Is Israel Planning to Provoke Iran?

My, oh my, where would we be without a free press in Israel?

Haaretz’s Aluf Benn today reinforces the case I made earlier for Obama to keep Netanyahu on a tight leash concerning Iran. First, he reports, Netanyahu continues to talk up a frenzy of public expectation in Israel that leads only to military action. “These are not regular times. The danger is hurtling toward us. The real danger in underestimating the threat,” Netanyahu said on Iran. “My job is first and foremost to ensure the future of the state of Israel … the leadership’s job is to eliminate the danger. Who will eliminate it? It is us or no one.”

In other words, Israel cannot rely on the Obama Administration to bomb Iran (true), so Israel will have to do the job itself. As I noted in my last piece, Benn has previously pointed out that Netanyahu is creating a massive tide of public hysteria that will demand action in the face of this grave and gathering “threat” — bogus as it is. And he also makes clear, in a second piece, that it’s not just Netanyahu; Defense Minister Ehud Barak is with him every step of the way — despite the fact that Barak has made clear he believes that Iran does not pose an existential threat to Israel. (Then again, as Barak showed over the Camp David debacle in 2000, his cynicism knows no boundaries…)

But the real gem in Benn’s comment is his explanation of how Israel will go about launching an attack — and suggests that it won’t look anything like the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor, when the public wakes up one morning to hear that the job’s been done. Instead, writes Benn, Israel might instead seek to provoke a conflict in Lebanon that draws in Iran, perhaps by making “a strike against a valuable target for the Iranian regime which leads Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to take action against ‘the Zionist regime.’ If Iran attacks Israel first, the element of surprise will be lost, but then Israel’s strike against the nuclear installations will be considered self-defense.”

So, if we wake up one morning and read, for example, that Israel has assassinated Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, we’ll understand just how that particular provocation fits into Israel’s game plan.

Seems like if the Obama Administration wants to avoid a war, it may have to send Leon Panetta back, this time with a warning to refrain from trying to assassinate Nasrallah. (Somehow, I can’t see that happening…)

On these shores, however, Netanyahu’s efforts to churn up cataclysmic hysteria are not passing without challenge. In October 2007, I saluted Fareed Zakaria for courageously challenging the media’s hysterical (although largely unconscious) stampede to war with Iran. Back then, I wrote:

Fareed Zakaria deserves a medal for breaking with the mainstream media pack to slap down, with the requisite rudeness, the hysteria over Iran being manufactured by the neocons, opportunist Israeli politicians and the Bush Administration. Perhaps stung by having participated in a secret Bush Administration policy discussion to help shape the Iraq war policy before the invasion, Zakaria is acting with honor now to prevent another disaster. This while much of the rest of the media is futzing around asking the wrong questions on Iran and getting the answers that only the wrong questions can produce.

So, I’m pleased to see Zakaria is at it again. In his latest Newsweek column, he makes a cool, reasoned case that:

1. Iran isn’t seeking a bomb; it’s seeking a civilian nuclear program with the “breakout capacity” to build nuclear weapons, which gives it considerable leverage without actually weaponizing nuclear materiel;

2. Iran is not an apocalyptic regime; on the contrary, it has behaved in a very rational, national-interests based manner, even aligning with the U.S. where that suited its interests (Afghanistan and Iraq). Its leaders clearly don’t believe the world is about to end, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll act on that basis.

3. Serious negotiations that seek to accomodate both sides basic interests have yet to be tried, and they’re a jolly good idea.

Indeed, as Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett argue, the Obama Administration’s diplomatic efforts appear to Iran as if they’re designed to fail — indeed, they make clear, failure of diplomacy is written into the script of Obama’s State Department Iran policy director, Dennis Ross. They write:

Mr. Ross has long been an advocate of what he describes as an “engagement with pressure” strategy toward Tehran, meaning that the United States should project a willingness to negotiate with Iran largely to elicit broader regional and international support for intensifying economic pressure on the Islamic Republic.

