Why Israel Overestimates Iran
- Why Israel Overestimates Iran
By Danny Kampf
Wednesday, February 7 2007
There's been much blathering in Washington as of late about what
should be done with a nuclear Iran. The current thinking seems
dominated by two not-so-opposing factions: The hawks and the hawks
light. Not surprisingly, this heavy handed chorus has managed to
reduce the public debate into a question of whether we want to use
air-strikes or boots on the ground when, and not if, we hit Iran. Why?
Because it is taken as a fact that a nuclear armed Iran will move to
Since Tehran made its intentions to acquire nuclear weapons so
obviously apparent to the rest of the world, referrals to Iran as an
"existential threat" have become fairly ubiquitous in the Israeli
press. This final assertion never seems to be challenged in the media,
and it is repeated ad nauseam as a justification for military action
against Iran. Yet it is wildly over exaggerated.
The only way Iran could pose an "existential" threat to Israel in any
way that would differentiate itself from the current, apparently
non-existential threat is if Iran nuked Israel. But why would Iran
want to commit national suicide? If it ever launched a nuclear attack
on Israel (the Middle East's sole nuclear power) that is exactly what
it would be doing. Presumably, the same logic for nuclear deterrence
the universally acknowledged principle of mutually assured destruction
that applies to every other nuclear-armed nation in the world would
similarly apply to Iran as well. There is no reason to think that Iran
would somehow wield this power with a totally unprecedented disregard
for the destruction a retaliatory strike would bring upon its own country.
But Iran is different, we are told, and not susceptible to the
politics of realism because Ahmadinejad and the mullahs are religious
fanatics who care less about this life than they do about the next
one. Through this lens, a mushroom cloud looks less like the end of
existence and more like a gateway to heaven. Plus, it doesn't hurt
that Ahmadinejad never seems to miss an opportunity to call for
Israel's destruction. So why shouldn't this threat be taken at face
value? The fact is that Tehran's leaders, pious as they are, are
ultimately being disingenuous.
Throughout their personal histories, Ahmadinejad and his allies must
have been confronted with countless opportunities to throw their lives
away in defense of Islam. Yet all of them are still around. Why is
that? Is it because they weren't devout enough? Is it because they're
just waiting for the right time to cast down their lives in the name
of Allah? Or is it because they, like all men of their ilk, harbor
political ambitions that distinctly require them to be alive to come
I'm not saying that Ahmadinejad is not a devoted believer in his
particularly medieval brand of metaphysics; it's just that somewhere
deep down inside, Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who hold his reins know
that they are as wedded to life as they are to ideology, and that
given a tug-of-war between the two, they are more than willing to deal
with the cognitive dissonance required to come down on the side of the
It is not the case that Iran doesn't threaten Israel at all, it is
just that this is not a threat of "existential" importance. Few like a
bellicose neighbor, and no one likes a bellicose neighbor with nukes.
But let's get real; even with nuclear weapons, Iran just doesn't have
the capacity to credibly threaten Israel's existence.
Danny Kampf is a sophomore majoring in political science. A
self-admitted liberal, Kampf is increasingly exploring the politics of
moderation and realism. Taking issues one-at-a-time, his interests lie
in trying to divorce himself from ideology in favor of pragmatic
solutions. His two biggest influences are Fareed Zakaria and Andrew
Sullivan. He is the quintessential self-hating liberal.
Iranian Mortar Rounds Found in Iraq?
by Steven D
Mon Feb 12th, 2007
The Telegraph (UK) is reporting that 81 mm mortar shells of Iranian
manufacture were captured by Iraqi police January 13, 2007. A
photograph of one of the the shells is shown with the markings "81 MM"
and "3-2006" on it. Here's the photograph:
What's wrong about this picture? Several things. The absence of dating
using the Iranian calendar for one thing. The use of the Roman
alphabet for the markings on the shell, rather than the use of Farsi,
for another. You see, in the past, Iranian armaments that have been
captured or found had markings on them which were printed in Farsi
(which uses a form of the Arabic alphabet) such as these from 1997:
...However, a significant portion of newer ordnance originated in
Iran, as indicated by Farsi markings stenciled onto it. This included
large quantities of G-3 assault rifles, landmines, and mortar
No. 4 Pedal Mines (Irangreen plastic with Farsi writing, shoe mines)
[M]ost of the equipment the SAF captured from Eritrean Islamic Jihad
in the Togan area of northeastern Sudan in April 1997 bore Farsi
writing and was Iranian-made, from boots to light weapons.
