Doctor Science Knows

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Iran and Israel at the Atlantic, Day 3

My commenting continues at The Atlantic's discussion about Iran, Israel, and the Bomb.




Gary Milhollin wrote about The Futility of an Israeli Air Strike Against Iran's Nuclear Sites.
If Iran truly values its nuclear program, it would play the victim. The attack would give Iran a claim on the sympathy of countries that might otherwise be inclined to shun it, thereby invigorating its campaign to thwart U.S. and Western isolation efforts. But to remain the victim, it would have not to victimize others. Successful victimhood would therefore mean few or no Iranian-sponsored terror attacks against U.S. targets. It would also mean only limited terror attacks against Israel. If victimhood works, and Iran escapes isolation, its current rulers will have fended off one of the main threats to the regime anywhere on the horizon. That benefit would seem to outweigh whatever harm Israeli bombs could do to the nuclear program.

I commented:


If Iran truly values its nuclear program, it would play the victim.
Countries that have been bombed do not have to "play" the victim -- the civilian casualties which you rightly call "inevitable" do that for them.

Furthermore, your "If" calls out for an "If Not". If Iran *doesn't* truly value its nuclear program, then what? Are you suggesting that then it *won't* "play the victim", exhibit those (still inevitable) civilian casualties, ask for and receive sympathy from other nations?

And speaking of inevitable civilian casualties: you ask What would such bombing destroy? without ever mentioning that Iranians (civilian and military) would be killed. How many? Are you estimating casualties in the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, or more? The American (and Israeli) people have proven tolerant of very high casualties on the part of other people, but the rest of the world won't necessarily see things the same way.


[to a commenter talking about Netanyahu's equation of Iran with Amalek]
I don't understand this Biblical reference.
"Amalek" is an existentially threatening foe that toward whom one is *commanded by G-d* to use genocide.
His job is to see that Iran does not destroy Israel, not try to destroy Iran.
If Netanyahu's circle is indeed using "Amalek" as a metaphor for Iran, then they think that Iran can only be prevented from destroying Israel by total war, targetting the civilian population.

Or they're indulging in hyperbole, like when a 12-year-old calls mandatory bedtime "fascism". But it's *really* self-indulgent, politically stupid hyperbole.


[to another commenter]
To me, it’s pretty clear that Israel cannot initiate a strike against Iran, and Israeli policy planners surely know this. They’re just keeping as quiet as possible about it in the hopes that the US decides to conduct the strike on its own.
Thank you very much for your input.

Goldberg reported (p1):
I have interviewed roughly 40 current and past Israeli decision makers about a military strike, as well as many American and Arab officials. In most of these interviews, I have asked a simple question: what is the percentage chance that Israel will attack the Iranian nuclear program in the near future? Not everyone would answer this question, but a consensus emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July.
but he also said (p6):
In my conversations with former Israeli air-force generals and strategists, the prevalent tone was cautious. Many people I interviewed were ready, on condition of anonymity, to say why an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites would be difficult for Israel. And some Israeli generals, like their American colleagues, questioned the very idea of an attack.

This supports your contention that the IDF knows an attack would fail; if they thought it was likely to succeed, they would have told Goldberg "it is the proud tradition of the IDF to follow orders and defend our nation successfully and unflinchingly", or words to that effect. Quietly ominous predictions that they could do what needs to be done would be the least enthusiastic way for the military to signal agreement.

Do you think that the Israeli political policymakers are fully aware that the IDF really doesn't think they could strike at Iran effectively? That is, do you think they were deceiving Goldberg, or are they deceiving themselves? The US invasion of Iraq illustrated to me that there is no real limit to the ability of politicians to believe that wishing will make it so in military affairs -- and no significant limit to the military willingness to go along, as long as the political leaders are ones the officer corps voted for.


