Feature

How they see us: Will Israel strike without U.S. support?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak Israel have issued repeated threats of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“If one is to believe the threats that are ramping up at warp speed, Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities before spring,” said Gideon Levy in the Tel Aviv Ha’aretz. The best-case scenario is that the repeated warnings of imminent war from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are “mere pressure tactics.” But even if that’s true, it’s a dangerous game. “Threats of this scale take on a life of their own” and could create an irreversible momentum toward war. If Israelis don’t want this war, we have to speak up loud and clear so Netanyahu and Barak get the message. “We can no longer depend on the United States to stop it.”

President Obama is certainly downplaying the threats, said Kaveh L. Afrasiabi in the Hong Kong Asia Times. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently conceded that Israel had a plan to attack Iran “within months,” and National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Iran was planning terror attacks on the U.S. Yet Obama, in an interview this week, contradicted both those officials, saying pointedly that Israel had not yet decided whether to attack and denying Iran’s capacity to hit U.S. soil. With that, Obama sent “an important signal to Iran and the rest of the world” that he is seriously committed to continued diplomacy and to avoiding war.

There’s certainly “no chance that the U.S. will attack Iran,” said Gershon Baskin in The Jerusalem Post. But the U.S. would “probably be relieved by a successful Israeli attack.” Even if, in public, Obama would have to express disapproval, “behind the scenes Washington would be sending congratulatory messages to Jerusalem.” Besides hampering Iran’s nuclear program, an Israeli attack would likely have other repercussions that benefited the U.S. International pressure would surely push Israel to compromise with the Palestinians. And the U.S. would be in a stronger position to insist that Israel “enter the nonproliferation treaty and place its nuclear facilities under international inspection.”

It’s not just the Israelis who are talking about striking first, said Dudi Cohen in Ynetnews.com. Last week, Iranian media gave lots of attention to an Iranian blogger who urged an all-out Iranian assault on Israel. Alireza Forghani, a former member of the Revolutionary Guard’s Basij militia, claimed that Iran could “annihilate all population centers” in under 10 minutes with a barrage of ballistic and cruise missiles. Forghani argued that targeting civilians was justified to defend the Palestinians, under late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s ruling that Muslims must wage a jihad against an enemy who attacks an Islamic nation. Some analysts believe the attention given to Forghani’s blog signals the “dawn of public discourse about a pre-emptive strike on Israel.” Just last Friday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel “a cancerous tumor” and said “it will be removed.” If Iran acts, as it well could, the entire debate over an Israeli strike will be moot.

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