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Top US Reporter: Israelis Think Strike On Iran Will Work

The most important piece of journalism out this morning is from Jeffrey Goldberg: a week of shuttling between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, meeting with current and former Israeli defense and security officials and intellectuals has convinced this experienced and well sourced reporter that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak believe that an Israeli military strike against Iran will probably work.

Goldberg, who writes for Bloomberg and the Atlantic, was stunned by the optimism he heard from senior Israelis about the consequences of an attack. To sum up his findings, top Israelis including (apparently) the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister, have reached the following conclusions about the consequences of an attack:

  • If it acts soon, Israel has the capacity to set the Iranian nuclear program back by five years.
  • There is a significant probability that a successful attack on Iran will energize Iran’s internal opposition, leading ultimately to the downfall or at least the crippling of the Iranian government.
  • President Obama will not retaliate against Israel.
  • Rather than launch massive retaliation against Israel, Iran will try to downplay the assault (as Syria and Iraq did in the past), perhaps launching only a few token missiles in response.
  • Fearing massive retaliation, Iran would not attack American ships or targets in response.

Goldberg himself does not appear convinced by these optimistic scenarios; he describes some of the conversations he had as “vertigo inducing” and the Bloomberg piece radiates a sense of shock and alarm. But this is not about his calculations or the Pentagon’s; if the Israeli leaders do in fact hold the opinions he says that they do, we should brace for Israeli strikes against Iran sooner rather than later.  Perhaps very soon.

Read the whole thing here. And keep your gas tank filled. If a critical mass of the Israeli political and defense establishment in Israel buys the arguments outlined above, a strike against Iran is only a matter of time.

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  • Estragon

    “a successful attack on Iran will energize Iran’s internal opposition, leading ultimately to the downfall or at least the crippling of the Iranian government”

    Given Goldberg’s record as a propagandist for the attack on Iraq, I have to wonder if this thought is really coming from the Israelis and not from him. “After we attack, the people will join us in the cause of freedom” is self-indulgent neocon fantasy, of the sort we were fed in the runup to Iraq.

    One of the greatest (of many!) flaws in neoconservative thinking is the belief that people won’t fight a foreign attacker if they hate their own government. Now we see that fantasy being entertained again.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Estragon: my reading of the article is that Goldberg is less than convinced by this idea; in places he seems quite nervous that the Israelis are so confident.

  • Soul

    I’ve been filling my tank once it reaches half full this winter/summer! Figure an attack is likely to happen, spiking prices, and possibly causing some disruptions in supply.

  • Ben Samuels

    I’ve only been filling my gas tank half full at most. Can’t afford the price of a full tank. I hope Israel does attack. The longer-range consequences will likely bring gas prices down, IMNSHO.

  • Ohad

    Too bad that the MSM won’t attempt to objectively evaluate whether the Israelis could actually knock out the Iranian program (as they did with the Iraqi and Syrian programs).

  • Mark Buehner

    I’m leery about a strike due to unintended consequences, but one of the arguments against it I find maddening. Critics always note that you can’t destroy Irans ability to develop nuclear weapons, you can only set it back. Perhaps 5 years. Well, duh. Nothing anyone does can permanently prevent anyone from developing nuclear weapons. 5 years is a long time, and you can always rinse and repeat if Iranian policy hasn’t changed.

  • Rich K

    56 years. Thats how long Ive waited for a “Gulf of Tonkin” moment to occur in the middle east.Just maybe I will get to see that conflagration I pondered all those many years ago. Bob Duval said something about a smell and victory. I wonder what this one will smell like if it goes down.

  • Dobby

    I always thought Iran would attack the Saudi and Iraqi oil fields, pipelines and ports if they were attacked.

    If the Israelis attack, I hope they do it in the spring. Don’t wait until fall/winter because heating oil costs would be too expensive for many people.

  • Brett

    @Dobby

    I always thought Iran would attack the Saudi and Iraqi oil fields, pipelines and ports if they were attacked.

    I’ve never even seen that mentioned in the news up to now. Good catch, particularly since Iran could use tacit Saudi Arabian permission for Israel to conduct the mission over their airspace as collaboration in the assault.

    That would be bad news. Forget oil reaching $5/gallon in the US – we’d be lucky if it stayed below $6 or $7/gallon.

  • Art

    In another article today the Pentagon is afraid of retalitory strikes against American Warships in the strait if Israel should attack Iran, drawing the US into the conflict. (translation: Obama is afraid getting drawn in to the conflict will hurt his reelection prospects)

    Therefore the Obama administration seems to be buying time until after the election, hoping to defray voter anger until he is reelected.

    Which leaves Israel in a unique position, start the conflict early and cause the Obama some pain and accept administrations ire, or wait until after the election when Obama is either a lame duck, or more amenable.

    Whichever happens time is a factor and the situation is not going to get better, only worse.

  • CatoRenasci

    One needs to keep this in perspective: the important question is whether an Israeli-Iranian war will remain conventional or go nuclear.

    Any war will be ugly and will likely be worse than anyone expects, but is how effective will the first Israeli strike be, and do the Iranians already have some sort of a nuclear weapon to retaliate with. If they do — and there are serious people who think the Iranians do have at least a few ex-Soviet small nukes, but opinions vary on whether or not they would work — and if they even attempt to use it, Israeli retaliation would unleash the whirlwind.

  • John Barker

    @CatoRenasci: I have often had the same thought, and I am sure the Iranians could put together multiple dirty bombs.

  • Fred

    An Israeli attack would be a twofer. Not only would it deal decisively with an issue our president lacks the stones to deal with, any spike in gas prices would reduce the possibility of continuing the Obama disaster after January ’13.