In conversations with Mr. Ross before Mr. Obama’s election, we asked him if he really believed that engage-with-pressure would bring concessions from Iran. He forthrightly acknowledged that this was unlikely. Why, then, was he advocating a diplomatic course that, in his judgment, would probably fail? Because, he told us, if Iran continued to expand its nuclear fuel program, at some point in the next couple of years President Bush’s successor would need to order military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets. Citing past “diplomacy” would be necessary for that president to claim any military action was legitimate.

Iranian officials are fully aware of Mr. Ross’s views — and are increasingly suspicious that he is determined that the Obama administration make, as one senior Iranian diplomat said to us, “an offer we can’t accept,” simply to gain international support for coercive action.

They make clear that many in the Obama Administration are serious about rapprochement with Iran as the path to resolving the nuclear standoff. But Israel, and its most hawkish ally in the Administration (Ross), may be on course towards a different outcome.

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25 Responses to Is Israel Planning to Provoke Iran?

  1. Ketchup lobby says:

    I think that the Iran nuclear programme is payback for the Shiite defeat in the battle of Karbala. If Shiite Iran can prove that it can destroy Israel, while the majority Sunnis have been unable to so far, it will make a convincing argument for the superiority of Shia Islam. This is why the Sunni nations fear a nuclear Iran. As for Israel and Iran, they are already in a low grade war. All the arms used by Hamas and Hezbollah are of Iranian origin. Iranian agents blew up the Israeli embassy and Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. If Israel bombs Iran, it will just be a continuation of a decades long conflict, the sole purpose of which is to demonstrate the superiority of Shia over Sunni Islam

  2. Y. Ben-David says:

    Ketchup Lobby makes an interesting point. He says Iran is involved in a long-term ideological struggle and that its foreign policy is largely geared to this struggle. Tony’s position, is as he says, “Iran is not an apocalyptic regime” which does not exactly contradict what Ketchup says, but indicates that Iran is not willing “to go all the way” with its ideology. This is very similar to the argument in the West during the Cold War: “Is Communism inherently expansionist or not”. This dispute led to the major split in the US regarding the War in Vietnam. Jimmy Carter, when he became President said that the USSR had become a “conservative, status-quo power and that many in the US had in inordinate fear of Communism”. Yet, during his administration the USSR went into or expanded their presence in places like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique and Central America, leading Carter to backpedal on his statement.
    So who is right? If Iran is not really interested in major confrontations why are they expending huge resources in Lebanon with HIZBULLAH, with HAMAS, in Sudan, even in Latin America? Why does their President make statements (Juan Cole not withstanding) which CAN be interpreted as a threat to wipe out another sovereign state?
    If all they want is nothing more “their place in the sun”, then why are they doing so much to scare so many people? Is it meant seriously as Ketchup indicates? Is it a bluff in order to increase their prestige and to gain concessions cheaply? Or is it entirely misunderstood? If Iran is genuinely afraid of an Israeli attack and views its nuclear program as “peaceful” or merely defensive, is it wise for them to make aggressive statements against Israel?

  3. RichardOn says:

    Interesting site, but much advertisments on him. Shall read as subscription, rss.

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  5. Murphy says:

    It seems that Israel’s repeated attempts to persuade the world that Iran was an ‘international problem’ have failed. Few people are buying the line that Israel’s desire to neutralise a strategic rival is a problem for anyone but Israel. Particularly given the current economic climate and the Iraq debacle, it seems highly unlikely that the US or any major nation is going to be sucked into whatever military plans Israel may have. So if Israel wants a war with Iran, it is going to have to fight it itself. however, recent events have made clear that the Israelis do not have the stomach for real war, and instead like to congratulate themselves for the courage it took them to kill 1000 civilians in a besieged city. And it will take a lot more than a few ‘smart strikes’ to cow the Iranians. Which is probably why “Bibi” is so desperate to whip up an apocalyptic frenzy among potential allies. But he will fail. He already has.

