Why Israel’s Plan to Bomb Iran is more Dangerous to Israel than Obama-Rouhani Diplomacy

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made no secret of his dismay that the Obama administration is entering into what look like serious negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear enrichment program.

Israeli hawks such as Netanyahu want the US to bomb the Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities in Natanz near Isfahan and in Fordow near Qom. Sometimes they threaten to carry out the bombing raid themselves if the US won’t act. They regularly issue dire prediction that Iran will have a nuclear weapon in six months (Netanyahu has been making such predictions since the early 1990s).

But former Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak admitted that Iran has not decided to use its civilian enrichment program, which makes fuel for nuclear reactors, to also produce a bomb. Making a bomb is far, far more difficult than enriching uranium to 5% for fuel or 19.75% for medical isotopes. A bomb would require enrichment to 95% or so. Nor is it the case that just running the centrifuges longer would be sufficient to enrich to bomb grade. Technical problems have to be solved that the Iranians give no sign of having solved.

The danger of the Netanyahu bombing run is great. Such a bombing raid from 30,000 feet is highly unlikely to destroy the enrichment facilities. US generals have pointed out to Congress that in any case, Iran could fairly quickly recover from a loss of centrifuges to bombing, and just make or import more. Only by occupying Iran militarily, as was done to Iraq could the US be sure of mothballing Iran’s nuclear program.

Since the program won’t be destroyed but only somewhat damaged, such a raid will merely push Iran to rebuild the enrichment facilities. In the aftermath, the Iranian authorities could well decide to reverse their public stance and go for a bomb, since their airspace would have been violated and their sovereignty violated.

That is the real lesson of the 1981 Israeli bombing of the Osirak reactor in Iraq. The Osirak reactor was built by the French and was a light water reactor. Light water reactors either can’t be used to make a bomb at all or it would take 100 years to collect enough fissionable material from them.

So Osirak simply was not a threat to Israel. But in bombing Osirak, the Israelis threw a scare into the regime of Saddam Hussein, which tried to use magnets (a magnetatron) to enrich uranium to bomb grade in the period from the early 1980s through 1991. The UN inspectors rolled up this nuclear program after the Gulf War of 1990-1991.

It is not practicable to invade and occupy Iran, which is three times as populous as Iraq (and we all remember how well that went).

Therefore, a missile strike on Natanz and Fordow will leave much of the enrichment program intact. Since Iran is already spinning Centrifuges, it would be easy for it to throw out the UN inspectors and ramp up the program, turning it toward weaponization.

The energy of the street crowds, the fury of prominent of hardliners in the Revolutioanary Guards — all of the furor that will ensue after a bombing will make it difficult for Iran’s leadership to resist the inevitable demands that they go for broke in trying to construct a bomb.

So if what the Israeli leadership really wants is an Iran that is not actively constructing a bomb, the best way to attain that goal is negotiations.

Which is what Obama is trying to do.

33 Responses

  1. The entire basis of Israeli propaganda about the “existential threat” that Iran allegedly posed for Israel was Iran’s nuclear bombs. Iranians have long maintained that they were not trying to acquire nuclear weapons, but as the result of Neo-con propaganda apparently a large percentage of Americans believe that Iran already possesses nuclear weapons. I believe that the most useful aspect of President Rouhani’s visit and his numerous appearances on the media was that most thinking Americans have now seen that the Israeli propaganda was just that, despite some media attempts to distort Iran’s stances
    link to theguardian.com

    With this new public awareness and general welcome given to a rapprochement between the Unites States and Iran, I find it difficult to believe that Israeli hardliners will still be able to sell the need to bomb Iran in order to destroy its non-existent nuclear weapons.

    I also think that the greater danger to Israel is if they attempt to bomb Iran and fail in their mission, as is most likely. Iran has considerable defenses around its nuclear installations, and it is possible that any attempt at bombing them would result in a number of Israeli aircraft and pilots being destroyed or captured, without having much to show for it. That would really explode Israel’s myth of invincibility even more so than their invasion of Lebanon in 2006 did. I hope that the Israelis would have the good sense to accept a Yes for an answer and change their course on Iran. There is no time better than now.

