Countdown to Zero in Tehran and Jerusalem

By Daniel Greenfield l February 4, 2012

There was a time when Israel did not deal with existential threats by urging the Americans to do something. That time was fairly recent. When Saddam decided he wanted to have his own nuclear reactor, fourteen Israeli Air Force jets put an end to his dream. The year was 1981.

The Reagan Administration supported a UN resolution condemning Israel which stated that it was in “clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct” and which fully recognized “the inalienable sovereign right of Iraq, and all other States, especially the developing countries, to establish programmes of technological and nuclear development.”

Prime Minister Begin, easily the most conservative PM to hold the office, replied bluntly “No ‘sword of Damocles’ is going to hang over our head.”

Four years ago Israel launched a quieter attack on a nuclear reactor in Syria, this time with the likely approval and assistance of the United States. Now after all the whitewashing of Iran’s nuclear program, it is coming down to the bottom line. Either a comprehensive attack will be launched or Iran’s nuclear program will pass the point of no return.

While there are some doubts about whether Israel has the capability to take out the program, in the past they have found innovative ways to do the impossible. It is quite likely that there is a plan on someone’s desk for getting the job done. The plan is probably bold, seemingly unworkable and reads as insane to experienced hands, but that would also describe the opening strike of the Six Day War or the Entebbe raid.

The question is why hasn’t it been carried out yet and the likely answer is Obama. Not just Obama, but the oddball mix of Clintonites and left-wing Chicago radicals who would be in a prime position to oppose or support any such move. Just as with the takedown of Bin Laden, it is likely that there are figures in the administration who support such a move and those who oppose it.

Israel has no doubt been hoping for a repeat of 2007 and an operation that takes place with the support and cover of the United States. A quiet operation that will mostly go unmentioned. Israel has been hanging on in the hopes that if it walks through the steps laid out by Washington, DC. then it will finally get the go ahead and any of the equipment and local support it needs to get the job done as comprehensively and safely as possible.

The Israeli cabinet and defense establishment has been having its own quiet debate on the subject, just as it did before taking out Osirak. As then the lefties are opposed, but their best ammo comes from DC, which has doubtlessly been stringing Israel along and promising that if Israel is patient then the problem will be taken care of. To the right the argument has no doubt been that the United States will not do anything and that Israel needs to do it alone.

Panetta’s statements in the past few weeks peg him as either an idiot or a man sending the signal that Israel is going to have to go it alone. If Panetta was an opponent of direct action all along, which may well be the case, then he is trying to sabotage any possible Israeli operation while disavowing any responsibility for it. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has been waiting for the Obamanoids to bring down the Netanyahu government and pave the way for his ascension, has begun talking tough on Iran. And talking in terms of a timeline. That’s more significant than anything else, but with the double eye of politics it can be read two ways.

Either Barak is rushing to get ahead and claim credit for any strike. Or he’s rushing ahead to claim credit for being tough on Iran, even as he knows that no strike will be carried out because he and his leftist allies have sabotaged any internal momentum on it. But as tempting as it is to be cynical about Barak, and there are plenty of reasons for that, the full substance of his remarks, which are beyond the scope of this piece, suggest a Barak and Netanyahu consensus has been reached on an attack. The triumphalist tone and the camaraderie indicate that the political cards have been dealt.

If the ball is finally rolling on the Israeli side then the situation in Washington has to be tense. It is doubtful that the Obama Administration would back any Israeli strike, openly or under the table. Whatever promises were made to the Israelis in exchange for patience were never sincere and if Israel seriously expected that when the checkpoints were reached and Israel stuck with a covert campaign, that Washington would support a strike, they were kidding themselves. And it would not be the first time.

The campaign of sabotage against Iran’s infrastructure and scientists that is being conducted by unknown actors has gotten a lot of attention recently. While the campaign has been blamed on Israel, it is likelier a CIA project being conducted by existing insurgent groups opposed to Iran, with the Saudis as the facilitators. Because this isn’t just an America or Israel deal, most of the Gulf oil states who have a lot more pull in Washington have a major stake in this and want something done.

The Obama Administration does not particularly care about Iran’s nuclear capacity. Its priority is democratic change in the region. Some of the Chicago crew believes Iran has a right to nuclear development or that its nuclear program would help achieve the Kissingeresque goal of cutting Israel down to size. But this administration also has an affinity for covert ops and it has likely signed on to joint covert sabotage efforts to keep the Israelis from doing something drastic.

