, Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, the son of members of the Irgun, who will give Netanyahu the necessary backing, promising the decision-makers that an air-strike on Iran will succeed.

Yet even the most self-confident fighter jockeys cannot ignore the scores of Israeli and American analysts claiming that Israel lacks sufficient planes and its bases are too far away to totally eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. “We have no illusions,” one air force general told me. “We will attack Iran successfully but that won’t be the end of it. Two, or three, or five years later, we will have to go back there again.”

***

The decision to go to war with Iran is not a political one. It is one of the few issues that transcends Israel’s left-right divide. Benny Begin and Moshe Yaalon, two of the most hardline right-wing ministers in the “Octet Forum,” the Israeli Cabinet’s main decision-making body, are currently opposed to an attack because they believe a military strike will cause a massive backlash from Iran and its proxies and should only be a very last resort. The motives of Netanyahu and Barak are more personal and historical than ideological. The prime minister, the son of a historian, views the Iranian issue through the prism of Jewish survival. In his view, safeguarding Israel against a nuclear threat is the generation’s duty, which has fallen to him. As leader of the opposition, from 2006 to 2009, Netanyahu constantly compared Iran to Germany circa 1938 and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler. As prime minister, he has refrained from this terminology but his perspective remains unchanged.

Barak also sees the challenge in generational terms. Two months shy of 70, he looks around and sees no one who, in his opinion, can be entrusted with Israel’s security. Israel’s great founders are gone, save for President Shimon Peres, whom Barak never rated highly (and who is against an attack on Iran). Barak is now the nation’s wise old man, the only responsible grown-up left standing. But his arrogant manner has alienated much of the public and the politicians. Divorced from the Labor party of which he was never an integral part, he leads a splinter faction that does not guarantee him re-election to the Knesset. Convinced that no one else can lead the nation in this challenge, in what could be his last year in government, he won’t let go without ensuring Israel’s security for another generation.

If there are any politics involved in the final decision to attack Iran, they won’t be Israeli. President Barack Obama is the one man who can prevent Israel from going to war. He will have two ways of doing this, if he so chooses. Come this spring, when weather conditions over Iran ensure better bombing results, if the polls indicate him winning a second term, he may have sufficient political and diplomatic clout to order Israel to desist. But in a close presidential race, with a GOP contender accusing him of going soft on Iran, Obama’s only way to block an Israeli attack on Iran would be sending the U.S. Air Force to do the job instead.

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fred lapides says:

I have never before seen so much public chit chat about an impending attack upon a nation beforehand and wonder why this is taking place.

Questions always being asked in such cases about Israel: Will they ? Should they ?
As a tiny state against more then 800 million enemies, we never have a choice.
Not to be lost to the gas chambers of our dreaded enemies we have no choice; but, to fight back.
We have always been up against Holocausts orchestrated by the hatreds of the nations.
We are still here as survivors and they have all perished as will be the case with todays Iran and its Revolutionary Guard.
We will always be that tiny nation with a small population that will be protected from above (B”H).

C Fineblum says:

And what is the U.S. Airforce doing to prepare itself for an attack on Iran?? Do we consider ourselves immune? beyond vulnerable? incombustible?
Obama has dragged his diplomatic feet so long that this threat has grown; how can we expect a lame duck 2nd term president who has been so unfriendly to Israel to rise to her defense?

Steve Stein says:

“Come this spring if the polls indicate him winning a second term”

There is virtually no chance of that in the Spring. This election will be close all the way to November.

No one wants the mullahs to get the bomb, but if Netanyahu and Barak take it upon themselves to launch an attack without any kind of international consensus, be it with the U.S. or Saudi Arabia or some other alliance of expedience, they are going to end up in the dock at the Hague. Not because an attack is wise or stupid, wrong or right, preventive or counter-productive, but because Israel under its current leadership has been set adrift diplomatically, with only one dependable ally, and that one gradually pulling up stakes in the Middle East.

If Netanyahu was intent on precipitate action, he ought to have spent years paving the way by improving relations with the world community, principally by forging a deal with the Palestinians, however unpalatable that might have been.

He cannot simultaneously guard his right flank against conservative critics, satisfy the U.S., postpone an accord with Palestine and take pre-emptive action against Iran.

If he does, the consequences will be dire, and he will go down as the leader who brought disaster on Israel.

“If there are any politics involved in the final decision to attack Iran, they won’t be Israeli. ”

Wrong. Barak want to use the attack as a way to legitimize his adhesion to the Likud before the next elections. You’ll see.

Netanyahu is an ugly and awful knuckle dragger who has brought Israeli politics down to some base kind of primitive stone age level of bomb the fuck out of everything and build some more settlements simultaneously.

Thank you for creating the impression of seriousness that the government is trying to convey in order to deter the mullahs. It won’t work of course since the government would.never authorize such a move which, ultimately, would achieve nothing other than justifying tehrans push for a nuclear capabity in the first place. Only the USA has the hardware to destroy the mullahs program and there is no doubt that the Israeli govt knows this.

Propaganda piece, as Moses implies.

