While America Sleeps

Peter Berkowitz has been spending time in Israel this summer. In “Bibi’s choice,” he reports on the perception of Israelis regarding the choices they confront on Iran’s nuclear program. Berkowitz writes:

Conversations over the last few weeks with more than a dozen members of Israel’s larger national security community–right and left, scholars and military men and women, some coming out of the army and others the air force, some with decades of experience in military intelligence and others in clandestine operations, some former Knesset members and others former, current, and soon-to-be advisers to prime ministers–suggest it is fair to conclude that the professionals agree with the public that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is a game changer. Among them, there is a consensus that Israel has the technological capacity to undertake a military strike that would inflict heavy damage on Iran’s nuclear program. Such a strike, they also believe, would involve unprecedented challenges and risks, including the likelihood of a significant military response by Iran and its allies. Accordingly, an urgent internal debate is well underway in Israel concerning the circumstances in which the country should strike, alternative options, and, in the event that Iran does acquire nuclear weapons, the structure of an effective containment regime….

[T]he experts with whom I spoke were willing to discuss in broad outline Israel’s capacity to destroy or substantially degrade Iran’s nuclear facilities. All would be delighted to see engagement, diplomacy, or sanctions succeed. All emphasized that a military strike must be the last resort, chosen only after every other option has been fully exploited. All believe that a green light from the United States, or at least a yellow light, would be indispensable. And they seem convinced that Israel has good intelligence about vital Iranian targets and could, if necessary, with a combination of aircraft and ballistic missiles, bring enough firepower to bear to set the Iranian program back far enough to justify the substantial risks.

Berkowitz cites the study by Anthony Cordesman and Abdullah Toukan on a possible Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program. The study is accessible here. Berkowtiz adds that even if an attack went according to plan, Israel would face considerable costs, both military and political, and outlines six possible responses to an Israeli attack that his Israeli interlocutors envisages.

Buried in the middle of his analysis is the predicate that Israel receive a green or yellow light for a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. If I read the Obama administration right, the chances of that are somewhere between slim to none. Commenting on Obama’s Cairo speech, Berkowitz states: “[I]t would have been hard to project to a rapt world greater equivocation concerning Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons if the president had deliberately concentrated his vaunted rhetorical gifts on the task.”

Although Berkowitz does not explore the Obama administration’s thinking beyond this comment, Berkowitz’s article provides interesting insight into the thinking of knowledgeable Israelis the choices confronting Israel.

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