The Americans seem to be trying to undermine Israel’s confidence in its military capabilities to attack Iran.
Following failed efforts to argue and persuade, the Americans seem to be taking a new approach – trying to undermine Israel’s confidence in its military capabilities.
A report in The New York Times on Monday was aimed at doing just that – showing Israel how difficult a strike would be and explaining that if possible regional fallout is not enough of a deterrent against attacking Iran, a military failure should be.
The problem is that something might be getting lost in translation between Jerusalem and Washington when it comes to Israel’s goals in launching such a strike. Israel does not pretend it has the resources to obliterate Iran’s nuclear facilities – something the US could probably do – or to ensure that the Islamic regime would never build a bomb in the future.
Instead, what Israel has claimed over the years is that it could delay the Iranian program, which Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said he thought Israel could do in his CNN interview on Sunday.
One IDF general has called such an attack a “bridge loan,” in reference to the type of bank loan many home-buyers take to close on a property. It would set the army back a few years – but probably not much more.
This is mainly because Iran has already mastered the technology, and even if Israel causes significant damage to a number of key facilities in the nuclear-production line, it is just a matter of time before Iran makes the necessary repairs to get the facilities up and running again.
The question is whether this will be enough. Some assessments have claimed that if Israel bombs Isfahan, Natanz and the other Iranian nuclear facilities, it would solidify the regime, rally the people behind the ayatollahs and postpone the possibility of a regime change for years.
Speaking in Jerusalem on Monday at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Prof. David Menashri, one of Israel’s leading experts on Iran, said it would ultimately depend on how surgical Israel would be in its strike.
If the strikes are just against the facilities and succeed without major domestic fallout, the Iranian people will not be overly disturbed, Menashri said. If there is a “mess,” this will not be the case.
Working with this assessment, some Israeli defense officials have raised the possibility that after the initial strike, Israel would need to attack Iran again in a few years to ensure that the program is not rebuilt.
Other officials have referred to the debates that led up to the 1981 bombing of the Osirak reactor outside of Baghdad. Then too, there were elements within the defense establishment – particularly from the Mossad – who claimed that the strike was pointless because Saddam Hussein would just rebuild the reactor and obtain a weapon.
This, however, never happened.
In their talks with Israeli officials, the Americans refer to a strike against Iran as something so horrific and destabilizing for the region that it is questionable if a delay of just one, two or three years is worth it. There is no question that Israel probably cannot do much more.
Ultimately, there are three major questions Israeli military planners need to ask themselves before embarking on such an operation.
First, can the Israel Air Force’s F-15s and F-16s fly to where they need to go with the appropriate munitions? Second, will they be able to overcome Iran’s air force and air defense systems? And third, will they be able to penetrate the facilities, some of which – like Fordow and Natanz – have been built deep underground? For now, the positive aspect of the increased dialogue between Israel and the US on the Iranian issue might mean that there is also increasing coordination.
This would be a step in the right direction, since even if Israel attacks Iran without American assistance, a diplomatic process would need to be in place to end the ensuing war and hopefully prevent Iran from rebuilding its facilities.
The US would be the likely candidate to lead such a process.
If Israel were, however, to attack Iran against US President Barack Obama’s wishes, the US might not be there to fill that role.