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Why Israel Won’t Bomb Iran

At least until the U.S. presidential election, Netanyahu won’t risk angering Obama

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Uriel Sinai/Getty Images, and Shutterstock)
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Why the U.S. Could Bomb Iran

The White House’s line—that a strike can only delay the program—is an attempt to downplay our military capability

In the past year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, have honed their talent for psychological warfare. At international Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in March, and in countless interviews, they have created the impression at every opportunity that Israel could strike Iran’s nuclear facilities at any moment—and that an attack becomes more likely with each passing day.

Might we wake up one morning between now and November to hear unconfirmed reports of major explosions at Natanz and Fordow, two of Iran’s key uranium-enrichment centers? Or will rumors of a strike trickle out, as they did in September 2007, weeks after the Israeli air force destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor under construction?

No chance.

Although the decision rests in the hands of only two men, and ultimately in Netanyahu’s alone, it can be said with confidence that there will be no Israeli military strike on Iran before America’s Election Day this year. November 6 may not be literally circled on the calendars of Israel’s political and military chiefs, but it might as well be. What makes us so confident?

Officials in the U.S. and Israeli governments told us they believe that President Obama, during private talks at the White House in early March, explicitly requested that Netanyahu not use warplanes or missiles to attack Iran before November. The president may well have used the same words a reporter overheard him saying a few weeks later to his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, at a summit in Seoul: “This is my last election,” Obama said. “After my election I have more flexibility.”

If Netanyahu heeds the president’s request, he’ll be granting Obama time to win a second term without the crisis of a potential oil disruption and Iranian retaliation that might spook American voters enough to question Obama’s foreign-policy credibility.

But will Netanyahu wait? It is no secret that the two leaders do not get along well personally, and the prisms through which they view the Middle East are entirely different. Obama made plain during his first two years in office that he believed the path to progress in the region was by way of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically by halting Israeli settlements and Jewish housing construction in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu, in contrast, warned that Iran is by far the greatest danger confronting the Western world.

The prime minister seems sure that a President Mitt Romney—with whom he’s been friends since their days at the Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s—would be supportive of almost anything Israel’s government would decide to do. So, why heed Obama’s request? The simplest answer, of course, is that Obama may be reelected, and Israel’s leader would not want to be branded as the ally who did not cooperate.

There is a more nuanced reality revealed by some Israeli officials who prefer not to be named because their analysis could be seen as undermining Netanyahu-Barak’s tough stand. Some in Jerusalem’s political world, and many in the Israeli military and the intelligence community, say it is highly unlikely that the Jewish state will strike Iran this year for several sound reasons.

First, they say, there is no great urgency. Iran has continued to enrich uranium, but Israeli intelligence estimates suggest that it would take another year—at least—for Iran to assemble its first bomb, and yet another year to fit it into a missile’s warhead.

Second, there is much that Israel can do and is doing, without using its air force and missiles. Israel’s intelligence community, led by the Mossad and the even larger military agency Aman, is enjoying an unprecedentedly strong partnership with the CIA and other Western security agencies. While diplomats led by the United States tried to negotiate with Iran in Istanbul, Baghdad, and Moscow this year, Israel and its covert partners continually pressed ahead with sabotage and other subterfuge meant to delay and divert Iran’s nuclear program.

We now know that the United States and Israel cooperated on highly sophisticated malware called Stuxnet and Flame—and officials we spoke with add that there is more going on that has not been revealed. Israeli responsibility for a string of assassinations in Tehran, aimed at scientists and engineers who worked in their country’s nuclear program, is also barely concealed.

Netanyahu and Barak both have a taste for covert action. They are veterans of an elite and secretive unit of the Israel Defense Forces called Sayeret Matkal that does more than almost anyone can imagine. In the 1970s, Barak was Netanyahu’s commander when soldiers in the unit successfully assaulted a hijacked airliner on the tarmac in Tel Aviv, rescued hostages during other terrorist sieges, slipped into Beirut to assassinate Palestinian militants, and infiltrated Syria to kidnap military officers for use in a prisoner swap.

