Feature

War talk in Israel

Speculation that Israel might soon attack Iran’s nuclear facilities reached a fever pitch in Israeli newspapers.

Speculation that Israel might soon attack Iran’s nuclear facilities reached a fever pitch in Israeli newspapers this week, amid reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to launch strikes before the U.S. election. Netanyahu, Israeli media reports said, believes that U.S. and international sanctions have failed and that Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon has accelerated. By attacking before November, sources said, he believes he’ll leave President Obama with no choice but to publicly support Israel’s offensive. 

Netanyahu fueled the rumors by appointing a new civil defense minister, which many interpreted as a sign that Israel is preparing for retaliatory strikes. The government also stepped up the distribution of gas masks and tested a nationwide text message system that would alert the public in the event of missile attacks. Netanyahu told his cabinet that the possibility of an Iranian bomb “dwarfs” all other threats to Israel. “Public support is growing for a strike because they are increasingly convinced by Netanyahu that it is either an attack or Auschwitz,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of Ben Gurion University’s Herzog Center for Middle East Studies. 

This is nothing more than irresponsible “psychological warfare,” said Avi Issacharoff in Ha’aretz (Israel). It’s difficult to know what Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the chief saber rattlers for striking Iran, expect to accomplish with these media leaks, but they know that neither the Israeli defense establishment nor most Israelis want this war. Our bombs will only succeed in delaying Iran’s nuclear project by a year at most. A war with Iran would be a costly disaster, said Nehemia Shtrasler, also in Ha’aretz. It would bring hundreds of Iranian and Hezbollah rockets raining down on Israeli cities and paralyze our economy. Global oil prices would spike, making us “even less popular in Europe and the U.S. than we already are.”

Taking action against Iran obviously involves major risks, said Giora Eiland in Yedioth Ahronoth (Israel). “But the same is also correct in not acting.” Washington may not want us to strike, but time is running out. But backing President Obama into a corner before the election “would be outrageously cynical,” said The New York Timesin an editorial. There is no evidence that Iran is on the verge of making a weapon, and with the toughest sanctions having just gone into effect last month, “there is still time for intensified diplomacy.” Israeli leaders should end this “loose talk of war.” 

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