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4 Mar, 2012

Attack on Iran: Israel Seeks “Opportunity”, Indian Editor Sees “Insanity”


Editor’s Comment: The two columns reprinted in this dispatch go right to the heart of the political divide between Israel and much of the rest of the world over an attack on Iran. One is by the director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, the other by one of India’s most prominent editors. When the blame-game starts for the “unintended consequences” that will follow this looming geopolitical crisis, and the huge ripple-effect impact it could well have on travel & tourism, these columns will be a potential starting point for researchers when they write this chapter of history.

Israel’s Last Chance to Strike Iran

By Amos Yadlin, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times

Published: February 29, 2012


ON June 7, 1981, I was one of eight Israeli fighter pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. As we sat in the briefing room listening to the army chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, before starting our planes’ engines, I recalled a conversation a week earlier when he’d asked us to voice any concerns about our mission.

We told him about the risks we foresaw: running out of fuel, Iraqi retaliation, how a strike could harm our relationship with America, and the limited impact a successful mission might have — perhaps delaying Iraq’s nuclear quest by only a few years. Listening to today’s debates about Iran, we hear the same arguments and face the same difficulties, even though we understand it is not 1981.

Shortly after we destroyed Osirak, the Israeli defense attaché in Washington was called into the Pentagon. He was expecting a rebuke. Instead, he was faced with a single question: How did you do it? The United States military had assumed that the F-16 aircraft they had provided to Israel had neither the range nor the ordnance to attack Iraq successfully. The mistake then, as now, was to underestimate Israel’s military ingenuity.

We had simply maximized fuel efficiency and used experienced pilots, trained specifically for this mission. We ejected our external fuel tanks en route to Iraq and then attacked the reactor with pinpoint accuracy from so close and such a low altitude that our unguided bombs were as accurate and effective as precision-guided munitions.

Today, Israel sees the prospect of a nuclear Iran that calls for our annihilation as an existential threat. An Israeli strike against Iran would be a last resort, if all else failed to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. That moment of decision will occur when Iran is on the verge of shielding its nuclear facilities from a successful attack — what Israel’s leaders have called the “zone of immunity.”

Some experts oppose an attack because they claim that even a successful strike would, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program for only a short time. But their analysis is faulty. Today, almost any industrialized country can produce a nuclear weapon in four to five years — hence any successful strike would achieve a delay of only a few years.

What matters more is the campaign after the attack. When we were briefed before the Osirak raid, we were told that a successful mission would delay the Iraqi nuclear program for only three to five years. But history told a different story.

After the Osirak attack and the destruction of the Syrian reactor in 2007, the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs were never fully resumed. This could be the outcome in Iran, too, if military action is followed by tough sanctions, stricter international inspections and an embargo on the sale of nuclear components to Tehran. Iran, like Iraq and Syria before it, will have to recognize that the precedent for military action has been set, and can be repeated.

Others claim that an attack on the Iranian nuclear program would destabilize the region. But a nuclear Iran could lead to far worse: a regional nuclear arms race without a red phone to defuse an escalating crisis, Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf, more confident Iranian surrogates like Hezbollah and the threat of nuclear materials’ being transferred to terrorist organizations.

Ensuring that Iran does not go nuclear is the best guarantee for long-term regional stability. A nonnuclear Iran would be infinitely easier to contain than an Iran with nuclear weapons.

President Obama has said America will “use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” Israel takes him at his word.

The problem, however, is one of time. Israel doesn’t have the safety of distance, nor do we have the United States Air Force’s advanced fleet of bombers and fighters. America could carry out an extensive air campaign using stealth technology and huge amounts of ammunition, dropping enormous payloads that are capable of hitting targets and penetrating to depths far beyond what Israel’s arsenal can achieve.

This gives America more time than Israel in determining when the moment of decision has finally been reached. And as that moment draws closer, differing timetables are becoming a source of tension.

