Will Israel strike?

The October issue of the neo-conservative magazine Commentary contains an article titled: “The Other Existential Threat” whose author is Daniel Gordis, senior vice president of the Shalem Centre in Jerusalem. The author believes strongly that neither Benjamin Netanyahu, nor Tzipi Livni, nor Ehud Barak “would willingly permit Iran to go nuclear.” He concluded: “It is therefore critical that the world understand what is at stake for Israel. Should Israel strike first, the international community will need to understand what motivated that strike.” Then he addresses (indirectly) Barack Obama who is earnestly asked to “understand” to which extent Israel feels threatened at the heart of its existence. Maybe then will he accept “to do what must be done.”

The message is clear and there is no question that many people in Israel feel just the same way. When he raised the question: Why is it so important that Israel strikes first when everybody know that it owns a nuclear arsenal? He gave the following answer: Because “the mere possession of a nuclear weapon by Iran would instantly restore Jews to the status quo ante before Jewish sovereignty,” –” a condition that they definitely refuse. Gordis expects serious damages in Iran following the strike, probably more than in 1981’s Israeli raid against Iraqi reactor Osirak or 2007’s destruction of Syria’s nuclear reactor. Nevertheless, he minimizes the harm for Israel’s public image and consequently for Israel’s policy in the region. That’s because he expects the same criticism and outrage from the international public opinion, but at the end of the day, Israel will be ridden of an enormous burden.

How the US government consider the problem? The Democrats, for the two years to come, will be entangled in a battle that may either consume the energy of their leaders or force them to give the better of themselves if they want to make it in 2012. If Obama opted for disengagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, programming the withdrawal of the US troops according to an agenda agreed upon with both Iraqi and Afghan leaders, we can hardly say that the Conservatives who initialised these wars and whose leaders still claim that the US will be victorious if it consents to carry on the war effort (more sacrifices, more blood, and more killing), will help Obama put an end to the tragic series or try to rein in the Israeli military.

With a majority of conservatives now dominating the House of Representatives, the kind of argument sustained by Gordis and other hawkish leaders is more likely to find well disposed and supportive ears. Even before the midterm elections, we could read in an editorial of The New Republic another kind of warning: “… We are about to welcome what might be the most radical Congress in recent memory.”

However, if Israel is ready to strike, as suggested by Gordis and other people, the US administration does not need to do anything, but watch. Maybe Elaine Sciolino is right when she says that “when it comes to Iran, the United States is still dealing with the fallout from the hostage crisis of 1979-81. The images of that time –” the crowds chanting ‘Death to America,’ the blindfolded hostages being paraded before the news cameras…” It is true that these are hard unforgettable images, and the worse is that the regime of the Ayatollahs for so many years after Khomeini passed away is still clinging to the ideology of confrontation with the United States, as a necessary guideline, whoever is the tenant in the White House.

Indeed the Iranian people do not deserve to be punished for anything the much contested elite in power do. Right now, the Iranian government is “taking extraordinary security measures ahead of cuts to energy and food subsidies this month, in an effort to prevent unrest,” says The Wall Street Journal (Nov.4). Should Israel attack, the situation can grow very unstable.

And who will help the Iranian people? America? Unlikely. Why not? Because as T.D. Allman put it: “For Americans evil is a foreign menace, emanating from exotic locales. Its embodiments typically have mustaches and strut around in uniforms (Hitler, Saddam Hussein), though sometimes they are clean-shaven (Noriega…) You don’t always have to be a military dictator, however. Democratically elected civilian leaders (Arbenz in Guatemala, Allende in Chile, Mossadeq in Iran) have at times also constituted evil so far as the United States is concerned. Ho Chi Minh, Mao, even Stalin, all were too complicated, personally or historically, and too useful to the United States at various times, not to be embraced as friends of freedom, at least for a while. This did not keep them from being demonised when American attitudes toward them changed.”

Now, answer the question: Does Ahmadinejad fit in this picture? Of course he does. For many Americans, he incarnates “evil.” So, will the US government feel compassion if Israel strikes Iran or rather be relieved?

I think many of the war goers who are now in Congress will turn a blind eye if they know of any strike underway and may even discreetly help it. And you know what? There may be even speculations that an Israeli raid on Iran, combined with the economic crisis will help remove Ahmadinejad and the hardliners from power.

However, I do not believe in the possibility of a coup in these conditions.

As far as I know, unlike other Middle Eastern countries, the military has never played a significant political role in the country, despite the coup of Reza Khan in 1921. Since the revolution, the Iranian military has become more politicised, “although it still is not a coherent political force that can act independently and decisively as can, for example, the Turkish, Pakistani, or Egyptian military establishments.” Besides, although more politicised, Iran’s military establishment is divided ideologically. A coup is thus improbable.

Still, Israel may not act and instead opt for accepting the eventuality of a nuclear Iran. But honestly, the Israelis who support an attack against Iran seem more numerous and more powerful.