  6. Buzz says:

    With apologies to all, this seems to be a pointless discussion.
    The only two countries in the world that feel Iran or its nuclear program are a threat are Israel and the US. Of these two, the US is now reassessing its policy on Iran since a rational thinking Obama was elected.
    This leaves Israel out as the only country still spousing this apoclyptic nonesense. It is completely transparent to the rest of the world.
    I wish the Israelis and Americans understood how pathetic all this looks to the rest of the world. Here you have two countries with a track record of agression and military crimes who are constantly complaining about being threatened by Iran or Iraq or Pakistan or Lebanon or Afghanistan or ………. (fill in the blank)and then using this supposed threat as an excuse to go on a killing spree.
    It is hypocrisy at its best practiced by experts at manipulating people’s fears to get what they want.
    There is no threat from Iran. The country does not have the means or the will to wage war against even its immediate neighbours.
    Please do not perpetuate this nonesense. Thousands of people could die as a result of it.

  7. Y. Ben-David says:

    Buzz said:
    The country (Iran) does not have the means or the will to wage war against even its immediate neighbours.

    Buzz, remember the Iran-Iraq war from 1979-1989 IIRC? Something like a million people died in that one.
    What did Ayatollah Khomeini say when the cease-fire was signed?: “Making peace is like drinking poison”.
    Also please tell me why they are developing ballistic missiles if what you said is the case.

    Both Buzz and Murphy say that “no one besides Israel and the US is concerned about the Iranian threat”. That’s not what the Arab Persian Gulf States, in addition to Jordan and Egypt say. That’s not what the Europeans say.

    Where did you get that idea?

  8. zywotkowitz says:

    “Iran is not an apocalyptic regime; ”

    uhuh …. Karon give Bibi maximum scrutiny … can’t trust the guy etc.

    But Ahmadinejad and the Mullahcracy?

    …. for Karon they’re so squeaky clean that he doesn’t even bother to soft-pedal all the noises they are making about wiping out Israel, “reforming” the UN etc. etc.

  9. William Burns says:


    The Iran-Iraq war began when Iraq attacked Iran, not the other way around.

  10. Y. Ben-David says:

    Mr Burns-
    The Iraqis claimed that Iranian agents were stirring up the Iraqi Shi’ites to foment an uprising. In the modern world, everybody’s wars are “defensive”. And what about Khomeini’s statement?

  11. PersianAdvocate says:

    This is some anti-Iranian rhetoric you are proffering. You took Khomenei’s quote completely out of context and skirted its true meaning: that his opponents were offering him a peace that was unilaterally in the favor of the opponents. Let’s not forget that a US-backed and US-supplied Saddam used US chemical weapons on over 100,000 Iranians and shook hands with Donald Rumsfeld while posing for pictures with congratulatory cigars and smiles.
    You also happened to have ventured into a blog that has readers who simply scoff at your attempts to create misperceptions of Iranian aggression towards Israel while the converse is the reality: Israel is the aggressor and has always been. No Iranian official has EVER called for a genocide or second Holocaust. They have, however, been outspoken critics of the Israeli REGIME or government and its anti-Arab/anti-Iranian murderous, warmongering policies.
    As far as the “Iranian Threat” goes, not even the inner circles of the Israel government believe there is an actual threat. The European governments you claim back the Israeli viewpoint continue to expand their economic ties with Iran. Jordan and Egypt complicity with Israeli policy is laughable — the ruling parties there were bought and run completely adverse to the majority, if not unanimous, opinions in Arab countries that the US and Israel are far, far greater threat than Iran.

