Sunday 16 September 2012

Fifty Fateful Days

Former government minister Tzachi Hanegbi has been quoted as telling a closed meeting of Likud activists that the next fifty days are the most fateful in Israel’s history.  Hanegbi is not a member of the government or even of the Knesset, having recently been convicted of moral turpitude in relation to previous ministerial posts held.  He has also flip-flopped between political parties when he decided to join Ariel Sharon’s Kadima party, then return to the Likud.  Hanegbi is, however, known to be a close confidante of Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Under the circumstances, his statements are being closely analysed for hidden significance.

The fact that his statements were clearly not intended for outside consumption has added even greater weight to them.  Now that the words have been recorded and smuggled to the outside world, the press is taking the opportunity to speculate as to precisely what they mean.  In his statement, Hanegbi compared the next fifty days to a dozen or so days during the Yom Kippur War which he considers to be equally as fateful, and upon which the balance of Israel’s fate hung.  He referred to the fact that allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons has a price tag.  Hanegbi made a request of the Likud faithful to support Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and to “allow him quiet” and “strengthen his legitimacy” so that he can take the necessary decisions calmly.

The seriousness of the situation with Iran has been evident and obvious to many within Israel and  outside for some time.  It is the first time, however, that somebody who is believed to be close to the inner core of government has indicated a timetable of any type on this matter.  The reference to the next 50 days seems to tie in quite closely with speculation that has been previously heard, suggesting that the window of opportunity to carry out a strike against Iran is limited until the US presidential elections are held in November.  After the election takes place, there are strong reasons why Israel will not be able to expect support for an attack on Iran, irrespective of whether Obama is reelected or Romney is successful.  It is not clear when the window of opportunity may reopen after the election, but it is assumed that it will take a good few months.  By then, the situation in Iran may be beyond the point of no return.

For some time now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed his frustration over the lack of international support to deal with the Iran nuclear program.  Despite the fact that Iran has consistently failed to provide adequate responses to the international community in relation to its nuclear program, the world (led by President Barack Obama) seems content to provide it with the time it needs, while ostensibly waiting for the sanctions to take effect.  This is valuable time that is being wasted, and which Iran is taking maximum advantage of to get its nuclear bomb beyond the point where action can still be taken to destroy it.  I hope that the world will not look back in the future, and regret not having used these days more productively.

Many ask why it is that Israel does not act unilaterally against Iran, in the same way as the action was taken against Syria and Iraq?  It is my guess that we can never fully understand the differences in the circumstances that exist now with Iran, when compared to those that existed in Iraq and Syria.  For one, the Iranians are lying in wait ready and have hundreds, if not thousands, of missiles waiting to be fired towards Israel.  That seems to be a very powerful reason to change the tactics used.  The prime minister has responsibility for the safety of his citizens, both now and in the future.  As opposed to the situation that existed previously, the Iranian issue is far too public and high-profile to allow the IDF to carry out stealth missions without any consequences.  The world’s media is lying in wait for the first Israeli aircraft to take off from their hangars towards Iran.  Any attack of this type will probably be broadcast live on Al Jazeera and CNN.

When Tzachi Hanegbi spoke about 50 fateful days, I think he referred as much to the consequences of inaction, as to the consequences of any action.  If the prime minister has decided that it is too risky to send the forces in unilaterally, the question is what has he decided to do instead.  Clearly, doing nothing is not an option.  We are now relying on the creativity of the Israeli mind to find ways to get the Iranian nuclear bomb without the need to send in the troops.  Let us hope that this is  already in train.

With the onset of the Jewish New Year, we sincerely hope and pray that 5773 will bring a final answer to this issue.  We hope that, by the time we reach 5774, the issue of the Iranian nuclear bomb will be behind us once and for all.  We pray for the health and safety of all of our brave soldiers who give their time, energy and their souls in protecting Israel and the Jewish people.  May we find that elusive missing piece of the puzzle that will lead our country towards peaceful coexistence, and prosperity for all her people.

Wishing you and your family, and all the people of Israel, a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

1 comment:

Robert Parsons Jnr said...

why Iran is not an existential threat to Israel

Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister: “Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel.” (Reuters, Report: Barak says Iran is not existential threat to Israel; September 17, 2009)

Dan Halutz, former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces and Commander of the Israeli Air Force: “Iran poses a serious threat, but not an existential one. The use of this terminology is misleading. If it is intended to encourage a strike on Iran, it’s a mistake. Force should be exerted only as a last resort.” (YNet, Former IDF Chief: Iran doesn’t pose an existential threat; February 2, 2012)

Tamir Pardo, Director of the Mossad: “Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely.” (Haaretz, Mossad Chief: Nuclear Iran not necessarily existential threat to Israel; December 29, 2011)

Israel maintains a competitive advantage in total amount spent on munitions and assets, as well as a massive edge in terms of technological sophistication. Israel spends almost twice as much as Iran on defense appropriations and is able to buy the world’s most advanced weaponry from the United States (mostly with U.S. taxpayer money, laundered through foreign aid). Iran, by contrast, is heavily dependent on the dated munitions it received under the Shah and acquires rudimentary missile technology from China and North Korea with its own money.

Even if Iran were pursuing nuclear weapons, Israel’s own stockpile—estimated at a several hundred high-yield warheads—ensures that Tehran would not engage in a first-strike. Those familiar with the Cold War doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) know that when confronted with the possibility of your own annihilation, so the theory goes, you’re incentivized to refrain from launching a first strike. Israel’s stationing of nukes on German-made Dolphin class submarines in the Mediterranean assures that even if a first strike were to be carried out on the Jewish state, the perpetrator would still be subject to a retaliatory strike.

However, much as America acts as Israel’s patron, so too Iran spends a good deal arming and supporting proxy armies in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip—Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively. While these forces present a serious challenge to Israeli military incursions into said areas, their ability to project force within Israel’s borders is limited to indiscriminate rocket fire. While dangerous and psychologically terrifying for civilians, such tactics cannot be considered more than a nuisance when comparing capacities for state violence.

Israel is not a signatory to the NPT and repeatedly refuses propositions for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone (MENWFZ) to be established as a means of ending the stand-off with Tehran, despite majority support from the Israeli public.

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