    • “… that most thinking Americans have now seen that the Israeli propaganda was just that,…”

      Unfortunately, “most thinking Americans” seem to be a very small portion of the American people.

      “I hope that the Israelis would have the good sense to accept a Yes for an answer and change their course on Iran.”

      Hope springs eternal. Israel’s right wingers are not the type of people willing to admit to being wrong.

  2. One way to reduce the probability that a bellicose Israel would strike Iran is to sign a US-Iran mutual defense agreement. The United States would send personnel to Iran, probably to Isfahan, and receive Iranian military in the US for air defense training. There would also be an exchange of university students. An Israeli attack would be like to cause casualties among Americans in Iran while the presence of Americans would make it less likely Iran would risk pursuing work on nuclear weapons in defiance of such an agreement. The United States cannot continue to be held hostage to Israeli desires for war with Iran, especially as Americans would once again bleed and die at the behest of a foreign power.

      • Unfortunately, this is twice as smart as the public is.

      • You are probably giving them twice as much credit as they are entitled to. When it comes to cunning and deviousness then they earn higher grades.

  3. Excellent article. Unfortunately, as Judi Rudoren’s NYT article suggests, what Israel really wants is a weakened Iran: a non-nuclear Iran recovering after lifting sanctions would be unacceptable to Netanyahu. Bombing Iran would not stop an Iranian bomb, but it would guarantee terrible relations for years to come, and, to the twisted minds of Netanyahu and his friends at United Against Nuclear Iran, this would be grimly satisfying. The key is to educate the American public on the difference so that there will be political space for a deal Obama can really reach.

    • Interesting. It sounds from your comment that Israel wants Iran to be more or less like the Palestinians in Gaza: struggling constantly for daily existence.

  4. But if bombing Iran, like bombing Iraq, causes Iran to start developing nuclear weapons, that will surely mean the U.S. will intervene and that is what Israel wants. This could be Israel’s plan if you follow the perverse logic laid out in your comment.

    • Exactly so.

      Or if there is a response from Iran (and Iran will respond) then the damage to Israel will become the reason for the American attack on Iran.

      The US is very far from out of the woods on this.

  5. The threat from Israel to attack Iran was always hollow. The plan was always to get the US to attack and take on the risks and considerable costs of a war so as to weaken an enemy of Israel. Perhaps if the US had not been led down that particular path before it may have worked.

  6. September 19, 2013…Ehud Barak was on the Charlie Rose Show.

    Barak thinks Obama weakened the U.S. position on stopping Iran’s nuclear program when he backed away from his “red line” in Syria. Barak also said Israel acted behind closed doors to let the Iranian government know that continuing to advance their nuclear enrichment program would forced them to act.

    According to Barak, Iran will only be allowed to proceed so far with their nuclear enrichment program. Netanyahu’s speech at the UN on October 1st (?) will be very interesting.

    You can watch the program online. I just watched the first part of it. Barak is a very intelligent and educated individual. He has a degree in engineering, so his comments about Iran performing certain nuclear tests not needed for non-military use struck home with me.

    • “Barak is a very intelligent and educated individual.”

      He’s also capable of telling embarrassing truths” “Iranian nuclear programme not about Israel: Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s latest gaffe reveals the geopolitical reality about Iranian nuclear technology.” By M. J. Rosenberg – link to aljazeera.com

      And not fit to lead? “Ex-Israeli spy boss attacks Netanyahu and Barak over Iran: PM and defence chief not fit to lead Israel and are misleading the public over Iran, warns former Shin Bet boss Yuval Diskin” by Harriet Sherwood – link to guardian.co.uk

      • Ehud Barak was minister of defense for Israel overseeing Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. The Goldstone Report “accused both the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.” link to en.wikipedia.org

        • Ehud Barak as well as Foreign Minister Tzipora Livni advised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to stop the ongoing carnage in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, but Olmert balked.