The two men, now weighing one of the most difficult decisions of their political lives, obviously want to stop Iran’s nuclear program without a military strike or all-out war. They must wonder whether covert action—including, perhaps, more assassinations, sabotage, supplying Iranians with faulty parts, continuing to disrupt their computer programs, and more—can do enough.

Third, most Israeli military analysts, including those in the Israeli air force, agree that Israel’s capabilities are so limited that bombing Iran would only delay its nuclear program, not destroy it. The United States has supplied Israel with 100 GBU-28 bunker-buster bombs in the past six years. But to be much better prepared to strike many targets in Iran, the Israelis want 200 of the improved GBU-31 bombs that have a more precise guidance system. Israel’s air force says it also needs two or three KC-135 midair-refueling tanker planes.

Meir Dagan, the former Mossad espionage chief who is waging an almost one-man campaign against an Israeli military strike, warns that a strike would bolster nationalist pride within Iran and spur the Iranians to rebuild and accelerate their nuclear work. Dagan adds that technological knowledge cannot be wiped out by a series of bombing raids. (On the other hand, in the past Israel has been satisfied with the strategy of achieving a multiyear delay in an enemy’s threatening strategy. When Prime Minister Menachem Begin sent the air force to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, Israeli intelligence believed that it might derail Saddam Hussein’s nuclear project for only two or three years. Still, it was deemed by Israel’s leaders to be well worth doing.)

The prime minister and the defense minister are treating Dagan as an enemy, probably because they are annoyed that his public remarks rob them of the strongest tool they posses to command the world’s attention. Netanyahu and Barak have been using the threat of an Israeli strike as a lever to push the international community into imposing harsher sanctions against Iran. But now, a respected man such as Dagan, who has only recently stepped out of the shadows, calls the military option “stupid,” and other senior figures in military and intelligence agencies are beginning to privately agree with him.

Netanyahu and Barak surely realize the potential dangers stemming from a strike on Iran: Retaliation could include terrorism most anywhere around the globe, a lethal rain of thousands of missiles hitting Israel, and the possibility of an all-out war that could disrupt oil supplies and trigger widespread criticism of Israel.

They also know the dangers of accepting Iran as a nuclear-armed state. Almost without exception, Israeli politicians, military leaders, and intelligence chiefs say that their country cannot tolerate living within a thousand miles of a radical enemy armed with nuclear bombs. There is too much of a chance, they argue, that the Iranians would actually use them; or, at the least, that Iran would be propelled into an unchallengeable role as a regional super-power.

The Iranians may not budge, and a military attack may well happen eventually. But it is far more likely that an American president, either Obama or Romney, will be the one to order attacks aimed at destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities after the election. That would be a last resort after exhausting options like covert actions, harsher sanctions, and diplomacy. Whatever their disagreements on tactics, on timing, and on Palestinian issues, U.S. and Israeli leaders are united in their conclusion that the world cannot comfortably live in the shadow of a nuclear-armed Iran.

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michael perks says:

Actually, Israel has 2-3 KC135s. They are modified Boeing 707s converted to tankers.
I agree with your analysis, but lack of tankers won’t enter into it.

BoulderFinFan says:

Israel won’t attack iran because it doesn’t have the courage to do so on its own. It needs its big daddy the good ole USA to do the bombing for them.
If Israel was gonna attack Iran it wouldn’t be talking about it. It would be a sneak attack like all cowards.

kinda like the palestinians and Hamas ?

Garth Tobler says:

Maybe the powers that be in israel know the consequences of dropping nuclear bombs on Iran, in the form of nuclear fallout, which in turn makes land unfir for habitation and farming for thousands of years.

spearofpinchas says:

boulder fin fan is an all-american a-hole and deserves to have his ugly mouth rearranged, but he has a point: israel seems way too much dependent on the White House’s wishes. as for the essay’s view that obama will bomb after the election, i doubt that very very much. that’s a non-sequitur if i ever heard one.

