by Adam Harmon
I’ll save you the suspense. Israel is going to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.
Of late, many have been discussing the virtues, challenges, risks, and potential consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran. Depending who you ask, a preemptive attack is an absolute necessity, the lesser of two evils, unwise, or reckless. Unfortunately, no well-informed and intellectually honest individual could say that they know the right course of action. There are rational arguments on all sides of this debate, but I’m not going to discuss why I think Israel should or shouldn’t attack. I’m going to tell you why they will attack. It’s already a done deal.
First, Israeli leaders believe that a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and the Israeli public agrees. 90% think Iran is building nuclear weapons and 43% of the country support a military strike. Israeli leaders genuinely believe that they have a responsibility to keep the Jewish people safe and take a threat of this magnitude very seriously. The phrase “Never Again” isn’t just rhetoric and Israeli leaders aren’t just posturing when they say that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.
Second, Israeli leaders know that world powers will not stop Iran. Israeli warnings have been ignored for a decade. The sanctions being imposed now may have had an impact, if they had been instituted ten years ago when Israel first sounded the alarm. For the Israelis, it’s too little too late. By time sanctions take full effect in July, the Iranian nuclear program will be so deep underground that even the world’s most powerful munitions may not be able to reach it. The Israelis know that the US is not going to attack Iran. The US fears an increase in Iranian-sponsored attacks on US forces in the Middle East more than they fear a nuclear armed Iran. Israel knows that it is on its own.
Third, Israeli citizens are willing and able to face the repercussions of an attack on Iran. The Israeli public has demonstrated tremendous resiliency in the face of daily missile and terror attacks. Even though Israelis rightly expect that thousands of missiles will be launched from Lebanon and Gaza, Hezbollah and Hamas might not attack. Hezbollah and Hamas know they will pay a heavy political price for instigating devastation on Lebanon and Gaza just to please Iran. Both terror organizations have restrained themselves over the last five years because they each lost power and influence after the last time they picked a fight with Israel. They know another attack on Israel will further diminish their power at home. In any event, Israeli leaders aren’t letting concerns about a Hezbollah and Hamas retaliation impact their decision because they know the Israeli public will endure the repercussions of a strike on Iran.
Fourth, Israelis like proving that every challenge can be overcome. As with Iran today, many experts believed that Israel could not destroy the Iraqi Osirak nuclear plant. It was deemed too far and complicated given the distance and Israel’s resources. Israel gleefully proved them wrong. Syria used one of the world’s most sophisticated anti-aircraft systems to protect its secret nuclear facility. In 2007, Israel essentially found the defense system’s off switch and destroyed the facility in minutes. Iranian facilities are highly distributed and much better protected than anything the Israeli military has encountered before, but Israeli planners will come up with an innovative solution to the problem. They always do. Only time will tell if it works, but Israeli leaders will believe that success is possible and that will give them the confidence needed to authorize IDF commanders to strike.
Fifth, Israeli security depends on a strong deterrence. Israel makes the price of attacking it so high that its enemies think twice before attacking again. This deterrence is the reason why Arab nations stopped conducting all-out wars with Israel. In 1973, when Israel overcame the surprise attack and decimated the Arab armies, the Arab nations finally understood that attacking Israel was a pointless exercise. This is why Sadat came to Israel and signed a peace agreement. Hamas and Hezbollah have been restraining themselves since their last fight with Israel. A successful attack on Iran – especially if it also includes successful operations against Hezbollah and Hamas – will significantly strengthen Israeli deterrence. Israeli leaders also recognize that they have been talking about the Iranian threat and Israel’s readiness to preemptively strike for years. If Israel does nothing and Iran builds a nuclear weapon, the Israeli military will appear weak. Israeli leaders believe inaction will lead to a surge in attacks from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and perhaps even Egypt and Jordan.
Israelis see the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat, they know that the world community will not stop the Iranians, they believe they have a way to accomplish the mission, they see themselves as being prepared for the backlash, and they think that the price of failing to act is much higher than the price of taking action. For these five reasons, Israel will attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. Given the timelines leaked to the media, it looks like Israel will strike soon - most likely in the next three months.