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Haaretz Editor-in-Chief: Israel Not Bluffing

Via Meadia commented this morning on Jeffrey Goldberg’s report that senior Israeli officials are increasingly confident of the success of an attack on Iran’s nuclear program. Goldberg is one of the top American reporters on Israel and the Middle East, and his column appeared after he spent last week in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. His reporting should be taken seriously.

Now comes word from Politico that Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the center-left Haaretz, shares Goldberg’s view that an Israeli attack on Iran is “likely to occur this year.” Benn is reported to have said:

What looks like a preparation for war, acts like a preparation for war, and quacks like a preparation for war, is a preparation for war, and not just a ‘bluff’ or a diversion tactic.

Haaretz is Israel’s oldest daily newspaper and widely respected around the world. While there’s some share of reflexive alarmism amid the ongoing speculation, Benn’s comments provide further support for Politico‘s conclusion that “those in the know seem to be of one mind: Israel will strike Iran in 2012.”

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  • peter38a

    I have not been a fan of many of Israel’s policies over the years but it would be absurd, unconscionable, to not bomb this evil regime. This is the Rhineland all over again. And the chips can fall where they may but as The Iron Duke said, “A hard pounding gentlemen, but we’ll see who can point the longest.”

  • Corlyss

    Maybe Goldberg should take his own water supply next time.

  • Y.

    Haaretz is the oldest _surviving_ daily paper, but its politics are roughly parallel to that of the British Guardian (except Haaretz is much more liberal economically). “Center left”? Hah! Even Meretz wasn’t left enough for them last elections so they refused to endorse it.

  • Kris

    “the center-left Haaretz”

    More like left-left. An old joke has it that Israeli newspaper A backs Likud, newspaper B backs Labor, and as to Haaretz, it wants the British Mandate brought back.

    Aluf Benn’s choice of analogy is amusing. (See “nuclear duck”.)

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    This would be a very difficult mission for the Israeli Air Force. They have no heavy bombers, and their F-16’s even with drop tanks don’t have the range, even if you wanted to use a single engine plane at such a long distance (2,000 – 3,000 mile round trip with fuel consuming combat in the middle). So they will have to use their F-15’s with both Conformational Fuel Tanks, and Drop Tanks which will severely limit their payload of bombs. If they are going after the deep underground nuclear facilities, they will need to carry the heavy 2,000 lb deep penetration bomb, which limits the number of actual bombs they can drop even further. They must overfly Syria and Iraq to get to Iran, which means overflying them on the way back as well when they may have sustained battle damage, and are low on fuel. Israel could sustain heavy losses on this mission, and if they do, there will be no follow up mission.

  • Kris

    Jacksonian@5: Best as I can tell from reliable sources, a successful Israeli air strike wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be a stretch, with precious little margins. And politically, I don’t see how this could be anything other than one single strike.

    There’s a reason Goldberg started off his article with a reference to the Entebbe Raid.

  • Peter

    Center-left Haaretz?!
    In Israel the accepted wisdom is that the Haaretz is the only Hebrew language Palestinian newspaper. It lost more than half of its subscribers during the last two years due its extremist politics.

  • f1b0nacc1


    The Israelis have limited air refueling capacity, which makes the F-16Is useful for initial strikes against ‘close-in’ targets (perimeter radars, etc.), as well as long-range drones (the Herons) which could conceivably be used for either light strikes (not against hard targets) or support (EW, etc.) operations thus freeing up F-15Is for the actual strike role. They also have cruise missiles (sub-launched) that could be used with conventional warheads…once again, not good for deep penetration targets, but fine for SEAD or surface targets.

    The Israelis DO have enough aircraft for strikes against a limited number of high-priority targets, with follow-up operations at a time of their choosing. If the Iranians chose to engage those aircraft. If they choose their targets carefully, and make good use of EW and alternative attack vectors to enhance the strike (see Syrian reactor, strike against), they could potentially cripple the Iranians, while keeping their options open for the future.

    The key though is not whether the Israelis can actually succeed, but rather whether they BELIEVE that they can succeed. The difference here is crucial. The Japanese BELIEVED that they would knock the US out of the war with a strike at Pearl Harbor, and it was this belief that led them to undertake the strike. If the Israelis (correctly in my mind) believe that they can succeed, they are more likely to undertake this operation, which is (after all) the whole point…

  • Kris

    f1b0nacc1@8: No argument here, but let’s also take into account another possibility: Israel might be desperate enough to launch an attack even if it believes it won’t succeed, gambling that the Iranian will over-react and draw in the US.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Perhaps so Kris, but given how deeply suspicious the Israelis are of Obama, I don’t believe that they would do so. The general feeling among those in the IDF that I have spoken with is that Obama would regard anything less than a successful attack on a major US naval unit as grounds for a full-scale American intervention. Since such a thing is unlikely (now UNsuccessful attacks are another matter), the general feeling is that the US would sit out any Iran/Israeli conflict.

    As for desparation, the Israelis do have a ‘desparation’ strike alternative, i.e. nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and Jericho II IRBMs. Granted, these would be extreme choices, but they are options nonetheless. Since a nuclear-armed Iran is, in Israeli eyes, a truly existential threat, this is not an option that they would take off the table. Keep in mind that a failed conventional strike might also open up the possibility of this last-resort option.

  • Kris

    f1b0nacc1@10: Once again, I don’t disagree with you, although I’d estimate that Israel would find it extremely difficult to pull the nuclear trigger. It would truly be a last resort, which could well come too late. One obvious (Hail Mary) alternative is for the Israeli PM to extend a confidential non-bluff ultimatum to the US: Either you take care of Iran in the next month, or the Jerichos fly.

    It’s depressing things have come this far; I can’t blame Netanyahu for his pre-WW2 invocations.

  • f1b0nacc1


    I believe that we are in agreement. There is no question that the Israelis would find it very difficult to use their nuclear weapons, but I have very little doubt that they would do so if backed into a corner. What worries me is that the direction of events and the fecklessness of our current administration is leading to just that situation. Don’t mistake my description of what would be a last resort on the part of the IDF as anything other than that, but I do believe that to ignore this as possible consequence of where we are heading would be a mistake as well…

    And yes, it is depressing that we have come to this, and frightening as well.

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