Israel’s test-firing of a new, long-range ballistic missile, the staging of aerial refuelling exercises over the Mediterranean, conducting a major civil defence drill in Tel Aviv, and “leaks” from the cabinet about the Prime Minister seeking approval for a unilateral option to attack Iran – all these developments in the past few days have got a lot of people here and abroad thinking that maybe, just maybe, Israel really is preparing to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“I’m shaking in my boots,” a well-informed Israeli woman told me this morning.”
There certainly is precedent for taking such action.
In September 2007, Israeli fighter jets attacked and destroyed a facility in northern Syria that was believed to be an unfinished nuclear reactor.
That surprise attack was reminiscent of Israel’s 1981 raid on the Osirak nuclear facility outside Baghdad in which Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was greatly set back.
But there is another possible target that all these Israeli activities point to: the international community that Israel hopes to shake into invoking much stronger sanctions against Iran for its refusal to rein in a potentially threatening nuclear program.
Indeed, next week the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to report its conclusions about the status of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The world community’s response to that report is what Israel hopes to affect.
Why isn’t Israel likely to attack Iran? There are at least three good reasons:
1. A long-range attack is unlikely to destroy all of Iran’s threatening nuclear facilities – too much of it is secured underground.
2. The blowback against Israel would be severe. Not only would Iran, unlike Syria and Iraq, strike back with weapons of its own, targeting Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv, but the diplomatic consequences for Israel also could be severe, further isolating Israel in the world community just as it is trying to win back support in the region.
3. Nearly all of Israel’s current and former military and intelligence chiefs argue against any such strike, saying there still is time for other methods to work. Joining that point of view are two of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most trusted cabinet ministers, Dan Meridor and Benjamin Begin, as well as opposition leader Tzipi Livni, whose Kadima Party captured more votes in the last Israeli election than Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Israelis do believe the clock is ticking down to when Iran will have nuclear weapons capability, but as long as there’s a lower risk option to dealing with it, Israel is unlikely to strike.