Israel, Iran and the Nuclear Issue – (Not) 'Crying Wolf'? (Paul Rogers, Oxford Research Group)

Minstens even gevaarlijk als de crises in Pakistan en Afghanistan, is het risico dat Israel een ‘preventieve’ aanval op Iraanse nucleaire installaties lanceert. Dit risico zou bewaarheid worden als Iran een nucleaire proef uitvoert. President Ahmadinejad zou hierop kunnen aansturen om zijn herverkiezing in juni te bereiken. Premier Netanyahu heeft zoveel politiek kapitaal geinvesteerd in het voorkomen van een nucleair bewapend Iran, dat hij zulk een provocatie niet over zijn kant kan laten gaan. Voor president Obama zou het bijna onmogelijk zijn om zulk een aanval te voorkomen.
Het is daarom van vitaal belang dat hij veel meer diplomatieke aandacht aan deze, potentieel desastreuze, confrontatie schenkt, meent prof. Paul Rogers – en ik ben het volledig met hem eens.

..New Tensions in Israel

There are several factors that give rise to a concern that the risk of a war is once again increasing. On the Israeli side, the new government is forceful in its insistence that Iran is the key issue and is far more important than negotiations with Palestinians. It is unlikely that the Obama administration is sympathetic to this view, and is currently more concerned with starting a degree of diplomatic engagement with Tehran. This is of considerable concern to the Israeli government and was demonstrated by the central focus on the Iran issue at the recent annual meeting of the influential America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington.

It is not just the possibility of Iran having nuclear weapons that concerns the Netanyahu government – the Iranian missile programme is also relevant. One of the effects of the 2006 war with Hezbollah, as well as the more recent Gaza War, is the vulnerability that many Israelis feel in relation to missile attacks. Those recent experiences involved small unguided rockets that rarely caused casualties but this was a sharp reminder of the Iraqi Scud missile attacks in 1991 that had a major impact on the Israeli sense of national insecurity. Furthermore, Israeli security sources persistently claim that some of the Hezbollah and Hamas missiles originate in Iran, especially the more sophisticated variants…

The Iranian Context

Although the Israeli government regards Iran’s presumed nuclear ambitions as its greatest security threat, it is currently unlikely that Israel will undertake military action. This would meet considerable opposition from the Obama administration, and any attempt to force passage through US-controlled Iraqi air space would be likely to result in a major crisis in Israeli-American relations. What would almost certainly change this situation was if Iran was to test a nuclear device. There are technical, political and consequential aspects to this possibility…

In political terms, Mr Ahmadinejad intends to stand for re-election to the Presidency in June. He will be doing so at a time of continuing economic problems including rising unemployment and inflation, the former arising primarily from the severe decline in oil and gas prices – Iran’s main sources of external income. Given that the global economic downturn is likely to persist for several years, and with it a trend towards low energy prices, the domestic economic prospects for Iran do not look good. There is a country-wide belief that Iran, with its 3,000-year history and a 70+ million population, has a claim to being a major power on the world stage. There is a particular concern with demonstrating modernity, even alongside a conservative theocratic tradition, and the civil nuclear programme is clearly part of this.

On the nuclear weapon issue, Iran looks to India and Pakistan as existing nuclear powers with regional prestige, and even more so to North Korea where the acquisition of a minimal nuclear arsenal has increased the country’s bargaining position. At a time of potential engagement with the United States, it can readily be argued that a small-scale nuclear demonstration would make Washington far more likely to engage in substantial negotiations, weakening Israel’s influence with the Obama administration as well as its regional standing. Perhaps more significant is the value of such a test in diverting public attention away from the formidable problems of the domestic economy. This might be more likely if Mr Ahmadinejad wins the election in June, but might also apply to another President, given that it is the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is dominant in matters concerned with security and foreign policy. There is some risk that the decision to build and test a device before June’s election has been taken, primarily to increase Mr Ahmadinejad’s popularity and help ensure victory…

Potential for a Crisis

The two substantial factors that underlie a concern over the risk of crisis relate to domestic circumstances in Israel and Iran. The new Israeli government is hawkish in a country in which the political culture is that security comes through overwhelming military strength. It is a government that is worried about recent US political changes and even more concerned over the status of Iran. Meanwhile, elements in the Iranian leadership may now believe that a nuclear test, however crude, would be popular at home and would improve Iran’s position in negotiations with the United States at a time when a hostile response from the United States would be unlikely.

