Back in 2002, this crazy idea of responding to 9/11 by attacking Iraq first started being floated. And now we’re getting stronger and stronger whiffs of Dorky Middle East War, the Sequel: Iran. Can the sensible people of the world please stand up and say ”Please, let’s not do that“.
It’s getting to the point where the New York Times has matter-of-fact articles like Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets. On top of which, some of the particularly bloodthirsty members of the LikudAmerica fringe are pushing like crazy on that Overton Window, for example see Does AIPAC want war?
Puzzling Evidence · It seems self-evident to me that an Israeli coup de main against Iranian nuclear facilities would be unlikely to have any effect that is positive for Israel or negative for Iran. Evidence suggests (if you read the Israeli media) that this also seems self-evident to the Israeli military leadership.
So why the continued sabre-rattling? I’ve read two theories:
The Israelis are trying to convince the US Administration that they’re crazy enough to do this in order to extract concessions, bribes for them not to. I don’t believe this, because it seems to me that Netanyahu’s administration has got pretty well everything they want from Obama’s: no real pressure on settlements or human-rights issues.
Some week, the Israelis are going to tell Washington they’re attacking next week, and the US knows it would be such a disaster that they conclude that they’ll have to do the attack on Israel’s behalf. But this is the one thing I can’t see the US administration, as Netanyahu-friendly as it is, even contemplating. Obama got where he is in some part on the basis of having been right about Iraq.
So I don’t know what the hell is actually going on. But recall the run-up to the Iraq war very vividly, and it isn’t making me happy.
Why It’s a Dumb Idea · I asserted above that an Israeli attack on Iran would be stupid and counterproductive. I ought to provide some arguments to back up that claim.
As that New York Times article makes clear, the risk of failure is very, very high.
It would strengthen Iran’s dictators. One of the few things that could cause the population to rally around the much-despised mullahs and Revolutionary Guard would be an actual foreign attack.
Chances are that a few minutes after the attack started, Hezbollah missiles would start flying out of South Lebanon. The conventional wisdom is that they have more and better missiles than in the 2006 war, and could potentially drop a few right into Tel Aviv.
Now, there’s no doubt that the IDF would dearly love a chance to have another run at Hezbollah. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they did better than last time. But it also wouldn’t be a surprise if they didn’t; which feels like a deeply stupid bet for an Israeli politician to make.
Nuclear Iran? · Obviously, it’s perfectly sensible to worry about a nuclear-armed Iran; it’s fought recent wars with its neighbors. But it seems to me that it’s the neighbors who should be worrying.
I just can’t see any scenario in which Iran, if it did get a usable bomb that could be delivered at that distance, would try to nuke Israel. Here’s why: The mullahs and Revolutionary Guards who are oppressing Iran are doing just fine, thank you. They’ve managed to fend off the opposition, the oil business is good, and it’s easy for a ruling elite to ignore sanctions pain, as Saddam Hussein showed us all.
If they were so silly as to make Israel feel existentially threatened on Tuesday, Tehran would be a smoking radioactive crater on Wednesday, and that would be bad for business.
American Politics · Someone is fomenting a war. It’s hard to figure out who, and why, exactly. But this is scary as hell.
Right now, US politics is at a fever pitch. Seems to me that this campaign slogan might be worth trying: “Israel shouldn’t attack Iran, and if they do they’re on their own. As President, I won’t start a war with Iran unless they threaten America.”