Hershl says:

Will they, won’t they?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, if you go over the Raviv and Melman’s blog you will find precious little except a relentless campaign on their part to peddle their book.

Pandering at its worst.

joblow2000 says:

obama omama will be gone in 2012

omama is 2nd Jimmy Carter. carter gone in 1980.

OMAMA GONE IN 2012. OMAMA AS PROFESSOR OR LAW AT UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO..

OMAMA AS PROFESSOR OF LAW

donzi_boy says:

June was the optimal weather month for Israel and as we head into the fall a strike becomes less likely. Israel will not want to tangle with Iran if it doesn’t have to. The current US build-up of forces in the region is a warning to Iran but also a dangerous escalation because it increases the chances of an incident with Iranian forces. It doesn’t matter who is elected President of the US, Iran and America are on a collision course.

sara says:

It would be wiser to agree to the above assessment for the time being anyway than to go full ahead with another ‘Ozirak’ ….. which was far less dangerous then, than it would be today with an eye on Natanz and Fordow. Israel may have the capability… yes… but the aftermath may generate a disastrous future War that nobody would like……

sara says:

Not so much ‘a collision course’ between the US and Iran… as it would be between Iran and Israel, the State which Iran has hitherto been warnng ‘has to be wiped of the map ….. ” Of that one has to be fully aware.

donzi_boy says:

Israel is a target of Iran partly because it is the foothold of the Western hegemon in the middle east, and it is Iran’s goal to displace American leadership.

cos of #russia ? cos the western criminal system is collapsing? cos the rothschild has noone else to kill after the kennedy lincoln martin luther king – cos the west is too much of acorrupted criminal dictatorship to win a war against the other half of the world ? what do those western families needs all those money for ? to buy what ? why do they need to enslave global populatio to get worshipped ? the day west remove and cancel thos families from humanity it may lead and the globe will have a propser secure future

i do not care what israeli and US leaders believe. USA can live with a nuclear iran. no more lies like iraq. america first. please.

colin says:

Netanyahu is a racist

sara says:

Sorry, Nobody on this earth could be called ‘a coward’ for attacking the Giant and seemingful Powerful country of Iran especially when it is as miniscule as the State of Israel is …….

sara says:

Obama would never seek out such danger as it would be by ‘bombing Iran’ because Obama is himself ‘the coward’ anyway.

sara says:

Unfortunately Obama never did get his wish of ‘shaking the hand of Ahmadinejad’ but instead received the ‘cold shoulder’ from Iran’s ‘Man’ when he graciously invited Ahmadinejad to his First American Independence Day Ceremony in the White House. The shoulder which Obama received was not only ‘cold’ it was Ice.

tyree1 says:

like Hiroshima

I can’t wait until the day comes that somebody bombs the crap out of Iran…..

And you’re a moron

Yes they will. Hide ‘n’ watch. I just love all the losers who post on here knowing full well that they can hide behind the anonymity of the ‘net. Man, talk about cowards.

How can America live with a nuclear nation which threatens its existence and that of its allies every day? How an anyone be that incredibly naive? Or is it just plain old ignorance of the issues? FYI, eggplant, a nuclear Iran would be the bane of every free, Western nation’s existence. They will not hesitate to pull the trigger because they believe their country of roughly 75 million is fairly young; 1/2 being between 25-35 even though they’ve slaughtered their young by the tens of thousands. It’s acceptable to those animals because they figure it will hasten the return of their Mahdi, which is in truth the anti-Christ. Religious zealotry has no equal motivator. No, there won’t be a single free and democratic society within the range of Tehran’s missiles which will remain safe with a nuked up Iran.

Awabnavi says:

“the world cannot comfortably live in the shadow of a nuclear-armed Iran” — How does a handful of countries become THE WORLD? LOL! Or was there a VOTE in the GENERAL ASSEMBLY on the subject? The IMPERIALISTS are misusing words like “THE WORLD”, etc., for their nefarious deeds.

