Among the responses to Prime Minister Netanyahu's appearance at the recent AIPAC convention are assertions that Israelis must be aware of the costs of an attack on Iran.
They come from the the Foreign Minister of France, various unnamed sources said to be high in the American administration, plus a growing list of bloggers, journalists, and politicians, including Israelis.
In fact, Israelis have been discussing the pros and cons of an attack, including its costs. Israeli officials brought their concerns to the attention of Americans at least as early as 1992. For the better part of a decade at least, there has been no other issue so prominent in Israel's media. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Threats_to_Israel/Iran.html
Among the costs that have been recognized:
•The likelihood of Iranian retaliation in aircraft and missile attacks on Israel, as well as terror attacks on overseas Israeli and Jewish targets.
•An unleashing of the stockpiles of tens of thousands of missiles against Israel that are in the hands of Iranian clients in Lebanon, Gaza, and Syria.
•Estimates of Israeli deaths from the initial wave of attacks have ranged from 500 to several thousand.
•Iranian attacks on American civilian and military targets.
•Closing of the Persian Gulf, which would add to the spike in fuel prices caused by market panic that may already have begun on account of discussions about attack, and will increase dramatically with an actual attack.
•Drawing the United States and perhaps other countries into a war with Iran, which may spill over into a conflict with Iran's ally Russia, perhaps with an unleashing of the nuclear weapons of Pakistan in behalf of its Muslim coreligionists.
•A world wave of anti-Semitism, as Jewish provocation is blamed for the increase in fuel prices, economic dislocations that result, as well as all the material and human losses of whatever military actions follow Israel's attack.
•Among the harshest comments in domestic Israeli politics came from Tzipi Livni, still the leader of the opposition party Kadima. She attacked the Prime Minister for playing the Holocaust card in his Washington speech. To her, Israel is not the Jewish community of 1944, and Iran is not the Nazi regime.
An American correspondent perceived a serious escalation of anti-Semitism even before Prime Minister's appearance at AIPAC:
"The sad, scary and amazing fact is that the Jews will vote for Obama again. That would be akin to lining up for the trains once again. When Israel attacks, all unintended consquences will be blamed on the Jews. My gentile friends know that they may be hiding my family in their walls. Those who have told me honestly that they wouldn't take the risk for us are now off our list. Another gentile friend has set us up to meet a relative . . . who has an amazing underground shelter--maybe they will hide us. The anti-semites are coming out now, new ones every day. Thanks Obama."
Israel's media discussions have been nuanced, and deal with possibilities that run counter to the most dire of speculations.
We hear that the Israeli air force can deal with attacking Iranian aircraft, but not so thoroughly with missile attacks. There are recent reports that leading figures of Hizbollah and Hamas have indicated that they will stay out of such a fight, or not necessarily join it. These may reflect Israeli comments that it would be unrestrained in punishing Lebanon and Gaza in the event of any attacks from those sources.
While it has been suggested that the Syrian government might act against Israel in an effort to rally its population against the Zionist enemy, a counter assessment is that the Syrian regime is preoccupied with a far more serious internal problem. Indeed, the weakness of Syria, and its spillover to Hizbollah and Hamas are viewed as indications of greater Iranian vulnerability, which advocates cite in arguing for Israel acting against its principal threat.
Against those who worry about Pakistan's nuclear weapons are assessments that the majority of Sunni Muslims, and their governments, would support (at least quietly and perhaps actively) an Israeli attack against the aggressive Shi'ites of Iran.
Countering the comments of Tzipi Livni is a front page report in Ha'aretz that a recent poll shows that she would lead Kadima to 10 seats in the Knesset, down from its present 28. Netanyahu would lead Likud to 37 seats, up from its present 27. (Ha'aretz March 8)
See, for example, http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?ID=260818&R=R1
At one time, it looked as if the United States and Israel might be engaging in a common effort of disinformation, reading from the same script meant to push Iran toward greater openness or greater receptivity to serious negotiations, or perhaps to push Europeans, Russian, and Chinese authorities to increased sanctions. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu was not reading from an Obama script at the AIPAC convention. A reading between the lines of his comments seemed closer to the script of the President's political adversaries in the ongoing Republican primaries.
Among the subtexts that it is possible to perceive in the Prime Minister's speech was not so much a threat to attack Iran in the coming days, but a prodding of the White House in the context of domestic American politics. Reports are that as many as one half the members of Congress were in the audience. An Israeli's optimistic reading of Defense Secretary Panetta's AIPAC speech (coming after those of the President and the Prime Minister) is that it took a firmer line toward an eventual American attack on Iran, perhaps reflecting the Administration's awareness of the political winds fanned by the Prime Minister.
All this discussion of speculation, and competitive reading of subtexts and tea-leaves should not overlook what appears to be a serious Israel concern, expressed by important figures at the summit of policymaking, although not necessarily shared by a majority of the population or all those who will take part in a decision. That was a prominent theme of the Prime Minister's speech, i.e., that Iran's possession of nuclear weapons would amount to a strategic threat that bears comparison with the most momentous disasters of Jewish history.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem