Trita Parsi writes:
One of the great bluffs in the foreign policy community in the previous decade was that Israel would have no choice but to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities unless Washington stepped up and took military action first. With predictable frequency since the mid-1990s, reports emerged claiming that Israel was months, if not weeks, away from bombing Iran. And every time a new dire warning was issued, a new rationale was presented to convince the world that the latest Israeli warning was more serious than the previous one. The Israeli threats, however, were bluffs all along. Israel did not have the capacity to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. But the huffing and puffing ensured that the American military option remained on the table; that Washington would not deviate from the Israeli red line of rejecting uranium enrichment on Iranian soil; and that the Iranian nuclear program was kept at the top of the international community’s agenda.
But the persistent bluffing also carried a price. The Israeli narrative on Iran has grown increasingly alarmist, desperate, and existential over the past 15 years. Inflating the Iranian threat served several purposes domestically. It provided Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres a rationale to push for peace with the Palestinians in the 1990s, while more recently Benjamin Netanyahu has used it to resist pressure from Washington to do just that. But the domestic benefits came at the price of limiting Israel’s options and flexibility vis-à-vis Iran. As Israeli politicians built up the Iranian threat and established a near-consensus that Tehran constituted an existential threat, it became increasingly difficult for any Israeli politician to walk back the threat depiction without losing critical political capital at home. As a result, there was a steady escalation of the threat depiction from Iran and no clear ways to de-escalate.
I wrote about this in the Forward in late 2007, pointing out that Israel was suffering from strategic paralysis due to its inability to adjust to the region’s new realities and walk back its alarmist position on Iran. Today, Israel’s strategic position in the region is at even greater risk. In the past few years, for instance, tensions have steadily increased between Israel and Turkey with the friction reaching a boiling point after the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010. As a result, the strategic alliance with Turkey seems to be lost for the foreseeable future. Now, with the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, Israel has lost its most important Arab ally. Thus, the cost of the strategic paralysis is greater today than it was even a few years ago.