I'm pretty confident that all of the Israeli policy makers that would be the ones making the decision on whether or not to attack Iran are fully aware of the IDF's limitations and know that a successful attack is not likely. Keep in mind that Netanyahu himself is a military man (coming both from a prominent military family and having served in the special forces) and has a deep respect for the military establishment. If they advise him that an attack is a very bad idea, he'll listen. ... I believe all the saber rattling is an attempt to get the world community more involved in isolating Iran (with the hope of getting them to compromise on their program) or to try and force other players, namely the US, to destroy Iran's nuclear program by force.
The Clausewitz-O'Neill Principle predicts that the most important audience for the saber-rattling is other Israelis -- which indeed is sort of what Goldberg suggests page 4 of his article, when he writes about the Israel people's desire for a sense of safety through nuclear pre-eminence.
Israelis will seriously weigh whether or not an attack is worth it knowing that its enemies on its immediate borders will be poised to strike.
And yet, most Israeli commenters (here and elsewhere) seem to figure that the enemies are poised to strike *anyway*, and need an excuse more than a reason. So Israelis (or a significant segment within the Israeli population) may feel more positive toward their government even after a failed strike, even one with large civilian casualties, even one that alienates the US.

Basically, I'm with Clausewitz: politics *always* drives policy.




Reuel Marc Gerecht replied to Milhollin with Israel's Compelling Reasons to Attack, Despite the Uncertainties.
What the Israelis need to do is change this dynamic. A preventive strike offers them the only conceivable alternative for doing so. Any bombing run will, at least temporarily, shock the international system and rock Iran internally. The Israelis will have shown that they are deadly serious about confronting the Iranian nuclear threat, that they are willing to go on a permanent war-footing with the Islamic Republic and its deadliest ally, the Hizbollah, which will probably unleash rocket hell on Israel in turn. Although President Obama may become (privately) furious with the Israelis, any Israeli strike will make the United States, and probably even the reluctant Europeans, more determined to shut down Iran's program.

James Fallows strongly disagreed. My comment on Gerecht:


Readers should be aware that Mr. Gerecht's deep insight into Iran let him predict, in 2002, that:
If the United States stays in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime, and ushers in some type of a federal, democratic system, the repercussions throughout the region could be transformative. Popular discontent in Iran tends to heat up when U.S. soldiers get close to the Islamic Republic. An American invasion could possibly provoke riots in Iran-simultaneous uprisings in major cities that would simply be beyond the scope of regime-loyal specialized riot-control units.

The fact that he is now predicting benefits to Israel from a *failed* mission against Iran indicates that he is still using the same sparkles-and-ponies-enabled crystal ball he used to promote the US invasion of Iraq.




Marc Ambinder wrote What the White House Really Thinks About Bombing Iran.
Importantly, to some in the Obama administration, the "fact" of Iran's eventual nuclear declaration is already priced-in to their Middle East calculus. For them, once such a nuclear declaration becomes a reality, the U.S. won't be forced to change its posture, basing, arms deals, or strategy -- all of which are designed to prevent Iranian (Shiite) hegemony in the region. (An implicit assumption: Iran would never actually use the bomb.) I've also spoken with Obama advisers who believe that breakout Iranian nuclear capacity would instantly create a new existential threat to American national security. But to a person, no one in power now believes that the consequences of an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran would be productive, let alone acceptable.
To another commenter, I replied:


I find the notion that MAD won't work against Iran because its government is "crazier" than the Communists governments of the Cold War to be unsupported.... The Iranian regime may well be repressive, but no one has ever suggested that it has engaged in the systematic mass murder of its own people on a scale in anyway comparable to Stalin or Mao. ... Nuclear weapons have been quite effective in focusing people's attention on the desirability of survival.

Exactly. Crazy evil dictators have had nukes *already*, and yet managed not to be crazy enough to use them. And that was when the countries in question were a considerable distance from each other -- in the Middle East, a single nuke could have long-term consequences for quite a few countries who thought they were on the sidelines. Don't they teach kids these days about fallout?




At the Wednesday summary, I commented:


It is either deeply shocking or very characteristic of these experts that they weigh the positive/negative consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran without including civilian casualties in their calculations. Gerecht mentions them as "inevitable" just as he talks about Iran "playing the victim" -- as though hundreds, thousands, or more human beings would be "playing dead".

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