Isn't that odd? Iranian armaments, including mortar shells, have
markings in the Farsi language on them when discovered in the Sudan in
1997, but Iranian arms alleged to have killed 170 US soldiers in Iraq
have no Farsi markings on them when captured in 2007. Even odder, most
US troop deaths (by far) have occurred in the Sunni areas of Iraq
(e.g., Anbar province, around Tikrit, West Baghdad), but these Iranian
arms are supposedly being delivered to Shi'a militias. What could
possibly explain this seemingly counterintuitive inconsistency? It
couldn't possibly be a disinformation campaign by the Pentagon (like
the one employed by the US Military in the run-up to the Iraq
invasion) targeted at generating support for a military strike against
Iran among the American public, could it?
The strategy is clear. Define a target as evil. Find some kind of
connection with weapons of mass destruction---chemical, biological,
nuclear---or just to low-tech "terrorism," draw some sort of Hitler
parallel and get strategically placed press people on board. Plant the
stories, then cite them as though they were troubling news to you.
Then cite "intelligence"---this mystical reservoir of wisdom
restricted to the elite (rather like the gnosis of ancient mystery
religions)---trusting that the foolish masses will accept it on faith,
at least until the job's all done and the noble lies are inevitably
exposed. You can always scapegoat the intelligence community for any
errors. It can't, by its very nature, resist that scapegoating.
Like Fox News, I only report. I'll let you come to your own conclusions.
ISRAELI REALISM ON IRAN BELIES THREAT RHETORIC
Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan 30 (IPS) - When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
declared last week at the Herzliya conference that Israel could not
risk another "existential threat" such as the Nazi holocaust, he was
repeating what has become the dominant theme in Israel's campaign
against Iran -- that it cannot tolerate an Iran with the technology
that could be used to make nuclear weapons, because Iran is
fanatically committed to the physical destruction of Israel.
The internal assessment by the Israeli national security apparatus of
the Iranian threat, however, is more realistic than the government's
public rhetoric would indicate.
Since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in August
2005, Israel has effectively exploited his image as someone who is
particularly fanatical about destroying Israel to develop the theme of
Iran's threat of a "second holocaust" by using nuclear weapons.
But such alarmist statements do not accurately reflect the strategic
thinking of the Israeli national security officials. In fact, Israelis
began in the early 1990s to use the argument that Iran is irrational
about Israel and could not be deterred from a nuclear attack if it
ever acquired nuclear weapons, according to an account by independent
analyst Trita Parsi on Iranian-Israeli strategic relations to be
published in March. Meanwhile, the internal Israeli view of Iran,
Parsi told IPS in an interview, "is completely different."
Parsi, who interviewed many Israeli national security officials for
his book, says, "The Israelis know that Iran is a rational regime, and
they have acted on that presumption." His primary evidence of such an
Israeli assessment is that the Israelis purchased Dolphin submarines
from Germany in 1999 and 2004 which have been reported to be capable
of carrying nuclear-armed cruise missiles.
It is generally recognised that the only purpose of such
cruise-missile equipped submarines would be to deter an enemy from a
surprise attack by having a reliable second strike capability.
Despite the fact that Israel has long been known to possess at least
100 nuclear weapons, Israeli officials refuse to discuss their own
nuclear capability and how it relates to deterring Iran.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, a former Pentagon
official who visited Israel last November, recalls that Israeli
officials uniformly told his group of eight U.S. military analysts
they believed Iran was "perfectly willing to launch a first strike
against Israel," if it obtained nuclear weapons.
But when they were asked about their own nuclear capabilities in
general, and the potentially nuclear-armed submarine fleet in
particular, Francona says, the Israelis would not comment.
