An editorial in The Observer says: Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is seen as a threat for reasons partly of Israel’s own making – foremost its absolute reliance on a policy of military supremacy and deterrence to underpin security. A nuclear-armed Iran would hole that policy below the waterline, making it far more difficult, for instance, to launch the kind of war it waged against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.
Israel’s recent posturing ahead of the IAEA meeting, which included testing a new long-range missile and launching a long-range air strike exercise, is a doubly dangerous game. For while some senior Israeli air force officers are understood to support Netanyahu’s desire to strike Iran sooner rather than later, other independent analysis is far more sceptical of Israel’s ability to cause lasting damage on Iran’s nuclear programme, suggesting that it might require up to a fifth of the country’s operational aircraft to inflict serious harm, which could still fall short of Israel’s desired outcome. Some experts have estimated that even a successful raid on Iran would buy Israel only four years at best while encouraging Iran to redouble its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
If that is the short-term analysis, then in the medium term the risks for Israel perhaps would be greater still. With its regional alliances with friendly states quickly unravelling in the fall-out from the Arab Spring, from Israel’s botched attack on the Turkish-flagged MV Mavi Marmara and from its war against Gaza, an attack on the scale required to halt Iran’s nuclear programme is unlikely to improve either its relations with its neighbours or Israel’s security environment.
All of which leads to the question – if the consequences carry such risk for so little benefit, why are Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, pushing the plan?
One possibility is that Netanyahu is determined to impose the terms of the debate about the issues raised by the IAEA report at a time when it is clear that both Russia and China are lukewarm on the prospect of further sanctions against Tehran. If that is Netanyahu’s aim – to use the threat of war to leverage diplomatic effect – it is the behaviour of a tinpot state, not the mature democracy Israel claims to be.
Far more worrying is the notion that Netanyahu, who has long chafed against President Obama’s strictures on settlement building and the peace process, and is said to be obsessed with the issue of Iran, is contemplating an attack having calculated he has sufficient friends in Congress to defy the White House.
Whatever Netanyahu is thinking, he is playing a high-risk game for even higher stakes, betting Israel’s security and international prestige against an uncertain outcome, even by allowing it to be suggested that Israel might strike. After Israel’s failure to defeat Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, its failure to break Hamas in Gaza in 2009 – and with the international opprobrium that followed that operation – Israel risks talking itself into a corner where it appears weak if it doesn’t act and perhaps weaker if it does, a country increasingly bereft of any notion of how to manage relations with its neighbours except through the threat of aggression.