  • JJ

    There have been many recent leaks from Israel (including the 60 Minutes interview with Meir Dagan) which gave the impression that Israel probably will not attack. It is entirely possible that the Israeli government is using Goldberg to give the opposite impression, if only to keep up the pressure on the USA and EU to ratchet up the sanctions. Hard to say what is what in the Hall of Mirrors that is the Middle East.

  • mike, 20 years in gulf oil

    @ 8 Dobby
    oil fields are very widely dispersed targets and significant physical damage would require a sustained campaign of long duration beyond Iran’s capabilities. Oil facilities, Gas-oil separation plants, refineries, etc are somewhat more vulnerable but still very difficult to destroy, much more so than in popular belief.
    Nevertheless, though the effect of an all-out Iranian air attack on Saudi/Kuwaiti/Emirates oil facilities would be very, very brief and minor in physical terms, it would be huge psychologically, markets would react with hysteria utterly unrelated to actual physical damage.

  • nestor

    •There is a significant probability that a successful attack on Iran will energize Iran’s internal opposition, leading ultimately to the downfall or at least the crippling of the Iranian government.
    This assumption is very very wrong, In their kinds of belief no matter how wrong their muslim government they will always side with their brother mohammedans specially being attack by the sworn enemies of their koran.

  • Kris

    If the relatively cautious Israeli leadership truly thinks that a strike would most likely be successful, that’s good news! I’m skeptical about the tenor of Goldberg’s report, however, and believe that if Israel acts, it will be because it has concluded that the other choices are worse. As Iran’s nuclear program progresses, and as they strengthen their defenses, Israel’s window of opportunity for a successful strike is rapidly closing. After that, Israel either has to hope that the US will do the job, or that Iran will behave responsibly. Would any of you be willing to bet your nation’s life on these hopes?

    Regarding the argument that Iran’s nuclear program should not be attacked, because it would respond by attacking neighbouring oil facilities, let me get this straight:
    (i) Iran is so foolhardy and unable to constrain itself, that it will lash out wildly after any attack.
    (ii) If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it can be trusted to behave responsibly.
    Magical things, those nuclear weapons. Maybe we should encourage proliferation!

  • Harun

    People who say we should talk with Iran say the regime is rational and wouldn’t use its nukes crazy anyways.

    OK, assume that’s true.

    If Israel were to attack them, then Iran, rationally, wouldn’t lash out and attack the US forces.

    Because that’s a regime change invitation.

    And these people in Iran are rational power seekers.

    Sure, they might fund some proxy attacks.

    But now way will they attack the US Navy.

    I would be more curious what the Arabs do if this attack goes through.

  • Kris

    Harun@18: You have a great mind. :-)

  • http://www.pacrimjim.com PacRim Jim

    Rx:
    EMP over Iran.
    Stat.
    Repeat as necessary.

  • SC Mike

    What may have the analysts confused is that the Iranians have not been too provocative in the Gulf of Hormuz to date. Yes, in the recent past they have been aggressive, taking some Brits hostage and attempting to do the same with some Aussies who recognized the threat and handled it quite nicely, but that behavior was not in response to aggressive action against Iran. It’s clear that the Iranians have learned a lot since 1988 and recent war games — or at least reports of such — indicate that they could do a lot of damage to US ships should the situation turn hot.

    One has to conclude that they’ve had enough time to establish cells of bad actors throughout the West, certainly in the US, and mean to activate them when the time is right. An attack, whether by Israel alone or with US support, would be that time.

    That the US has not sold refueling aircraft or bunker-buster bombs to Israel would seem to limit Israel’s capacity to carry out an effective attack. But who knows what strategy and tactics the Israelis have managed to develop.

    I for one hope that these reports are part of a PSYOPS campaign designed to destabilize the Iranians, find weaknesses in their political structure.

    In the meantime I’ll keep my gas tank full.

  • Jay

    I think the US (at least the Navy) takes this seriously:
    http://defensetech.org/2012/03/16/usn-sending-four-more-minesweepers-to-the-gulf/

    Or we are trying to send a message to the Israelis: we are indeed worried about our ships being attacked.

    Our navy has a LOT of tonnage inside and around the arab/persian gulf now:
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/where.htm

    If the Iranians keep enriching, Israel will need to bomb their nuke program. Then the Iranians will need retaliate, and we will need to send our ships in very close to Iran to protect civilan shipping.
    One missile from Iran and we are ready to finish the job Israel started, then blame Israel for the whole mess and make them give in to our demands to make ‘peace’. At least that’s how it will be portrayed in the media, reality may differ.

  • Kris

    Jim@20: I have no problems with your solution in principle. In practice, there is one critical practical problem – we can’t limit the EMP effect to Iran, and one huge PR/political one – how do you create this blast?

    Jay@22: :-)

  • richard40

    As for whether Iran would be rational enough to not use their nukes, it actually is possible they would not, since Stalinist USSR, Maoist China, and N Korea never did use theirs, and those regimes were not exactly the soul of rationality either.

    But that is not the real problem. The real problem would be that having nukes would be enough to deter us from ever attacking Iran conventionally, and thus Iran could do any horrible provacative act they wished, short of actual use of their nukes, knowing we would never attack them, for fear of their nukes. It makes Iran invulnerable to attack, and thus much more likely to do many other bad things, with no fear of retaliation. It would also encourage other mideastern states to get nukes.

  • Skip

    You are all out of your minds to think you can take on Iran Open your Eyes they can sink you fleet at a cost of thousands of young american Lives leave these counties alone are you not in enough Trouble back home?
    Mad man Obama is insane if he thinks he can take on the might of China & Russia
    You will reap what you sow guys see you in the next world Armeggeddon is comming.

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