Possible Israeli attack on Iran worries U.S.

February 3, 2012


— Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has a lot on his mind these days, from cutting the defense budget to managing the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But his biggest worry is the growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran militarily over the next few months.

Panetta believes there is strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the U.S. could then stop them militarily.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want to leave the fate of Israel dependent on American action, which would be triggered by intelligence that Iran is actually building a bomb, which it hasn’t done yet.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak may have signaled the prospect of an Israeli attack soon when he asked last month to postpone a planned U.S.-Israel military exercise that would culminate in a live-fire phase in May. Barak apologized that Israel couldn’t devote the resources to the annual exercise this spring.

President Barack Obama and Panetta are both said to have cautioned the Israelis that the U.S. opposes an attack, believing that it would derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program and other non-military efforts to stop Iran from crossing the threshold. But the White House hasn’t yet decided precisely how the U.S. would respond if the Israelis do attack.

The Obama administration is conducting intense discussions now about what an Israeli attack would mean for the U.S.: whether Iran would target U.S. ships in the region or try to close the Strait of Hormuz, and what effect the conflict and a likely spike in oil prices would have on the fragile global economy.

The Obama administration currently appears to favor a policy of staying out of the conflict, unless Iran hits U.S. assets, which would trigger a strong U.S. response.

This U.S. policy — signaling that Israel is acting on its own — might open a breach like the one in 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower condemned an Israeli-European attack on the Suez Canal. Complicating matters is the 2012 presidential election, where Republicans candidates are clamoring for stronger U.S. support of Israel.

Administration officials caution that Tehran shouldn’t misunderstand: The U.S. has a 60-year commitment to Israeli security, and if Israel’s population centers were hit, the U.S. could feel obligated to come to Israel’s defense.

The Israelis are said to believe that a military strike could be limited and contained. The Israelis would bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz and other targets; an attack on the buried enrichment facility at Qom would be harder from the air. The Iranians would retaliate but Israelis doubt it would be an overwhelming barrage, with rockets from Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. One Israeli estimate is that the Jewish state might have to absorb 500 casualties.

Israelis point to Syria’s lack of response to an Israeli attack on a nuclear reactor there in 2007. The Iranians might show similar restraint, because of fear the regime would be endangered by all-out war. Some Israelis have also likened a strike on Iran to the 1976 hostage-rescue raid on Entebbe, which was followed by a change of regime in Uganda.

Israeli leaders are said to accept, and even welcome, the prospect of going it alone and demonstrating their resolve at a time when their security is undermined by the “Arab Spring.”

“You stay to the side, and let us do it,” one Israel official is said to have advised the U.S. A “short-war” scenario assumes five days or so of limited Israeli strikes, followed by a U.N.-brokered cease-fire. The Israelis are said to recognize that damage to the nuclear program might be modest, requiring another strike in a few years.

U.S. officials see two possible ways to dissuade the Israelis from such an attack: Tehran could finally open serious negotiations for a formula to verifiably guarantee that its nuclear program will remain a civilian one; or the U.S. could step up its covert actions to degrade the program so much that Israelis would decide military action wasn’t necessary.

U.S. officials don’t think that Netanyahu has made a final decision to attack, and they note that top Israeli intelligence officials remain skeptical of the project. But senior Americans doubt the Israelis are bluffing. They’re worrying about the guns of spring — and the unintended consequences.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is davidignatius@washpost.com.


Abdu Omar 6 years, 2 months ago

This makes me sick!!! Israel has the bomb, pays millions to Americans in Congress, and wants to bully another country from being able to defend its self. Has Iran attacked its neighbors? Has Iran attacked Israel? Why would they fear Iran? Because of a few statements by their president? Until such time as Iran or any country attacks Israel, they should be patient. But they are so afraid their fragile security will be destroyed they launch attacks first.

This comes from a country that has no place in being where it is. Its like being in someones house uninvited. Israel could have begun their existence in a better way instead of fighting everyone to exist. They simply don't belong in the Middle East and they don't have any friends there. How can they exist in such a hostile arena? They could have chosen a friendly arena and not be such a mennace to the world.

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

"Has Iran attacked Israel? Why would they fear Iran?"

Duuuh, could it be because Iran severed all ties and has refused to acknowledge Israel as a country? That Iran refers to Israel as the "Zionist Regime" and THE enemy of Islam? That they fund Hamas and Hezbollah, whose sole purpose is the obliteration of Israel? That their leaders from Khameini to Iwannajihad have called for wiping Israel off the map?

"They simply don't belong in the Middle East"

Right! Everyone knows they're not from Palestine, they hail from what is now Nome, Alaska. Little known fact.

"How can they exist in such a hostile arena?"

