More Reasons Iran Safe From Attack

For someone trying to sensationalize the slight shift in U.S.-Israel relations, you would expect Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, to have some juicy revelations about the issue that has, in his estimation, so dramatically impacted those relations—the nuclear deal with Iran. Instead we are presented with two bland factoids that aren’t exactly breaking news. The Times of Israel reports that Oren “details the administration’s relentless pressure to prevent Israeli military intervention in Iran, asserts that Obama would not use American force against Iran except in the most exceptional circumstances, such as an attack on a US aircraft carrier, and claims the US president has long had no compunction about pursuing a diplomatic accord “even at the risk of reaching a deal unacceptable to Israel.” Were Israel to take “matters into its own hands,” Oren writes, “the White House would keep its distance and offer to defend Israel only if it were counterstruck by a hundred thousand Hezbollah missiles.”

Both of those have been known for years (Obama applied pressure by sending defense officials in the summer of 2012 to Israel to convince them to think twice and he also notified Iran that Washington wouldn’t back a unilateral Israeli strike if Iran’s retaliation avoided U.S. military bases and aircraft carriers). But then Oren appeared to back away from these claims during an in-depth interview with the Times of Israel:

My conclusion from your book is that America prevented Israel from taking action to stop Iran thus far and isn’t going to take action itself. (On Israel’s non-intervention) I can’t say that for sure. There might have been other factors. You write about Washington “quashing” Israel’s military option. I don’t know. I wasn’t privy to that decision-making process.”

Even assuming that it wasn’t direct pressure from the White House that forestalled an Israeli strike, the U.S. was always the looming elephant in the room, as Oren later explained:

“And there was ambivalence because I knew what it would mean for our relationship with the United States. The big question with the operation on Iran was not the actual operation, which by all accounts would have been certainly complex, but we always used to worry about (the fallout): D1, D2, D3. D1, D2, D3 was Hezbollah. It was at that time we could still think about getting hit by Syrian rockets. Iranian rockets. Who was going to defend us? Who was going to defend our ability to defend ourselves? That was always the question. And we understood already from the Second Lebanon War that this defense could not be ensured from the air. Who was going to defend us from lawfare? Who was going to defend us from condemnations in the UN Human Rights Council, from sanctions? That was what I call the Diplomatic Iron Dome and I was not at all sure of it. I am not at all sure of it.”

Oren may not have been included in the ‘should we bomb Iran?’ debate but his colleagues were undoubtedly equally as fretful as he was (and still is) about the fallout. It was the consequences of a go-it-alone attack—the “other factors” that Oren referred to–that stayed the Israeli government’s hand, the most disastrous of which would have been spoiling the special relationship with Washington. Heather Hurlburt, according to Barbara Slavin, told a J-Street conference back in 2012 that “While a majority of Americans would support Israel against Iran initially, a prolonged conflict could lead to a “weakening and lack of trust” between the Israeli and American militaries.”

Along with the U.S. switching off its “Diplomatic Iron Dome”, here are some more aftereffects that Dilshod Achilov, professor of political science at East Tennessee State University, outlined when asked in an interview with International Business Times what the worst-case scenario would be following an Israeli attack:

“In addition to oil prices soaring and destabilizing the world economy, the three other worst-case scenarios are: (1) the conflict could escalate to involve other (Sunni) Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and might cause a wide-scale sectarian (Sunni vs. Shia) conflict in the Middle East which can claim millions of innocent lives; (2) Iran will be further radicalized and turn to international terrorism (aligning with other terrorist organizations by funding, training and arms supplying) which could even engage civilians targets, particularly in the West (in other words, international terrorism could reach a new dimension and become more dangerous than ever); and (3) the conflict could accelerate the arms race in the Middle East while the competition to attain nuclear weapons can only increase, not decrease.”

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? And things wouldn’t be any rosier if it was the U.S. carrying out the military option. No wonder President Barack Obama told Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan that “A military solution will not fix it [the nuclear dispute with Iran], even if the United States participates.”

Israel Still Won’t Attack Iran

In an interview with President Barack Obama earlier this month, Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan asked him what he thought about the possibility of Israel striking Iran without running it by the United States beforehand and his reply was “I won’t speculate on that.” That has been the million dollar question for years now and it was a prudent move for Obama to pass on answering. Many commentators have hazarded their guesses, arguing that there was a good possibility of a unilateral Israeli attack but, of course, they ended up incorrect. I’m sure Obama personally thinks “Nope, there’s not even a remote chance of that” but wanted to refrain from once again exposing Israel’s bluff and avoid sparking another row with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Thankfully, I’m under no political constraints so I’ll address Dayan’s query and say with utmost confidence that Israel attacking without the U.S.’s approval absolutely will not be happening.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made that assertion (in fact, I’ve been doing so since 2012) and I feel I’ve summed up the case against an Israeli attack pretty well with this paragraph:

“In brief, the Israelis can attack Iran—and not very effectively at that–but have no viable military option. They can start a war but would be in no position afterwards to finish it. If Israel’s unilateral bombing sparked a regional catastrophe, throwing global markets into an upheaval, and the U.S. chose not to bail Israel out, they can expect to pay a considerable diplomatic price to the international community—one concerning the occupation of the Palestinians. Indeed, retired Israeli Major General Shlomo Gazit foresees an outcome where the fallout “would increase international pressures for the abandonment of ‘the territories’.” Gazit surely had this in mind when he said “An Israeli attack…will lead to the liquidation of Israel.” [Edit: The Israelis would still have to pay this price if the U.S. does choose to rescue them from their folly]

Israel’s warranted worry over where pushing the international community too far would lead should be convincing enough but just in case it isn’t I recently stumbled upon the granddaddy of all reasons why Israel won’t be jumping the gun. It can be found in this excerpt from a 2011 interview between Norman Braman, billionaire backer of presidential candidate Marco Rubio, and Richard Peritz of Shalom TV:

“I [Braman] worry about that [the U.S. economy] because I really believe that a strong America is the greatest factor which insures a great Israel and a sustaining Israel. A weak America poses a threat to the future of Israel. So I concern myself about the United States, our economy, and the general situation in this country… The romance involving the state of Israel faded a long time ago. And that romance isn’t going to return in the near future, if ever. But again it gets back to the United States. We are the only world global power, we’re the only world global military power, we’re still the economic engine that is the standard of the world. If all those three fall, it’s a danger to the state of Israel. So I think we have to concentrate ourselves on working to bring the United States back to economic health as quickly as we can and do the best we can to make sure that the United States remains a very strong and vital power in the world. That’s the best guarantee Israel has for its future.”

It’s a safe bet the Israeli government feels the same way as Braman and therefore isn’t about to initiate a war with Iran that has the potential to sap the U.S.’s superpower status. Even if hostilities don’t escalate into a third world war, it would still be a crippling conflict that would definitely risk weakening the U.S. to the point where it becomes stretched too thin to remain a power player in the Middle East and is forced to completely withdraw. If the Israelis are jittery now regarding Washington’s re-balancing to East Asia (which would mean a lessening of American involvement in the Middle East, not abandonment), why would they take a course of action that is certain to eject the U.S. from the region? Naturally, they wouldn’t do anything so recklessly self-destructive. Pretending otherwise was a bluff for the ages but no one is buying it anymore and it’s time to fold.