Awabnavi says:

“THE WORLD” lived VERY COMFORTABLY with MIGHTY COMMUNIST NUKES, during the cold war. Now you have become UNCOMFORTABLE with TINY IRAN? What BS.

Sparzo says:

Didn’t bother to read the article. Can’t wait to see Israel destroy another country because it might pose a threat. Yes sir ree.

Let’s look at why America can’t live with a nuclear-armed Iran by looking at what is easily within range of Iranian missiles.

Afghanistan: Current location of 90,000 US troops
Kuwait: Massive garrison of US troops
Saudi Arabia: Massive garrison of US troops
Qatar: Large US air bases
Bahrain: Headquarters of the US 5th Fleet

RomyLitz says:

Not only Israel to be wiped out from the map but Syria deserves to be bombed too. It is just a matter of time and most likely this I’ll happen after the November election.

Sophia Marsden says:

They effectively said that Israel is an illegitimate state, a view shared by …probably the majority of the world’s population. Calling that an excuse to destroy their country with war is one of the most absurd things I ever heard.

Allen Hertz says:

Former Secretary of State George Schultz recently observed that the USA is now significantly weaker than twenty years ago. And, we hear from President Obama and from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the USA is now pivoting back to Asia, partly to meet the challenge of the rapid rise of China. On every side, there are indications that the USA is reaching out to the Muslim Brotherhood and accordingly pulling out from the Middle East, where its old system of friendships and alliances shows deterioration and collapse. The Israel government obviously understands these historic shifts and seeks significantly improved relations with other players like China, Russia and India. In this context, it would be unwise for Israel leaders to depend too much on the USA touching key questions posing life or death for the Jewish State. Even more unwise would be placing trust in the person of President Obama who is known to the Israel government as perhaps the most anti-Israel USA leader ever. Moreover, who now knows President Obama’s real intentions with respect to Iran’s race toward nuclear weapons? Could be that under Obama the USA would never use force against Iran’s nuclear installations? As for Israel, the Ravid-Melman article contains the usual roundabout of speculation, including the oft-repeated references to Dagan who obviously has his own personal and political agenda. The probability is that nobody is better able than Netanyahu and Barak to judge whether there is utility to an early Israel strike against Iran. They are likely to have all the very best information about the probable consequences of a strike and also about the probable consequences of not striking, which could also be terrible. You can be close to 100% sure that if an Israel strike is really not feasible, Netanyahu and Barak already know that it is “no go,” without the need of further advice from Dagan or the Obama Administration. It is ridiculous to suggest that Netanyahu and Barak would launch an early Israel strike that they would know to be ineffective. As for President Obama’s unguarded “open microphone” remarks to then President Medvedev in Seoul, are they not proof positive of President Obama’s conducting foreign policy so as to deceive the American people. Namely, the Seoul remarks show that there are things that Obama wants to conceal from the USA public until “after” he is re-elected. In this context, we can well understand that today there is no foreign leader that trusts the USA to honour its commitments.

Marty Susman says:

The best thing Israel can do for peace is to vote out BiBi & bring in a leader that is really interested in peace…. BiBi is not the slightest interested in the true future of Israel as been shown by his total stupidity when it comes to working with the Arabs to bring about a two States living together rather then killing eat other….

Israel NEEDS to start thinking of the real future & not just today’s vote to keep them in power… The Muslim Arab winter is a VERY bad thing & before it hits the West Bank & Gaza BOTH sides need to shut down in a room, lock themselves in & not set foot out until peace is agreed upon….

shimon russo says:

“Netanyahu won’t risk angering Obama”
You’re joking, right? Or perhaps just wishful thinking.

sara says:

Let us throw our minds back to WW2 and its Final Diastrous Defeat of Japan with Hiroshima and Nagasaki … and to remind ourselves of that ‘Little Boy’ , the Invention of none other but a Jewish Scientist named Julius R Oppenheimer when having completed it declared ‘I AM DEATH’ . . Iran must surely know about it or should we remind the arrogant and dangerous Iran about it subversively ….. ???