You ask that question after mocking why they'd be afraid of Iran getting The Bomb?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

Yes, wounded, they have no place in the Middle East. They should leave, all of them as soon as possible. In fact, we should all leave those parts of the world where our ancestors are not originally from. This entire continent is infested with people who came here, destroyed native cultures, took lands, marginalized indigenous peoples. We should all leave, go back to where we came from, except of course, if you are an indigenous Native American. Then you can stay. So wounded, leave. Now! Go.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 2 months ago

If only the people of Israel would let themselves be destroyed, the Middle East would be a heaven on earth. Not.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 2 months ago

Well Snap, have you heard about the Arab spring? With the discontent in the Middle East for the dictators appointed by the West, they are trying to set things straight. Give them time and they can develop a good democracy that is strong and lasting. Until the West comes along and destroys it, that is. Let them be, support them if we might without the Repubs yelling that we entered another war.

There is no reason to bomb Iran. Iran is a sabre rattling country with no real reason. No one likes what is happening to Palestinians but they will work it out when the time is right. No one should be wiped off the face of the earth. Look at North Korea. We tolerate those fools, so be patient and let Iran grow up.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 2 months ago

Yes, and Christians tell their kids that there is a Santa Claus. It is all Rhetoric, no real threat. No one is worried about the idle threats made by North Korea and Iran is the same. They talk big but so what? If they can do something about it, they would have already. No one country can face down Israel, America, United Kingdom, and Germany. Come on get real.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t want to leave the fate of Israel dependent on American action, which would be triggered by intelligence that Iran is actually building a bomb, which it hasn’t done yet."

The fate of Israel is, and has been for several decades, directly dependent on US action-- namely, using billions in US tax dollars to arm it to its teeth, and using its power to allow Israel to use that weaponry with total impunity.

But if Israel stupidly uses that weaponry to start an all-out regional war, things may change dramatically. I think Americans in general are tired of our imperial wars in the Middle East, and won't tolerate Israel dragging us into a major escalation in those wars.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

Israel has possessed nuclear weapons for forty years, yet has chosen not to use them. Israel has possessed the military might to wipe off the face of the Earth many of it's hostile neighbors, yet has chosen not to do so. For decades now, Israel has had the power to do many things, yet has chosen not to do those things.
At what point in time does it become apparent to you, Bozo that Israel has no desire to do those things? For you to say they use those weapons with total impunity is another of your half truths that mislead more than inform.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

Just because Israel (and every other country save one) has chosen not to use the nuclear weapons it possesses does not mean that its behavior otherwise is therefore wholly excusable.

And even if Iran gets nuclear weapons (and it's not really at all evident that they will) it's very likely they would never use them for precisely the same reasons that Israel hasn't.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

You're correct that Iran might not use them, even after they get nuclear weapons. But just like Israel's Mossad uses operatives to kill scientists inside Baghdad, it's more likely that Iran will give a suitcase to a Hezbollah, Hamas or maybe some suicidal nut case. And Iran will deny culpability, just as Israel does when the scientist gets killed. But that deniability doesn't make the person any less dead. And when we're dealing with a suitcase full of nuclear materials, we're not talking about a dead person, we're taking about many, many dead people from the initial explosion, we're talking about many dead from a massive retaliation and we're talking hundreds of thousands wounded from radiation. Will it happen? I don't know. Neither do you. It's all about risk assessment. If there is only a 10% chance of it happening, do you act? If it's 20%? How about if the risk is as low as 1% but even that small risk can be reduced with an air strike? Maybe all these countries should exchange ambassadors instead of threats. That would be a better solution. But until that happens, I can see how people over there will assess risk levels differently than you or I sitting in Kansas.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

Creating a suitcase bomb is every bit as big a technical challenge as developing a long-range missile or other delivery system.

And how is Israel's threat to attack Iran, knowing that it almost certainly will trigger major attacks on Israel from Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria, signs that its leadership is in any way saner than Iran's?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

First off, creating a dirty bomb is much easier than putting a nuclear bomb on a missile and delivering it to Israel. You're just plain wrong about that. I mentioned yesterday on another thread, it's all about risk assessment. Israel knows there is a chance of reprisal from those you mention. And there will be some loss of life, including Israeli civilians. Yet, they assess the risk as less than even a small chance that Iran will indeed use a nuclear device against Israel, either a dirty bomb used by a surrogate, putting it on a missile, etc. BTW - major attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah are possible whether Israel attacks Iran or not. Those attacks can come if they feel threatened, whether or not the threats are real.
As for Syria, they appear to be having issues of their own. They may attack Israel just to deflect attention away from their own internal problems, much like Saddam tried to draw Israel into the Gulf War by firing scud missiles into Israel when it was not part of the conflict at all. Which of course begs the question, how would either Iraq then or Syria now behaved had Israel not taken out their nuclear facilities?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

Translation, you can't argue the facts as presented.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

No, arguing with you is pointless because you have one standard of behavior for Israel, and another standard for everyone else.