Israel does not have the capacity, and even if it did, this much saber rattling would never occur.

It will be America which delivers the first – and final – strike. And Obama will hate Israel even more for doing that, but he needs the pro-Israel donors or he will become marinated in anti-Obama ads from all sides and his fundraising will dry up.

Jews constitute over 65 % of all democratic donors. Look at what his administration has done to appease Jewish donors, they’ve bent over backwards! Why? Because they know there is deep skepticism about Obama, and for good reason.

Obama will be forced to attack in the end, and he may end up losing his re-election because a strike on Iran would mean instant double-dip *depression* as oil prices move to 200 dollars or more over night and will stay there for quite some time.

He will become bitter as he has lost his once ‘granted’ re-election. A new Jimmy Carter will be unfolded, but without the humility.

If Obama is on board for attacking Iran he has lost my support completely. I voted for him enthusiastically in 2008 but if he drags the country down the drain into another Mid East war and conflict there is no way I will cast my vote for his re-election.

Dani ben Lev says:

Jules,
I doubt Obama gives a flying fig about voters like you. The fact that you write as if your vote has any relevance in the real world puts you on par with the Mullahs. Historically these people and their thoughts are farts in the wind. Nonetheless , thanks for sharing the freak show.

Shalom Freedman says:

This was interesting and informative. How much of it is true is another question.
It is also of course incomplete in regard to assessing Israel’s capabilities, and the obstacles it faces should it attempt to impede the Iranian effort to nuclear capability. It does not include information regarding Israel’s possessing electronic warfare capabilities which might make the task less costly and more feasible.
As to its closing hint. Most even in Israel agree that it would be preferable for the U.S. with its greater access, more rich and varied military capabilities, its political strength- to do the job. Then we would have to worry about the reactions from Iran’s missiles, and from those of its allies and surrogates.

Mosh Munken says:

An Israeli strike on Iran would mean an all-out war, and in such a war Israel’s infrastructure will be targeted. That being the case, Israel should prepare to strike Iran’s economic infrastructure as well and not just the nuclear bomb development sites. If the oil and gas facilities are taken down the mullocracy in Iran will have its lifeline cut, and will not have the money to build its nukes. Reconstruction would need the help of the international community which could dictate its terms; that’s where the US and EU can help (though China and Russia will want in too).

Will the world economy take a hit for a few months, as Panetta suggests? You bet. Would Israel be wounded in the counterattack, and be diplomatically isolated by hypocrite Europeans? Most probably. Is it still worth doing? –Yes.

The choice for Israel is bad – or worse. That being the case, bad is better, and Mosh Munken is right when he writes his summation in his last paragraph. We know there’ll be many who will condemn Israel, but c’est la vie. Better do what will be unpopular in the eyes of many than allow yourselves to be destroyed by, yes, the second coming of Hitler. (By the way, it’s interesting, is it not, that Iran and Iraq supported the Germans in WWI and WWII). Sad as it is, yes, doing what has to be done has to be done by Israel if the USA won’t do it.

Dani, I like figs, dried and fresh. Fuck off.

What a great roeuscre this text is.

I used to be more than happy to seek out this net-site.I wished to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I undoubtedly enjoying every little bit of it and I’ve you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you weblog post.

Hey bloody fucking guys, don’t think like a child.Just think about the Israel’s future.The required future just coming that will show how the jewish state Israel blocked around its border & give the high price for its agressive, blind & muscle power principles.They didn;t show any respect on their agreement with Arabians.Their evil history don’t forgive them.They are just going to fall into their achieved worse destiny.If you don’t believe just look at the present situation of the so called iron men like- qaddifi,mobarak.They are no longer have their power who are powered by USA.So have many arms & shelter of the America does not assure long-term security.

square says:

In many ways it will be a positive move in that is will hasten the ultimate destruction of what is a group of elitist/racists.
They will be the author of their own misfortune.

secret says:

iran is aleready in posession of top secret intel acrft this is reason enough

zahidshaikh70@gmail.com says:

Because Israel don’t want another Bully in the region.

a little hitler with deliverable nukes, that vows to destroy the state of Israel. Not acceptable. God help the United States of America if obama is re-elected. A top secret drone lands almost intact in a remote area of Iran, our special forces ready and able to extract or destroy it . Obama prevents the military form doing it’s job, saying he’ll give the Iranians a chance to give it back. this guy we have for a leader has no clue and is dangerous for the well being of our country. Now, not so friendly regimes like China and the rushians will most certainly have access to this top secret technolgy. Thankyou Mr president for such a brilliant foreign policy decesion. I’m sure all Americans should feel alot safer now.

tongan_israeli_warrior says:

Obama seems to support Arabians States because he’s a Muslims. Just forget him, he’s a bullshit just like the other Muslims. I would prefer Israeli to move on with her own thoughts. Destroy Iran as soon as possible. God will be with you Israel. The Bible tell me so.

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Will They?

Israel and Iran are fighting a not-so-secret clandestine war. But Israel is likely to attack Iran’s nuclear program this spring, making it official.

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