SamFreeman says:

When Israel or the US strikes Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities, a large number of our troops in the region will be exposed to lethal doses of radiation and others will be severely injured as a result. That many casualties will be devastating, especially since the entire Islamic world will rally against us when the hundreds of thousands of civilians die from radiation poisoning. For example, Bahrain is home to US Naval Forces Central Command and the US 5th Fleet. As Cordesman and Toukan state in their study, Bahrain will be heavily affected by radiation (and our troops there will be too):

“Most definitely Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE will be heavily affected by the radionuclides.”

“Any strike on the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.”

(See: page 90, Anthony H. Cordesman and Abdullah Toukan, Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Development Facilities, March 14, 2009, csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/090316_israelistrikeiran.pdf )

The interventionists will be held accountable for their treason and crimes. The media won’t be able to cover for them when the stuffed body bags are sent back home. Israel better find a new lackey after this one.

JoelWeltman says:

You like the idea of going after the Jews dontcha? Too bad you can’t do that anymore. Now click your heels and goose step back to the sewer where you came from.

President Obama like President Reagan understands the threat to humanity of nuclear weapons and wants to follow a path to a nuclear weapon free world. I don’t see how Iran presents an existential threat to Israel as much as the unwillingness of the right-wing element of Israel obstructing political negotiations for a Palestinian state. Involving America in another ME war is unwise. What is to prevent Pakistan or North Korea sending Iran a couple of nuclear bombs to compensate the damage to Iran’s nuclear facilities? What’s to prevent Iran from getting them at all before the Israeli strike? Will Israel strike Iran with its own nuclear weapons? How to prevent an escalation to a confrontation between America, Russia and China who have competing interests? The existential threat is to the world brought on by right-wing radical warmongers from all parties.

JoelWeltman says:

Israel is already attacking Iran. They are sitting ducks in fact for the endless cyber warfare that has been steadily chipping away at their industrial base. The coup de grace will come much sooner than later.

The information presented is a serious consequence of nuclear fallout. There is a madness of militarism and Liebenstraum that permeates the right-wing in Israel and America that goose-steps its way to national suicide.

In order to attend a Romney fundraising event, people are required to sign a loyalty oath to Mitt Romney. If Mitt becomes president, he will require all military to sign a loyalty oath to him as Commander in Chief. All Republicans have signed a loyalty oath to Grover Norquist and have obstructed economic recovery to defeat an elected president because he is the first black president.

The last person to require a military loyalty oath was Adolf Hitler. America, vote for your first fascist leader, and his loyal followers, at your grave peril.

Cowards cling to their guns; President Obama has the courage of moral convictions.

abash40 says:

What Dagan actually said. Is that the cost of a failed Israeli strike on Iran would’ve disastrous leading to: (1) exposing Israel as vulnerable and (2) incentivizing Iran to complete making a nuke. He cautions that Israel should strike only if successes certain.

Yeah..the Israelis are going to put themselves in danger to help the most anti-Israeli president ever get re-elected. Sounds logical. You do realize that Obama is disliked by a good percentage of the American population? In fact many think Obama is more dangerous to the future of America than Iran is.

Sounds like Pompey, Caesar, etc. Expect Romney to march on LA as soon as he’s elected. :P

IMO if Netanyahu thinks the world really believes that, then November is when the attack will come.

YOU cap TOO much.

Obama is for america first… i dont see anything wrong with that… Bush and his goons had every chance to attack Iran but rather he went on a private war in Iraq… so Leave Obama alone to clean the mess in the USA homealand b4 going on a useless proxy war…

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Why Israel Won’t Bomb Iran

At least until the U.S. presidential election, Netanyahu won’t risk angering Obama

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