Gideon Levy Debunks the Myth of Israel’s “Military Option” Against Iran

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy’s most recent column applies Israel’s inability to effectively combat fires in the Carmel forest to the broader context of the limits of Israeli power. Specifically, Levy says those who push for an Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities are promoting a set of strategies which may represent an existential threat to Israel’s survivial.

He writes:

The apocalyptic descriptions of a missile attack on the home front if Israel attacks Iran or Lebanon appear even more apocalyptic in light of Israel’s conduct when handling a medium-sized forest fire.


The next wars will be home-front wars. This time the Israeli home front will be hit in a way we have never experienced. The first Gulf war and the Second Lebanon War were only the movie trailer for what could happen. An attack of thousands of missiles, as predicted by experts, will create a reality Israel will find hard to withstand. It isn’t equipped for it, as we saw on the Carmel, and it isn’t prepared for it, as we saw in the Lebanon war.

Levy calls on Israeli leaders to adopt a realist, security oriented worldview, whether they be “adventurists” or “commandos” and accept that an attack on Iran “is not really an option.” The missile onslaught that would follow an attack on Iran would be far more lethal than anything experienced in the Lebanon war, Gulf War or Gaza War.

A thousand new fire trucks and even the Iron Dome missile defense system will not provide protection. You can’t build a fortress for every citizen.

Levy turns the “existential threat” threat rhetoric, typically aimed at Iran, on its head by arguing, “the only existential option is integrating into the region (a term coined decades ago by Uri Avnery).”

He concludes:

It was the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who once acknowledged in a private conversation that the main consideration that got him to the Oslo process was the realization of the limits of Israeli power. We’ve weakened since then, not only because of the threats to the home front, but because of our international standing. If we recognize this and understand that the military option has become unrealistic, except as a deterrent or an act of desperation, we will understand that there is only the diplomatic option, no other, and it is still open to us.

Levy is not alone in emphasizing the devastating consequences of what an Israeli or U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities bring. Back in August, Patrick Disney, the former Assistant Policy Director for the National Iranian-American Council and the publisher of Talking Warheads, detailed the likely aftermath of a military strike on Iran.

He concluded:

Unfortunately, dropping bombs on Iran now is the surest way to uproot any hope for peaceful democratic change in the country. The hardliners will most likely use an act of foreign aggression as justification for a brutal crackdown, and the focus of political discourse will shift away from questions of internal reforms and regime legitimacy toward external threats and the need to rally the nation’s defenses.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. Information available to anyone shows with abundant clarity that Iran is too well-developed economically and militarily to be stopped or deterred by bombing. It has no allies other than North Korea and possibly Pakistan. But an attack by Israel would enrage the “Arab Street” enough to force Arab countries which now fear Iran to suddenly act to defend it.

    And Israel does not possess the military power now to defend itself from another onslaught – especially if Pakistan weighed in with nukes.

    Clausewitz had it wrong – war is the FAILURE of diplomacy.

  2. Although I agree that an attack on Iran would create dangerous and long-lasting blowback, I can’t agree with the analysis that “thousands of missiles” will rain down on Israel in response. Does Levy really think the Israeli armed forces will strike at Iran’s nuclear capability and then sit back and wait to see what happens? An attack could encompass strikes on Iran’s conventional retaliatory capabilities, and though these would certainly not be knocked out 100%, Israel would retain counterstrike capability that would make Iran think long and hard before attacking the Israeli “homeland.” Even under a nuke facilities only strike plan, Israel’s ability to hit back would almost certainly stop Iran from any type of direct, massive retaliation.

    Now if the launching of missiles by Hezbollah or Hamas such as we have seen before is meant, that certainly could occur. But Israel is not going to fold as a result of such attacks. It will simply reenter Lebanon and/or Gaza to clear out, as best as it can, the launchers.

    A strike on Iran would be answered by pin-prick operations — suicide bombings, perhaps, missile attacks as we have seen in the past, possibly raids on border areas. Terrorism around the world against Israeli, American, and Jewish targets would certainly take place. The Iranian military might try to close the Strait of Hormuz, but long-range missile or bomber attacks on Israel simply aren’t going to happen, at least not in any strength. Iran would be facing even greater destruction of its military and civilian infrastructure if it attempted anything like Levy describes.

    The pin-prick operations could go on for years, possibly decades, and some of them might have devastating results in terms of civilian casualties. But a strike of Iran, though awful for everybody involved, would not lead to Armageddon in the Middle East. Much as I agree with Levy’s ideas about what Israeli policy should be, the notions that he and his unnamed “experts” put forth about the military consequences of an attack on Iran are largely fantasy.

  3. Jon, You maybe looking at a game of chicken from only one side. That creates a comforting illusion based on exagggeration of one side’s ability to attack, and the other side’s inability to respond other than in ways which will prove all the ‘terrorist’ accusations leveled at it for decades, while simultaneously celebrates the other side’s commendable (but ahistorical) restraint.

    I find it difficult to believe that the Iranian military has not convinced the Iranian government that its assets are an effective match. They may even have convinced Israel to think long and hard before starting a war.

    In this particular case absence of evidence IS the evidence of absence. That neither side is willing to enter the ring though they both shout aplenty from the ringside is evidence of absence of a clear edge enjoyed by either side.

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