An Existential Question
By Ehud Eilam
…a nuclear Iran
is like the Cuban missile crisis in 1962: too close to home and too
threatening. Wasn’t the United
States, too, considering a military option?
Translated by Viktoria
Edited by Steven Stenzler
Even if it wants to believe so,
the State of Israel is not self-dependent. An aggressive action on Iran won’t be accepted by the U.S. if it does not suit its
The United States spearheads a wave of tighter
sanctions, creating economic and political pressure on Iran, with the purpose
to make it give up, or at least freeze, its pursuit of nuclear weapons. It
looks like the Israeli interest is to persuade the United
States that the attack on Iran can’t be ruled out – and
downplay the negative consequences of such an action. The interest of the
American administration is the opposite: to highlight the shortcomings of the
The American approach
could be also examined based on the events that occurred in the past. In the 1956
Sinai War, Israel
struck Egypt before the
latter deployed a large amount of conventional weapons – a step perceived from Israel’s vantage point as a future
threat. At the moment, Israel
might raid Iran before it achieves
a nuclear capability that would threaten Israel.
In the full swing of the
election campaign for the United States
presidency, the Eisenhower administration acted against Israel. Now, Israel may attack again during the ongoing U.S.
presidential election campaign and constrain
President Obama, mostly because of the Jewish vote.
It will be vital to Israel –
both at the political and military level – should a confrontation with Iran
and Hezbollah develop that would certainly evoke harsh criticism around the
world. For example, because of the rise in the price of oil.
Nevertheless, if the United States,
even without direct involvement, is hurt by the Israeli incursion on Iran, it is likely to lead to a significant
reduction in support for Israel.
From the Israeli
Standpoint, a Nuclear Iran
Is like the Cuban Missile Crisis
At the time of the Cold War,
the United States
was exposed to a Soviet nuclear blow. Following this logic, Israel too could tolerate an Iranian nuclear threat.
nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union was also threatening Israel indirectly because of the risk it posed
to the country’s American patron – and to some extent also directly in the
course of fire exchanges between Israel
and Syria with Egypt, whose patron was the Soviet
Israel made peace with that
out of no choice, but from its viewpoint, a nuclear Iran is like the Cuban missile
crisis in 1962: too close to home and too threatening. Wasn’t the United States,
too, considering a military option?
In 1981, Israel
wiped out the Iraqi nuclear reactor before its turning “hot.” Today, the
gradual improvement in the strength of protection, even of some parts of the
Iranian nuclear infrastructure, is likely within less than a year to prevent the
IDF* from bringing about substantial damage to it in a conventional way.
After that, even if only for a limited period, the United States
will be able to perform the mission, but will still not necessarily want to do
that. It must be remembered that the Americans were angry with Israel in
the wake of the foray on the Iraqi reactor in 1981, but if Iraq, a decade after
that, possessed nuclear weapons, it is definitely possible that the United
States would be forced to reconcile with the occupation of Kuwait, and further
on probably of Saudi Arabia, too, by the troops of Saddam Hussein.
Wait – and Then Strike
Should Israel attack and
slow down the Iranian progress towards attaining nuclear weapons it could aid
the United States in the
future if a confrontation breaks out between it and the bullying Iran – as Iraq
in its time bullied the American allies in the Persian
If Iran wants to avoid spiraling into a conflict in
the aftermath of an assault on its nuclear infrastructure, it could wait – and
then strike; and not specifically Israel, but the Israeli Embassy.
Even so, in Israel
and worldwide, [we] maintain a high alert against such move, as from the days
of the Imad Mughniyeh**
assassination in 2008.
According to my estimation,
Israel may put up with a situation where Iran would deliver a wallop in
response not only on an Israeli site, but on American targets as well,
including on American soil, with all the criticism and damage likely to be
caused as a result of that to the status of Israel in the United States.
In Washington, voices are growing stronger
that call on Congress to approve the transfer to Israel of 200 “GBU-31” bunker-busting
bombs and three aerial refueling aircraft. Not necessarily for encouraging the
assault, but rather in order to project power that would push Iran to sit at the negotiation
table with the West.
This way or another, an Israeli offensive would lean on American platforms,
which is going to give the Iranians a pretext to hit American targets.
Ultimately, in the United States,
[they] are very well aware of Israel’s
concern; nonetheless, it’s only an ally, not the 51st state, and the
superpower cares first and foremost for its own interests. Israel, of course, should strive to avert Iran from nuclear weapons – but without cracking
the core of the support it receives from the United States.
* The Israel Defense Forces (lit. "Defensive Army for Israel")
** senior member of Lebanon's Hezbollah, described as the head of its security
section, a senior intelligence official and one of the founders of the
organization; among other things – mastermind of the Beirut barracks bombing and US embassy bombings.
Eliminated February 12, 2008 by a car bomb in the neighborhood of Damascus, Syria