Considering the sheer number of Clinton people around, some of them were probably involved in Operation Merlin which attempted to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program by providing flawed nuclear plans. Operation Merlin badly backfired and helped the Iranians instead. Stuxnet was likely an idea that came from the minds behind Merlin that Israeli cyberwarfare specialists, namely hackers recruited to work on security operations, made into a moderately workable plan.

The blunt force assassinations may or may not have administration approval, but if they were, they were being carried out for the same reason, to keep the Israelis and Saudis from doing something more direct about the problem. The assassinations won’t stop the program, but they are a warning shot across the bow. The problem is that warning shots don’t stop nuclear missiles.

As the countdown to zero continues, it’s become more obvious than ever that nothing short of direct action will. But everyone has their own interests at stake.

The Iranian opposition doesn’t want an Israeli strike because it would politically benefit the regime, which might be the case but the opposition has already had its chance to overthrow the government and failed to do it. Diplomats may have confidence in a peaceful transition coming some day, but that day is much too far away, assuming it will even ever come. And should it come there is no reason to believe that the figures at the top of the opposition pile would be averse to a nuclear program or to using it against Israel.

Obama is not a fan of bombing Muslim countries, unless it is on behalf of other Muslim countries. His whole foreign affairs strategy was based around winning the Muslim world over and even an Israeli raid conducted with zero approval and even opposition would still be blamed on the United States. Additionally with an election coming up, a bombing raid could escalate into something bigger and affect oil prices. Given a choice between winning an election or a nuclear bomb in Tel Aviv, no one seriously doubts which he will choose.

The Saudis want Iran’s nuclear program gone, but they don’t want their Shiite rivals scoring martyr points in a confrontation with Israel. Their ideal operation would be as quiet as the Syrian reactor bombing, but even they know that isn’t likely to happen, not with an operation of this scope. And if the operation has to happen, then it’s better for Israel to get the blame, rather than fellow Muslim countries who might be involved in some small way too.

Finally there is Israel, where everyone who isn’t working for Haaretz or the EU agrees that something needs to be done. The debate has always come down to when and how. In security matters most Israelis still assume that the government will eventually do something about a security problem, even as they curse its ineptitude in all other areas.

The primary calculus for this type of decision making is the United States. In the past, the Israelis went full speed ahead and apologized to Washington, DC for it later. That species of confidence is nearly extinct. Boldness and courage are atypical not only among politicians, for whom it was never typical, but among the top military brass who authorized insane operations and even participated in them.

Still the clock is ticking. Whatever arrangements Jerusalem made with Washington, DC are reaching the end. Netanyahu is often timid, but he isn’t stupid. The only thing that might still be slowing him down is the possibility that the elections will swap out Obama for a less hostile figure, but waiting until a new administration gets settled in would take too long. That doesn’t mean he might not do it anyway, but it has become much less likely. And a Romney Administration might be friendlier than the current one, but the return of Sununu is not exactly a harbinger of excellent relations either.

Adlai Stevenson blamed Israel for his loss to Eisenhower over the Suez Canal War. That grudge was carried on by his son who served as the United States Senator from Illinois. Carter, who blamed the loss of support from American Jews over his hostility to Israel for his defeat, has turned his grudge into a full time career of bashing the Jewish State. If Obama were to go down to defeat and blame Israel, he could certainly do a good deal of damage, even out of office, more if he were to break with recent precedent and try to reclaim his Senate seat.

But Obama doesn’t seem the type to let a single grudge consume this much of his focus and even if he were to go Full Carter, he couldn’t do nearly as much damage as he has in office or as an Iranian bomb could do to Israel. Even if an Israeli strike were to make the election tougher for Obama, it is doubtful that he could do that much more damage than he has done already, particularly with plenty of partisan domestic fights to consume his attention.

As the clock counts down to zero, the only real element that matters is the atoms of political courage that have to reach critical mass for a strike that will either cripple or destroy Iran’s nuclear ambitions to take place.

Daniel Greenfield is a New York City-based writer and freelance commentator with a special focus on the War on Terror and the rising threat to Western Civilization. Mr. Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. He maintains a blog and is a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.