  12. PersianAdvocate says:

    I’m sorry, sir, but you are obviously clueless when you write about the Iranian regime and “all the noises they are making about wiping out Israel, “reforming” the UN etc. etc. Proof of claims to wipe out Israel, please? Do you have the original Farsi transcripts of the October 2005 speech the AIPAC-coerced media loves to talk about? Do you speak Farsi? Do you now the difference between a regime and the people under it?

    Are you also aware that Israel has more UN resolutions against it than any other country ever? Israel has not only called for UN reform several times, but does so whenever it denies entry to human rights inspectors, the nuclear agencies, and so on. By definition, Israel is a rogue state, not Iran.

  13. RedMoul says:

    I so understand, in last paragraph just whole salt and is stated

  14. Arie Brand says:

    YBD is regaling us again with trivia from the hasbara arsenal.

    Let us look at a few facts:
    Netanyahu presented in 1996, in a speech to the joint session of the U.S.Congress, the fundamentals of a neocon policy paper called ‘Clean Break’ enthusiastically as his policy. This doctrine, tinkered together by Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and his wife Meyraw, aimed at redrawing the map in the Middle East by ultimately getting at Iran.

    The main milestones along this path were getting rid of Saddam Husein and, subsequently, attacking Iran, after first eliminating potential proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Also, Israel had to make a ‘clean break’ with the Oslo accords of 1993 to regain the strategic initiative.

    It looks as if Netanyahu, according to Avnery an unimaginative man mainly living on the intellectual capital, such as it is, provided by his pa, is still sticking to this script.

    There have been setbacks. Efforts to eliminate Hezbollah and Hamas or, alternatively, to provoke Iran into a first strike by attacking these alleged proxies, have thus far failed.

    Plans to bypass these stages and get at Iran directly have stranded on the resistance of Washington. According to a long article by David Sanger in the NYT of 1/10/09,it refused last year a request from Israel for specialized bunker busting bombs and denied it permission to fly over Iraq to reach Iran’s major nuclear complex at Natanz.

    The Israelis were told that the US was trying to subvert Iran’s nuclear affairs by penetrating its nuclear supply chain abroad and undermining its electrical – and computer systems. There are also ongoing efforts to foment unrest within Iran by playing the ‘ethnic card’. According to the latest issue of Asia Time both the US and Israel have been stirring up the Kurds who have been waging daring cross-border attacks.

    In the past Iran has accused both the US and Israel to be behind subversive activities by the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jundallah. A joint Iranian-Pakistani operation in Pakistan’s Balochistan region made this group ineffective.

    It doesn’t look as if Washington is any more enthusiastic now to support a direct Israeli attack. Secretary Gates said recently that he feared the prospect of pre-emptive action against Iran as much as that of the country acquiring a nuclear weapon.

    According to a recent report by William Pfaff there is now talk in European and Arab diplomatic circles of Iran being designated a ‘civil nuclear power’ that can exercise its right under the ‘Nonproliferation Treaty’ to develop power for civilian uses. Iran, of course, has signed this treaty as Israel has not. The country has persistently claimed that it wants nothing more than what this Treaty should grant it.

    If those European-Arabic ideas prevail in the diplomatic campaign, whatever Iran has achieved along the military line is left in place – as ‘facts on the ground’ so to speak.

    The pathetic efforts of the hasbara spreaders to convince the outside world that Iran rather than Israel is the potential aggressor have been quite ineffective.Israel’s only hope is now to set a trap for Iran which might make it nominally the aggressor after which Tel Aviv can claim ‘self defence’ (and draw the Americans in).

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  16. Alexandria says:

    I think that the Iran nuclear programme is payback for the Shiite defeat in the battle of Karbala.

    You’re on drugs. The nuclear programme was started by the Shah because of a report that came out in the early 1970s that Persia’s oil would run out by 2016. The Shah contacted the USA to buy nuclear power equipment and engineering, which we sold them under President Ford with Cheney and Rumsfeld’s administrative help.