          Olmert’s party was facing elections and Operation Cast Lead had a 94% approval rate among Israelis polled. The operation was commenced two days after Christmas so as not to interfere with Israel’s tourism season. It was also begun when most Western governments were closed down for the holidays and during the waning days of the lame duck Bush administration. The Israelis withdrew two days prior to Obama’s inauguration.

          The operation cost Israel 1 billion dollars and none of its five stated objections were achieved – including the destruction of smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. The incursion killed many civilians and extensive property damage in Gaza.

          Barak did claim that the incidence of incoming missiles from Gaza declined after the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead and the IDF’s deterrent effect was re-established.

          Many foreign countries, including Mauritania – an Arab-speaking nation – severed diplomatic relations with Israel over the invasion.

      • I was left with the impression Barak was being very honest with Rose when he made comments about stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

        You can watch it on the net. Charlie Rose Show 9/19/2013. Barak makes those comments in the first few minutes. I watched it again this morning just to make sure I heard it all correctly.

        Very interesting interview.

        We will see what Bibi says in the next couple of days. Netanyahu is chomping at the bit to get war with Iran started ASAP.

        THIS COULD BE BIBI’S LAST CHANCE TO DRAG THE U.S. INTO ANOTHER MEAT GRINDER.

        • “The operation (Cast Lead) cost Israel 1 billion dollars…”

          If I recall correctly, our great Congress replenished the equipment used in this war crime.

  7. Just wanted to point-out that Iran itself tried to destroy Osirak, with an air strike that had little success, some 8 months before the IAF did the job.

  8. Moreover, if USA is satisfied that Iran is not working toward bombs and lifts sanctions, and Israel THEN acts by aggressive warfare against Iran, the realization openly-acknowledged today that Israel (and not Iran) is the loose cannon in the region will be so strong that movement toward sanctions on Israel (say w.r.t. settlements) will grow.

    Wonder if Bibi is thinking about that?

  9. What’s happened is netanyahu has over played his hand, and tried too hard to pressure the US into an attack on IRAN.
    Israel have been so used to getting there own way, with the use of the US veto in the UN, but one thing netanyahu won’t do is eat anything that resembles humble pie not even for america. So he’ll turn up at the UN full of bravado and end up making himself , and israel look out of touch with reality.
    The only course open to israel then, will be to elect a new leader , pretend they’ve had a change of heart at the same time acting as if netanyahu never existed.

    • Netanyahu’s arrogant, demanding, belligerent treatment of the Obama administration, and his glee in pursuing actions (the raid on the Gaza ships, the settlement activities) that he knew would anger the US, was stupid, irrational statesmanship. He seems to have been indulging his alpha-male instincts instead of pursuing his country’s interest in any sort of strategic way.

      He all-but endorsed Mitt Romney during the campaign. What was he thinking?

      • Look at PM Netanyahu’s background:

        (A)his father, Benzion, was secretary to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a key theorist of Revisionist Zionism;

        (B)his father believed that negotiations with Palestinians was impossible and that they must be “shown force”;

        (C)his brother, Yonatan, an Army officer, was killed during a raid against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

        It is clearly understandable the events and influences that shaped his perceptions of Palestinians. While he has publicly eschewed his father’s views, he clearly acts consistent with the belief that he is not accountable to human rights obligations toward Arabs nor American freign policy goals advancing such interests in the Occupied Territories or Gaza.

  10. Israel is not the only problem to a US-Iran detente. “Poisoning the US-Iran détente: Israel, Saudi Arabia and other enemies of Iran hope to poison improved U.S.-Iranian relations by blocking sanctions relief for Iran, even at the cost of losing new restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, an emerging dilemma assessed by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.” – link to consortiumnews.com

  11. My guess is that when the US/Iran negotiations begin, the US will demand that Iran relinquish its sovereignty in regards to all aspects nuclear. In other words, Iran would not be able to make unilateral decisions. It should not be surprising if many Iranians consider this a humiliation, especially severe because the US acts as Israel’s agent.

    By presenting Iran with unacceptable conditions, the sanctions are protected. And that’s fine with Israel and the neocons, because the sanctions will hurt Iran much more than some air strikes.

