Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Israeli Threat To Attack Iran: Will Obama Capitulate To That, As Well?

Avner Cohen is an Israeli political scientist, currently at the Monterey Institute of International Affairs.   He is considered to be the world's foremost expert on the Israeli nuclear program.  His work is so accurate and authoritative, in fact, that he has come close to being arrested when returning to Israel.

Cohen has an extremely important column in the November 13 issue of Haaretz, in which he demolishes the myth that the Israeli
attack on the Iraqi reactor in 1981 was a success, let alone that it should serve as a model for a similar attack on the Iranian nuclear program. (His article can be read at

Cohen demonstrates that even the 1981 Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor was strongly opposed by many of Israel's top military and intelligence officials, who in fact--despite the widespread view to the contrary--were proven right.  That is, while the attack seemed at the time to be a "success," in fact the consequence was that Saddam Hussein redoubled his efforts to get nuclear weapons, hid most of the program underground, and was on the verge of producing nuclear weapons until the 1991 Gulf war essentially ended the Iraqi program. 

      An Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear program, even if the United States joined it--which seems (let us hope) inconceivable--would have even less chance of succeeding in disarming Iran, and would be far more likely to result in catastrophic consequences for Israel and perhaps the entire region; indeed it cannot be ruled out that Iran would find a way to attack our own country.

       Almost certainly the primary purpose of the Iranian nuclear program is deterrence, not aggression--as has been the case for every other nuclear state.   There is not the slightest evidence to support the supposed Israeli fear that, out of the blue, Iran would launch a nuclear strike against Israel--in the full knowledge that the entire country would be literally annihilated by Israeli nuclear retaliation.  

       The supposedly more worrisome problem is that Iran might covertly give nuclear weapons to terrorists, who might believe they could use them against Israel and escape retaliation, as it might not be clear who originated the attack and where it came from.   However, that possibility is remote, since Iran would have to assume that it would be blamed for any nuclear attack on Israel and would be destroyed in retaliation--even if it hadn't been the source of the attack.

      No doubt in part for similar reasons, to the best of our knowledge no nuclear power has ever given nuclear weapons to terrorist groups--not even the most extremist or supposedly the least rational states, like North Korea and Pakistan.  Still, however remote the possibility, it is sufficiently worrisome to make serious efforts to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, as in fact the world is doing now--but almost no military experts, including most of Israel's own top intelligence and military officials, believe that a military attack has any chance of meaningful success.

In that light, one would assume--or would like to assume--that the current Israeli threats are bluffs, designed to induce the international community to step up economic sanctions against Iraq.  Nonetheless, the level of Israeli irrationality, as demonstrated on an almost daily basis, is so deep that nothing can be taken for granted. 

Obama must be told that no matter how far he is prepared to go in capitulating to Israeli madness, he cannot put at risk our own national security.  A simple but blunt statement by the president that Israel must in no circumstances attack Iran would almost surely prevent it from doing so. 

Obama has an absolute obligation to act--and right now.


Anonymous said...

Adding to what the Haaretz piece said, the Osirik reactor was totally unsuited for making plutonium according to Harvard physicist Richard Wilson who visited the site after the bombing--



Anonymous said...

With respect to the desired sanctions, I'd be curious to know how Washington plans to bribe, bully, or blackmail China and Russia into it.

How many more times, I wonder, will Israel have to cry wolf before Iran feels perfectly safe and comfortable in establishing for real a nuclear weapons program?

Anonymous said...

Hi All, (I am "Anonymous #2)

I would like your (and Jerry's) take on what I consider to be a very real danger if Israel by itself attacks Iran: A significant rise in anti-Semitism. People in many parts of the world may be very unhappy at the damage such an attack could inflict upon the world economy and them personally (e.g., significant increase in price of gaasoline).

For the above reason alone (and because such a rise in anti-Semitism would lead to intense scrutiny of Israeli policies generally), I strongly believe that the possibility--as Jerry notes--that the Israelis may be bluffiing is correct.

Anonymous said...

This is Anonymous #2 again,

Steve Walt and others have argued that an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would lead to redoubled effort on their part to make a bomb. Case in point: Iraq under Saddam. An Iranian attack would anger all who would feel economic pain and (probably) mean the end of Israeli influence in the US and other governments. (Mr. Netanyahu, I hope you are listening to whatever voices of reason are still accessible to you.)

Jerome Slater said...

I hope so too. And there's reason to hope, because a number of high Israeli military/intelligence people are telling him, don't even think about it. Also, it does seem that in the past two weeks, the bluster from Netanyahu and Barak has diminished. Keep your fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...


I have mine crossed, and I know you do, too. Let's hope enough fingers are crossed somewhere out there to turn the tide, mon ami!

Anon. #2