“In an interview conducted shortly before he was sworn in today as prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu laid down a challenge for Barack Obama. The American president, he said, must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — and quickly — or an imperiled Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself,” writes Jeffrey Goldberg.
In Haaretz, Aluf Benn presents a somber assessment of the likelihood that Israel will start a war with Iran:
“I promise that if I am elected, Iran will not acquire nuclear arms, and this implies everything necessary to carry this out,” Benjamin Netanyahu said before the elections. In other speeches Netanyahu described Iran’s nuclear program as “an existential threat for Israel,” and warned that it risked a second Holocaust. Does his return as prime minister necessarily bring Israel nearer to war with Iran?
In political circles the view is that yes, Netanyahu as prime minister brings Israel closer to war with Iran. Politicians in touch with Netanyahu say he has already made up his mind to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations.
In The National, I reviewed a recent assessment of the feasibility of an Israeli attack and some of its consequences:
In a recent study conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Abdullah Toukan predicted that an air assault by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities would involve 20 per cent of the high-end combat aircraft and all of the tankers from the Israeli air force.
“We can conclude that a military strike by the Israeli air force against Iranian nuclear facilities is possible, however, it would be complex and high risk in the operational level and would lack any assurances of a high mission success rate.”
The study also noted that Iran may have secretly acquired Russian air defence systems in which case an Israeli strike force would face a significantly elevated risk.
“The attrition rates of the Israeli air strike will be high, could go up to 20 to 30 per cent. For a strike mission of some 90 aircraft, the attrition could then be between 20 to 30 aircraft. A loss Israel would hardly accept in paying.”
The study also considered the possibility that Israel might choose instead to use conventionally-armed ballistic missiles to attack Iran.
Whatever the method of attack, the effects of radioactive fallout emitted by the Bushehr nuclear reactor, if it was destroyed, would be severe. “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.”
Significantly, Goldberg writes:
Few in Netanyahu’s inner circle believe that Iran has any short-term plans to drop a nuclear weapon on Tel Aviv, should it find a means to deliver it. The first-stage Iranian goal, in the understanding of Netanyahu and his advisers, is to frighten Israel’s most talented citizens into leaving their country. “The idea is to keep attacking the Israelis on a daily basis, to weaken the willingness of the Jewish people to hold on to their homeland,” Moshe Ya’alon said. “The idea is to make a place that is supposed to be a safe haven for Jews unattractive for them. They are waging a war of attrition.”
What seems strikingly obvious is that the choices made by the Israeli government may well have the same effect and lead Jews in increasing numbers to conclude that Zionism has failed.
An attack on Iran when described as potentially successful — from Israel’s point of view — is likely to merely push back Iran’s nuclear program by a few years.
But what about the psychological impact of failure?
Where would Israel stand strategically in the event that it suffered significant losses while only doing limited damage to Iran’s nuclear facilities?
What would the mood be in Tel Aviv as its residents awaited a reprisal through a means and at a time of Iran’s choosing?
Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona is within range of missiles fired from Iran or Lebanon. Bennett Ramberg writing in Arms Control Today says:
… a successful strike on an operating Dimona reactor that breached containment and generated an explosion and fire involving the core would present effects similar to a substantial radiological weapon or dirty bomb. Although consequences would represent only a small fraction of the Chernobyl release, for Israel, a country the size of New Jersey with a population of some six million, the relative economic dislocation, population relocation, and immediate and lingering psychological trauma could be significant.
Whether or not Dimona ends up being attacked, Israel is doomed if it clings on to the idea that military invulnerability and security are the same.