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On the other hand, if he orders a raid and it goes half as badly as his defense chiefs predict, the Jewish state will be gravely, perhaps mortally wounded. Of course, generals can be wrong. But all of them, all at once? Is Israel’s vaunted military that incompetent? And if it is, how does Netanyahu expect to defeat Iran?
It’s widely believed, especially outside Israel, that Netanyahu is bluffing, trying to pressure the world community into pressuring Iran. This theory was popular in Israel for a time, but it’s ringing hollow lately. The military has invested vast amounts of money and training time preparing for a raid. As columnist Nahum Barnea put it in Yediot Ahronot, “If it’s a bluff, it’s the most expensive bluff in history.”
More important, the commanders tasked with preparing the raid believe it’s for real. That’s why they’re speaking out.
It’s worth noting that most of the critics don’t oppose an attack in principle. A few appear to question the urgency of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon, as Pardo and Gantz did. But most agree a nuclear Iran represents a deadly threat. What they question are Israel’s ability to hit Iran’s facilities hard enough to matter and its ability to withstand likely Iranian retaliation. Most important, they fear the damage a solo attack would cause to Israel’s most important strategic asset, its ties with Washington.
Most of the professionals favor leaving the job to America. Most have intimate knowledge of administration thinking from their own professional relationships in Washington, and they unanimously dismiss Netanyahu’s suspicious view of President Barack Obama. They also worry that an Israeli raid would only set Iran back a year or two, leaving it more determined than ever to go nuclear. Even an American raid would do little unless it’s followed by ongoing, intrusive inspections of the sort imposed on Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. But that requires a broad international coalition that only America can mobilize. In short, leaving the job to America would virtually guarantee its success, while unilateral Israeli action would guarantee failure and worse.
Most friends of Israel find this kind of talk disorienting. They usually hear Israeli leaders talk tough about self-reliance and the world’s indifference. That’s not how Israeli security thinks, but the generals traditionally keep their views to themselves in deference to civilian democracy. They’ve only begun speaking out now because they’re scared of where the leaders are headed.
Well, hold on tight. Your disorientation will only grow in the weeks ahead as the generals unleash their next line of argument: the urgency of resuming talks with the Palestinians. That’s needed, they say, to reduce anti-Israel hostility on the Arab street and allow the Sunni regimes in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to join with America against Shi’ite Iran.
Five years ago nobody talked this way but Peace Now and the Shin Bet. In the last few weeks I’ve heard it from some of Israel’s best known hawks.
You’ve probably heard Israelis say that the Palestinians refuse to talk, that nothing Israel can do will change them and anyway Arab hostility has nothing to do with Palestinians, settlements or borders. The trouble is, Israeli intelligence hasn’t taken that talk seriously for years. They’ve held their tongues and let the politicians blather on because that’s what soldiers do in a democracy. They assumed that when the crunch came the politicians would do the right thing. Now the crunch is here, and the politicians are headed over a cliff.
Contact J.J. Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org