In fact, Israeli strategic specialists do discuss how to deter Iran
among themselves. An article in the online journal of a hard-line
think-tank, the Ariel Centre for Policy Research, in August 2004
revealed that "one of the options that has been considered should Iran
publicly declare itself to have nuclear weapons is for Israel to put
an end to what is called its policy of 'nuclear ambiguity' or 'opacity'."
The author, Shalom Freedman, said that in light of Israel's
accumulation of "over 100 nuclear weapons" and its range of delivery
systems for them, even if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons within
a few years, the "tremendous disproportion between the strength of
Israel and an emergent nuclear Iran should serve as a deterrent."
Even after Ahmadinejad's election in mid-2005, a prominent Israeli
academic and military expert has insisted that Israel can still deter
a nuclear Iran. In two essays published in September and October 2005,
Dr. Ephraim Kam, deputy head of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic
Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former analyst for the Israeli
Defence Forces, wrote that Iran had to assume that any nuclear attack
on Israel would result in very serious U.S. retaliation.
Therefore, even though he regarded a nuclear Iran as likely to be more
aggressive, Kam concluded it is "doubtful whether Iran would actually
exercise a nuclear bomb against Israel -- or any other country --
despite its basic rejection of Israel's existence."
Kam also pointed out that the election of a radical like Ahmadinejad
would not change the fundamental Iranian policy toward Israel, because
even the more moderate government of President Mohammad Khatami had
already held the position that the solution to the Palestinian problem
should be the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of the
Zionist Israeli state. Furthermore, he wrote, Iran's basic motive for
aspiring to nuclear weapons in the first place had not been to destroy
Israel but to deter Saddam Hussein's Iraq and later to deter the
United States and Israel.
Despite the existence of a more realistic appraisal of the actual
power balance and its implications for Iranian behaviour, Israeli
officials do not see it as in their interest to even hint at the
possibility of deterring a nuclear Iran. "They don't talk about that,"
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst based in Tel Aviv, told IPS,
"because they don't want to admit the possibility of defeat on Iran's
nuclear programme. They want to stop it."
Occasionally, Israeli officials do let slip indications that their
fears of Iran are less extreme than the "second holocaust" rhetoric
would indicate. Last November, Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh
explained candidly in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that the
fear was not that such weapons would be launched against Israel but
that the existence of nuclear capability would interfere with Israel's
recruitment of new immigrants and cause more Israelis to emigrate to
Sneh declared that Ahmadinejad could "kill the Zionist dream without
pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from
obtaining nuclear capability at all costs."
Israel's frequent threat to attack Iran's nuclear facilities is also
at odds with its internal assessment of the feasibility and
desirability of such an attack. It is well understood in Israel that
the Iranian situation does not resemble that of Iraq's Osiris nuclear
reactor, which Israeli planes bombed in 1981. Unlike Iraq's programme,
which was focused on a single facility, the Iranian nuclear programme
is dispersed; the two major facilities, Natanz and Arak, are hundreds
of miles apart, making it very difficult to hit them simultaneously.
In mid-2005, Yossi Melman, who covers intelligence issues for the
daily newspaper Haaretz, wrote, "According to military experts in
Israel and elsewhere, the Israel Air Force does not have the strength
that is needed to destroy the sites in Iran in a preemptive strike..."
He added that that the awareness of that reality was "trickling down
to the military-political establishment".
Javedanfar, Melman's co-author in the forthcoming book on Iran's
nuclear programme, agrees. "There is no way the Israelis are going to
do it on their own," he said.
That is also the conclusion reached by Francona and other Air Force
analysts. Francona recalls that he and two retired U.S. Air Force
generals on the trip to Israel told Israeli Air Force generals they
believe Israel does not have the capability to destroy the Iranian
nuclear targets, mainly because it would require aerial refueling in
hostile airspace. "The Israeli officers recognised they have a
shortfall in aerial refueling," Francona says.
In the end, the Israelis know they are dependent on the United States
to carry out a strike against Iran. And the United States is the
target of an apocalyptic Israeli portrayal of Iran that diverges from
the internal Israeli assessment.
*Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst.
His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road
to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005.
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