What is far from certain is the nature of Israel’s response to an Iranian nuclear test. The central factor is that the Netanyahu government has made the Iranian nuclear programme such a core part of its security posture that to do nothing in the face of an Iranian nuclear test would severely affect its credibility. For this reason alone, it is likely that there would be a military response. A key issue would then be whether the Obama administration would countenance Israeli air movements across Iraq, bearing in mind that Israeli has the military capacity only to delay an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, not irreversibly destroy it. From Washington’s perspective, Israeli military action would almost certainly be guaranteed to ensure Iranian determination to develop an operational nuclear arsenal as quickly as possible.

The core issue here is that US opposition may not be enough to restrain Israel – there are other possibilities. One would be to ignore US opposition and over-fly Iraq. Intercepting Israeli strike aircraft en route to Iran would be an enormously high-risk decision for the Obama administration. Alternatively, given that the regional Arab response to an Iranian nuclear test would be of deep concern, Israel might well be in a position to take the feasible if difficult option of routing a military option over Jordanian and Saudi air space. It is also worth noting that Israel has close military links with Kurdish Iraq and Georgia.

Conclusion

There have been several occasions over the past four years when there has been concern over the risk of a confrontation with Iran, involving either the United States or Israel. It has to be said that on each occasion the tensions have eased, and there is therefore the risk of “crying wolf” in raising the issue once again. Even so, the factors analysed in this briefing do indicate that we are entering a period of particular risk. As such, it is appropriate to examine the situation to help ensure that there is a willingness to respond to what might be an unexpected and very difficult situation.

An Iranian nuclear test and the Israeli response that might follow would lead to a singularly dangerous situation. It follows that there is an urgent need to greatly improve the levels of dialogue between the different parties. This is an aspect of diplomatic engagement that is simply not getting the emphasis it deserves. While international attention is inevitably focused on the crisis in Pakistan, a new and equally dangerous moment of crisis may be imminent in the Israel-Iran confrontation.

Israel, Iran and the Nuclear Issue (Paul Rogers in Oxford Research Group and openDiplomacy)

The danger of an Israeli strike on Iran (Opinion Christian Science Monitor)

Premier Netanyahu heeft gedreigd nucleaire installaties van Iran aan te vallen als de VS niet voorkomen dat Iran nucleaire wapens verwerft. Zulk een aanval zou catastrofale consquenties hebben in de regio en de wereld. Het is niet zo vreemd dat Iran (ook) nucleaire capaciteiten wil opbouwen als afschrikkingsmacht. De Iraanse leiders zijn niet uit op zelfvernietiging van hun land door Israel aan te vallen. Amerika moet Israel weerhouden van een ‘preventieve’ oorlog tegen Iran, meent deze opinieschrijver van de Christian Science Monitor – een waarschuwing die iedere rationele waarnemer kan onderschrijven.

The danger of an Israeli strike on Iran (Opinion Christian Science Monitor)

Netanyahu and Obama Have a Shared Interest in Iran

The success of both men depends on stopping the mullahs from getting the bomb.

Can the United States and its European allies peacefully prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons? And if not, would Israel try to do so militarily, even if doing so greatly angered President Barack Obama? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington today. These questions could well make or break his premiership and Mr. Obama’s presidency…

Mr. Obama has repeatedly described Iran’s nuclear ambitions as "unacceptable" and warned against the threat that a nuclear-armed clerical regime poses to the world. Yet the administration has tried to keep Iran, and its Iran point man Dennis Ross, out of the headlines. One suspects that this is not because the administration is devising an all-encompassing grand bargain, but because it cannot get the clerical regime to meaningfully engage.

One can sympathize with the reluctance of this administration, like its predecessor, to confront the mullahs. But whether the Israelis strike or not, another storm is gathering in the Middle East. It could prove far more tumultuous than the earlier ones in Iraq.

Netanyahu and Obama Have a Shared Interest in Iran (By REUEL MARC GERECHT in Wall Street Journal)

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