It is understood that Israel is pressuring the United States for a military strike on Iran and its nuclear facilities. Tel Aviv wants to keep the balance of power, and military superiority in the region, in its own hands. It is not interested in the implications such a strike would have for the reformist movement in Iran, or its wider impact on the region. What it wants is the destruction of the Iranian nuclear program, or to disable it for years to come, in order to keep nuclear power in Israel’s hands only, so it can use the threat of the ‘Samson Option’.
It is no secret that Israel has previously undertaken campaigns, overtly and covertly, to prepare such an atmosphere [i.e. an Israeli monopoly in the Middle East]. In the 1980s, Israel attacked an Iraqi nuclear facility, and then continued its campaign against the Iraqi regime, exploiting Saddam Hussein’s errors in the region, until matters ended with an invasion, which was strongly advocated by Israeli supporters in U.S. decision making circles. Former U.S. President George W. Bush revealed in his memoirs, released this month, how the Israelis asked him to strike Iranian and Syrian [nuclear] facilities, and that the Pentagon actually commissioned the preparation of plans and studies on such strikes. Yet this action was eventually not taken, due to differing views amongst those in the Bush administration, regarding the feasibility and risks of such operations. Although Bush stressed that the military option against Iran was always on the table, he said that it was always considered a last resort, on the grounds that Washington preferred at the time – and still does – the option of sanctions. As for Syria, Bush revealed explicitly that he did not agree to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s request at the time, to carry out an air raid or send Special Forces teams to strike the Deir al-Zour facility, due to the dangers of the operation. Furthermore, Bush confirmed that Israel carried out the operation alone later.
In the context of Israel’s constant pressure, and American reports alleging that any military strike on Iran at the present time would have many, serious negative repercussions, it is interesting to examine at a debate last week between U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. The American official expressed the prevalent opinion amongst the Obama administration, namely that a military strike would not provide a long term solution, but would instead result in Tehran’s nuclear program becoming “more entrenched and more secret”, and would also galvanize the Iranian regime, in the face of internal opposition and divisions. What Gates did not say is that the fallout from the operation could harm U.S. interests, especially in light of western military operations in Afghanistan, and the fragile global economic situation. These words did not please the Israelis of course, and the Israeli Chief of Staff reacted with a public response to Gates’ words, saying that sanctions were not effective, and that a military strike was Israel’s desired solution, regardless of the domestic repercussions in Iran, or in the wider region.
The reality is that Israel is reaping the maximum gains from the Iran issue, regardless of whether it achieves its desired military strike or not. It receives U.S. security guarantees, which are continually strengthened, including the provision of intelligence information, and sophisticated U.S. weaponry, to ensure it maintains the upper hand. As a result of receiving U.S. support and technology, Israel has been able to develop a missile defense shield, which should be completed by 2015. Despite gaining all this, Israel continues to raise its voice to warn against the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program. In doing so, it resembles a pregnant sheep, afraid of the new wolf in town, even though this ‘sheep’ has at least 100 nuclear warheads, according to estimates by experts, and rejects any discussion of acceding to the NPT, or talk of the Middle East becoming a nuclear weapons free zone.
What Israel wants is to maintain its monopoly in the region, with its ‘nuclear sword’ hanging over the necks of others. This allows the state to continue its arrogant policies, such as refusing to relinquish the occupied territories, continual intransigence on the subject of peace, and only agreeing to proposal in accordance with its prohibitive terms. To achieve this goal, Israel has intensified its campaign, hoping that this pressure leads to an attack on Iran, or allows Israel to access more military aid, and political tradeoffs. This is what we saw during Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington, when he merged the subject of confronting Iran, including his tradeoffs with Washington, with the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. Whilst in America, Netanyahu was keen, in his speeches and statements, to focus on the theme of the Iranian threat, in order to reach a compromise amidst U.S. pressure to resume peace negotiations with Palestine.
If Israel’s intentions are clear, the question remains; how will Israel act?
So far it looks like Ahmadinejad is repeating the experience of Saddam Hussein, which resulted in the destruction of Iraq and rocked the stability of the region. In reality, what Iran needs to do is adopt a rational, less aggressive policy. It needs to reduce its policy of external expansion, and reassure its neighbors, thus removing Israel’s bargaining chip in the peace process. Furthermore, it needs to support the mounting call for the Middle East to become a nuclear weapons free zone. Peaceful nuclear energy is a legitimate right for all, but nuclear arms would open the gates of hell in an already volatile region.