    Israel knows that the US has excellent staying power when it comes to sanctions. Eleven years for Iraq followed by an invasion. fifty-three yeas for Cuba and no end in sight.

    • And moreover, once the opening is rebuffed -or even if its just stalled long enough, Rouhani will be discredited and turfed out of office, and a new cycle of Iranian hardliners will take office. Haven’t we seen this movie before?

  12. With all do respect, I do think there are a few other scenarios and history that may turn out 1. Israel and Iran are more likely natural allies than adversaries — both with large, educated middle classes with a resulting natural democratic urges within those populations 2. both are surrounded by countries that are actually quite different (very small so far middle classes, very much dependent on natural resources for economic success (Iran does have oil, but has always had an economy based on more than that–that’s why the sanctions hurt so much) 3. Both have historically been somewhat allies — not just under the Shah, but even under the Mullahs (recall Israel and Iran’s links during Iran-Contra. 4. The only way for Rohani to cut a deal (which I do think he wants to do) is for him to defeat his internal adversaries (the Revolutionary Guards, etc.

    The notion that a rapprochement between the US and Iran would be inherently bad for Israel is (I believe) incorrect. On the other hand, the Sunni Arab players (who are currently in a de facto marriage of convenience with Israel about Iran) — Saudi Arabia, etc. would likely be exceedingly unhappy.

  13. NBC News with Brian Williams started his Iran report the other night by stating, “Suddenly, Iran claims they no longer want a nuclear bomb”.

    “Suddenly”? Really? Please correct me, if I am wrong, but if it is true Iran has never claimed they wanted a bomb, or at least in recent years, and have issued fatwas against them, isn’t this statement by Williams remarkably stupid and irresponsible? He said it in such a way as to make us all believe Iran was being beyond incredulous. I wanted to jump through the TV screen and demand he/NBC specify to viewers when has Iran ever publicly claimed they wanted, or prove were actively working, to achieve a bomb or bomb program.

    How the news media perpetuates ignorance like this by buying into the “he said, she said” reporting they do now instead of actually uncovering and presenting established facts, sadly, astonishes me.

  14. Much ado about nothing. Israel pulled whatever levers it had available and pressured the international community — and the US, particularly — to squeeze Iran. We’re seeing the fruits of that effort with the Rouhani-Obama talks. Don’t believe the headlines because they don’t even come close to the story. The IDF wasn’t about to launch a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. In the end, though, Israel may likely get what she wanted all along. If so, that would be a laurel Bibi can claim – though he won’t.

  15. Iran has the suport of the non aligned nations, including India, as well as Russia, China and all the Caspian sea nations. It has 80 million people and shares a border with Russia, making a steady stream of millitary supplies rather easy. It also happens to be about as far away from America as possible, making US military supplies very difficult. All indications are that any ground involvment would be a sure loser for America. An there is the always present threat of Iran retaliating by shutting down the oil lanes and the Gulf oil nations.

    Talking is obviously the best option and sorry Israel, you are the odd man out. So I suppose Isreal could throw a natinal suicide tantrum and unleash their nuclear weapons, or just sit tight and kill and torture more helpless Palestinians. A nation of geniuses.

  16. …Only by occupying Iran militarily, as was done to Iraq could the US be sure of mothballing Iran’s nuclear program.

    That’s the plan. Check out the Brooklings 2009 report calling for a US conscription/draft to get ‘er dun.

  17. How does Israel think it can escape ‘fog of war’ consequences when/if a big war starts up over there in Israel’s stolen back yard?

    How can Israel not know her blackmailed, bribed and extorted so-called allies will be among those sending missiles by the hundreds her way?

    Surely they . . . don’t believe their own press?
    Surely Israel knows it would be to her so-called allies benefit if Israel were to be eliminated?

    Does Israel believe their subs aren’t monitored at all times?
    Samson Option? That’s a hot one. Delilah option is more like it.

    When the Yakhonts (among others) come screaming in mach 3 at 50 feet, the Iron Dome might as well be an ATM for all the good it will do. Just for starters..

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