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

Early leader for Dumbest Post of the Day.

jaywalker 6 years, 2 months ago

Really. Such a bad post that you of course responded to it, right?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

I recall in the days and weeks leading up to the Iraq war, many skeptics who were opposed to the war said that of course Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, we sold them to Iraq. What happened to those weapons? Were they all used against the Kurds? Or in the war with Iran that killed a million. Did Saddam do something with them when he invaded Kuwait or attach them to the scud missiles he fired into Israel, trying to provoke a wider war?
I don't know. I do suspect that our choices were bad and very bad. It seems quite probable now with 20/20 hindsight that we chose very bad. However, had we chosen another path, I can imagine many things worse that what actually happened. It's hard to say.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

Please refrain from confusing "the Jews" with Israel. There are about 1.5 million Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel that do not think of themselves as Jews, instead they consider themselves to be Islamic, and they would be highly offended if you referred to them as Jews to their face. In fact, offended is a serious understatement and you had best be prepared for a fight if you did so. And, out of a nation of only about 8 million, they form a significant percentage of the population.

And there are many Christian citizens of Israel also, and many citizens are agnostic as well. But that is to be expected, Israel has freedom of religion, unlike many nations in the Middle East.

Also, keep in mind that exactly how many Jewish people support the policy of the present hawkish Israeli leadership is very debatable.

And, that is especially true of Jews that follow the Reform movement, who form the majority of Jews in the United States today. Many or most Reform Jews don't care at all for the current policies of the present hawkish position of the Israeli government. And, about the settlements especially.

What matters most to American Reform Jews is freedom of religion for all of the Middle East and the right for everyone to visit the ancient holy sites, mostly as tourists. Or pilgrims, if you want to call them that.

At this point in history, freedom of religion is just about unknown many countries. Israel and some of the nations in Asia are exceptions.

Many nations in Asia that have a significant Muslim population are proof that Islam is not incompatible with the presence of other religions. It is unfortunate that is not also true in the Middle East.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

Where were you when Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were being discussed?

Abdu Omar 6 years, 2 months ago

"Israel has freedom of religion, unlike many nations in the Middle East." Come on, Ron, Israel is a "Jewish State" it follows the same thinking as did South Africa and its Apartheid is obvious. Those Muslims and Christians you speak of have no voice and cannot contramand what "Bibi" wants. He is the one who decides, not those poor souls.

Israel is a bully state and wants their way even if it drags the USA into it. Some of us are tired of fighting their wars. Have you read "By Way of Deception" by Victor Ostrovsky? This is a clear cut analysis of what Mosad does to fool the rest of the world. Read it if you haven't.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

Bibi was voted into office. He could just as easily be voted out also, and that is very likely to happen. Everyone has a vote in Israel.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 2 months ago

All of the Arab countries in the Middle East have populations of other religions than Islam. I know many from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Turkey, and others that have large non-Muslim populations and live their peacefully. What is your source? I know these people personally and have for years.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

How many Jews do you know, and how many are there in those countries? Have you ever been to a Seder?

I am quite sure there are very few Jews in the Middle Eastern countries, and yes I have read all about it. 'Essential Judaism', by George Robinson is an excellent book, however it is rather long.

Jewish people have all already been kicked out of Egypt and Libya, to name just two. And to top that off, the leaders of the new state of Palestine have already stated that it will be their goal to ethnically cleanse the nation of all Jews. They are certainly not going to have any freedom of religion there, to hear them talk. However, whether or not that will actually be put into practice is an entirely different subject.

But all that is reiterating the obvious, and to cite only a dozen or so sources would be a disservice. Jews needing to move to another country is a very, very old story that goes back about 2,000 years.

It is absolutely amazing to me that there is so much friction between Jews and Muslims today. Historically, that was not always the case. As recently as 100 years ago, it wasn't any big deal.

I have often wondered what would happen if the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, and the 12th Imam would return - and then we would all discover that all along we were all talking about the exact same thing.

He would be really pissed off, for sure.

And about the Mosad, there it is again - confusing Jewish people with Israel.

The USA might look into some of the things that the CIA has done for examples of morality.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 2 months ago

One thing I was told really stunned me, and I could hardly believe it. I had to research it to discover that is is actually true. Only about 20% of the Jews in Israel are actually religious. The rest are ethnically Jewish, but that's it.

And, Reform Jews are not eligible to immigrate to Israel, because the other denominations don't think they are really Jews at all, due to the official platform of disbelief in so many things.

Reform Jews do not believe that the Temple on Temple mount will ever be rebuilt, because there is no need for that to be done. It had a need to exist at one time, and that time is now over. Henceforth, the Nation of Israel is a spiritual one only.

Every house of worship is a miniature Temple, and that's why a Reform Temple is called it a Temple instead of a synagogue.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 2 months ago

Tomorrow's forecast for Tehran: clear to partly cloudy in the morning, clearing in the afternoon. Temps will start out around 50 degrees at sunrise rising to 50000 degrees by noon. Expect a 400mph wind blowing from the direction of the former atom bomb factory.

Kathy Theis-Getto 6 years, 2 months ago

Israel is a terrorist nation, but they are our terrorists and they believe in the right "god".

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