    The catastrophes of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and their own earthquakes, convinced Iran to use the Korean underground drilling technology that allowed them to build their power plants deep underground in solid rock. Iran has been one of the most earthquake-prone countries for thousands of years. It was a prudent decision.

    Your mention of the battle of Karbala, which happened over 1300 years ago, as the cause for Iranian commercial nuclear power at the end of the 20th C and 21st C is idiotic. I suppose you’re trying to paint Muslims worldwide as revenge-fed as right-wing Israeli Jews seem to be at the moment, but history does not bear this farkakta idea out.

  17. Carroll says:

    No doubt in my mind that Israel will (try to) provoke a incident so they can attack Iran. Israel’s leadership and their society are clinicaly sociopathic. And suicidal.

    Israel doesn’t fear being nuked by Iran. Israel is insane with greed and lust to be the “regional power”….and to maintain their “special” ties to the US as our “only friend”…that means making sure the US has no other “relationships” in the ME….that’s what Iran is about for Israel…always has been.

    The only question I don’t know the answer to is what Obama will do when Israel tries to attack Iran.

  18. Inigo says:

    It’s rather disingenuous to ignor to debate about Iran that’s happening inside Israel. Just as it’s disingenuous to ignor Ahmadenijad’s holocaust denial and threats to burn half of Israel.

    The Iran situation is really Israel’s “Cuban missile crisis” (as Victor David Hanson points out). ie. a case of a declared enemy putting a constant nuclear threat on your doorstep.

  19. Nimrod Tal says:

    Is the purpose of this blog to debate Israels actions or whether Israel should exist? I am looking forward to your answers

  20. Arie Brand says:

    Inigo, if there is such a lively debate within Israel about the matter why do you, YBD and people of similar ilk only seem to pick up silly titbits from it, such as what the Ayatollah Khomeini said twenty years ago or the apocrypha labelled ‘Ahmadinejad’s threats’?

    And why do you have to get your political bearings from a foolish fellow like Hanson who referred to Rumsfeld as a ‘proud and honest -speaking visionary’ and praised, not now but a year ago, ‘the redress of grievances, access to complex jurisprudence, and humane treastment’ the inmates of Guantanamo allegedly enjoyed under the Bushites.

    He might or might not have compared the matter to the Cuba crisis (one never knows with you fellows because accuracy in these matters is not your strongest suit) but at any case the comparison is silly enough for him to have come up with it. Cuba was going to receive nuclear weapons, delivered by a super power from a vast nuclear arsenal. Iran has not even produced one bomb yet and has far more reason to feel threatened by Israel’s rogue possession of these things.

    Let me finally, apropos of that alleged lively debate on your homefront, quote what Aluf Benn wrote a few days ago in Haaretz; “The … claim, about political opposition at home, is entirely mistaken. In talks on going to war, the minister and officers compete over who is more patriotic, not who is wiser or more rational. At decision time, no one will dare to go down in history as having reservations and risk being portrayed as a coward. If the Second Lebanon War is anything to go by, all the “heroes” who criticized the war in retrospect had voted to go to war. This will be the case if Netanyahu brings to the cabinet a plan to attack Iran, and the Israel Defense Forces will say that it can.”

  21. Arie Brand says:

    “Is the purpose of this blog to debate Israels actions or whether Israel should exist? I am looking forward to your answers.”

    Nimrod Tal, are you so devoid of political finesse that you can’t see that this way of putting the question inevitably reminds us of a certain mustachioed dictator who also covered up an aggressive foreign policy with the claim that he was merely coming up for his country’s “right to live”.?

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  24. He might or might not have compared the matter to the Cuba crisis (one never knows with you fellows because accuracy in these matters is not your strongest suit) but at any case the comparison is silly enough for him to have come up with it. Cuba was going to receive nuclear weapons, delivered by a super power from a vast nuclear arsenal. Iran has not even produced one bomb yet and has far more reason to feel threatened by Israel’s rogue possession of these things.

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