On Monday, Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel are to meet in Washington. Of all their encounters, this could be the most critical. Asking Israel’s leaders to abide by America’s timetable, and hence allowing Israel’s window of opportunity to be closed, is to make Washington a de facto proxy for Israel’s security — a tremendous leap of faith for Israelis faced with a looming Iranian bomb. It doesn’t help when American officials warn Israel against acting without clarifying what America intends to do once its own red lines are crossed.

Mr. Obama will therefore have to shift the Israeli defense establishment’s thinking from a focus on the “zone of immunity” to a “zone of trust.” What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity — and all other options have failed to halt Tehran’s nuclear quest — Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so.

I hope Mr. Obama will make this clear. If he does not, Israeli leaders may well choose to act while they still can.

Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, is the director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.

When Insanity Rules The World

Prem Shankar Jha



India should resist the West’s brazen efforts to use championship of democracy as a cover for regime change.

In June 1914, Serbian ultra-nationalists calling themselves the Black Hand managed to kill Archduke Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, in Sarajevo and ignited the First World War. None of the Great Powers wanted that war. None expected it to last more than four weeks. It lasted four years and took 19.5 million lives. Today, three apparently coordinated attacks on Israeli diplomats in Georgia, India and Thailand, for which Tel Aviv is strenuously blaming Iran, could become the spark for a similar conflagration in the Middle East.

The comparison is not as fanciful as it sounds, for the configuration of forces in the international state system is beginning to resemble what existed in the decade before the First World War. The most striking similarities are the decline in the economic power of the hegemonic nation — Britain then, the United States today; challenges from new aspirants to hegemony, Germany then (with the U.S. lurking in the wings), China and Salafi Islam today; attempts to shore up hegemony through alliances with like-minded nations — Britain, France and Russia then — the U.S., the European Union and Israel today; the emergence of a bunker mentality that hardens stances and progressively closes the avenues for peace through accommodation; and a growing temptation to use military power to pre-empt potential challenges even before they arise.

Minor player

In 1914 it was Austria, a minor player in the great power game, that lit the fuse that blew up Europe. It could have chosen to accept Serbia’s frantic efforts to make amends after the assassination. But it chose to invade Serbia in order to teach its own fractious nationalities a lesson. Serbia was allied to Russia, Russia to France and France to Britain. Austria, on the other hand, was allied to the principal challenger for hegemony in Europe, Germany. None of the great powers wanted war, but none felt sufficiently secure or had the confidence to back off from its commitments. The result was a war that wiped out the flower of a generation in Europe.

Today, it is once more the smallest and least secure member of the western alliance, Israel, that is threatening to light the fuse in the Middle East. Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to make peace with the Palestinians on terms that they can accept, it now perceives the mere existence of states in its neighbourhood that are not reconciled to its existence as a threat to its existence. Iran heads the list.

Israel has given a virtual ultimatum to its partners that if they cannot stop Iran from setting up uranium enrichment plants, it will take unilateral military action to stop it from doing so. Instead of dissuading Tel Aviv in unequivocal terms, Barack Obama has dithered between privately reining it in, and publicly supporting it by sending two aircraft carrier groups into the Arabian Sea and threatening to use “other means” if Iran does not stop its nuclear enrichment programme.

Dangerous moment

Israel’s brinkmanship has come at a dangerous moment because, for reasons both domestic and international, Europe, the U.S., Russia, China (the new kid on the block), and Iran, are suffering from a crisis of confidence that makes them wary of appearing weak in the eyes of the international community and their own people. Tired of unending economic woes at home and fighting a losing battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. and the EU have seized upon the so-called Arab Spring in a desperate bid to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. To do so, they are posing as champions of democracy and human rights, who have come to the aid of the long suppressed Arab “people” in their fight for democracy against corrupt, brutal and autocratic rulers. In their eagerness to don the mantle of saviours they have not merely abandoned the secular, albeit autocratic, regimes that had kept the peace in the Middle East for four decades, but trampled upon the last remnants of the doctrine of national sovereignty upon which the international order, indeed international law itself, has been based for the last 350 years.

