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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Latest on Israeli thinking about Iran (NYT)

Ronen Bergman in the New York Times Magazine writes a long and important article that brings us up to date with what Israeli leaders are thinking with respect to a nuclear Iran. Some excerpts:

“From our point of view,” Barak said, “a nuclear state offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. Imagine if we enter another military confrontation with Hezbollah, which has over 50,000 rockets that threaten the whole area of Israel, including several thousand that can reach Tel Aviv. A nuclear Iran announces that an attack on Hezbollah is tantamount to an attack on Iran. We would not necessarily give up on it, but it would definitely restrict our range of operations.”

At that point Barak leaned forward and said with the utmost solemnity: “And if a nuclear Iran covets and occupies some gulf state, who will liberate it? The bottom line is that we must deal with the problem now.”

He warned that no more than one year remains to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weaponry. This is because it is close to entering its “immunity zone” — a term coined by Barak that refers to the point when Iran’s accumulated know-how, raw materials, experience and equipment (as well as the distribution of materials among its underground facilities) — will be such that an attack could not derail the nuclear project. Israel estimates that Iran’s nuclear program is about nine months away from being able to withstand an Israeli attack; America, with its superior firepower, has a time frame of 15 months. In either case, they are presented with a very narrow window of opportunity. One very senior Israeli security source told me: “The Americans tell us there is time, and we tell them that they only have about six to nine months more than we do and that therefore the sanctions have to be brought to a culmination now, in order to exhaust that track.”

...In the end, a successful attack would not eliminate the knowledge possessed by the project’s scientists, and it is possible that Iran, with its highly developed technological infrastructure, would be able to rebuild the damaged or wrecked sites. What is more, unlike Syria, which did not respond after the destruction of its reactor in 2007, Iran has openly declared that it would strike back ferociously if attacked. Iran has hundreds of Shahab missiles armed with warheads that can reach Israel, and it could harness Hezbollah to strike at Israeli communities with its 50,000 rockets, some of which can hit Tel Aviv. (Hamas in Gaza, which is also supported by Iran, might also fire a considerable number of rockets on Israeli cities.) According to Israeli intelligence, Iran and Hezbollah have also planted roughly 40 terrorist sleeper cells across the globe, ready to hit Israeli and Jewish targets if Iran deems it necessary to retaliate. And if Israel responded to a Hezbollah bombardment against Lebanese targets, Syria may feel compelled to begin operations against Israel, leading to a full-scale war. On top of all this, Tehran has already threatened to close off the Persian Gulf to shipping, which would generate a devastating ripple through the world economy as a consequence of the rise in the price of oil.

The proponents of an attack argue that the problems delineated above, including missiles from Iran and Lebanon and terror attacks abroad, are ones Israel will have to deal with regardless of whether it attacks Iran now — and if Iran goes nuclear, dealing with these problems will become far more difficult.

...After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012. Perhaps in the small and ever-diminishing window that is left, the United States will choose to intervene after all, but here, from the Israeli perspective, there is not much hope for that. Instead there is that peculiar Israeli mixture of fear — rooted in the sense that Israel is dependent on the tacit support of other nations to survive — and tenacity, the fierce conviction, right or wrong, that only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.