Thus in January last year, Mr. Obama virtually forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign; in February, the U.S. and the EU joined hands to destroy the Qadhafi regime in Libya; less than two months later, they embarked upon a campaign to oust the Baath regime of Basher-al-Assad in Syria.

Unfortunately, the Arab Spring hasn’t turned out quite the way the West had hoped, for in every country, the secular democratic elements have been swamped by an Islamist upsurge. Faced with a possibility that these governments could turn out to be far more anti-West and anti-Israel than their predecessors, the West has turned to the orthodox Wahabi establishment of Saudi Arabia and the Sunni sheikhs of the UAE to keep the Muslim brotherhood and more extreme Salafi factions in check. But these regimes too have been feeling the cold winds of the Arab Spring and have hastened to find ways of diverting them elsewhere. They have done so by reviving a far older conflict — between Sunni and Shia Islam, between Arabs and Persians.

Syria, the convergence point

Syria has become the convergence point of both this conflict and the U.S.’ and the EU’s struggle to protect Israel at any cost. This is because it is an anomaly. It is an authoritarian country ruled by a minority in which the religious majority has not shown any signs of restiveness for more than 40 years. It is a deeply religious but secular country in which men and women mingle freely in the workplace, in markets, and in restaurants; where movies are not banned and drinking liquor is not haraam. It is western enough to have a national symphony orchestra and a western music conservatoire patronised by the President of the country, but is also an unabashed champion of Arab nationalism and the rights of the Palestinians, willing to cooperate with Iran and the Hezbollah to further their cause.

In Israeli and American eyes, it is precisely Syria’s (and Libya’s) capacity for independent action, and the remote possibility that it might become a conduit for Iranian fidayeen to penetrate and attack Israel, which turns it into a threat. That is why the Assad regime must now be destroyed, much as Qadhafi was four months ago.

India has been asked to join the high table at which the U.S., the EU and Israel already sit and has so far been a none-too-unwilling guest. It has either abstained, or voted for, every resolution tabled in the U.N. by the hegemonic powers in favour of militarily enforced regime change in the Middle East. It is again faced with a non-binding resolution in the Security Council, being brought by Saudi-and UAE-dominated Arab League, demanding that Mr. Assad “move aside.” And Israel is already urging India to support a resolution in the Security Council condemning Iran for the bomb attack on its diplomat in Delhi, before its agencies have completed their investigations.

New Delhi can be forgiven if it is tempted to stay on at the high table. But it has a duty, to not only its own people but the rest of the world, to get off it and become an independent voice of sanity and moderation. It must stoutly oppose the West’s brazen effort to turn the championship of democracy and human rights into a cover for regime change. This is the most complete violation of Article 2 of the U.N. Charter that is possible to imagine. The U.S., and now the EU have decided to ignore their commitments as signatories of the U.N. Charter and have twisted the U.N. into an unrecognisable parody of itself. But for scores of small countries, its Charter remains the only refuge from international anarchy and a headlong plunge into Hobbes’ State of Nature. India must speak up for them. As the most open and democratic and the least threatening large country in the world, it has far better credentials to do so than Russia and China. It must not leave this task to them alone.

Balance smashed

For decades, peace in the Middle East had depended on a balance between secular nations that subscribed to the ideals of social freedom and gender equality, and traditionalist emirates and monarchies, created or sustained by the western powers to safeguard their interests in Arab oil. Today, the West has all but smashed that balance. Only fools can persuade themselves that handing over control of the Arab world to the Salafis who planned, participated in, and certainly approved of the destruction of the World Trade Centre, will make terrorism go away. But only those who are fools twice over can believe that allowing Israel to trigger a ruinous war with Iran will make the world “safer for humanity.” What it will do is to unleash the fury of Shia terrorism as well on the West. One shudders to think of where that road could lead.