We’ve written about the hypothesis that all the fuss about Israel attacking Iran’s nuclear program is a means to encourage the United States to undertake such an attack in Israel’s stead.
Jennifer Rubin of Commentary has implicitly made this argument, noting that, faced with a U.S. or Israeli attack or an Iranian bomb, a U.S. attack on Iran is the “best of the disagreeable options.” Bret Stephens, in the Wall Street Journal, has made it explicitly.
Former U.S. diplomat Chas Freeman also mentioned this tactic in his latest speech at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations:
[Neocons] insist that the U.S. must risk regional or even global catastrophe by launching our own war with Iran. Otherwise, Israel will drag us into an even more catastrophic one.
Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf, reflecting on Jeffery Goldberg‘s Atlantic article on the likelihood of an Israeli attack, has even pointed out that the idea of attacking Iran is not a hotly debated topic in Israel itself. The upshot is that Goldberg cherry-picked the people he spoke to in order to convey the idea to the U.S. that Israel is serious about attacking.
Eli addressed this issue in his own initial reaction to Goldberg’s Atlantic story:
Of course to make this threat work, hawks need to convince the White House and the U.S. public that the Israelis just might be foolhardy enough to attack unilaterally.
And, indeed, far-right Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is doing a lot of convincing these days. Haaretz has picked up a Reuters report about how Lieberman has initiated the creation of a ‘day after’ contingency plan that, from Reuters‘s description, could prescribe how to either deal with a nuclear Iran or how to deal with the fallout from an Israeli attack on an Iranian nuclear installations.
Haaretz (with my emphasis):
In a sign the government is examining a full range of options, Lieberman, the most hawkish member of Netanyahu’s coalition, has ordered ministry strategists to draft a paper on “what to do if we wake up and discover the Iranians have a nuclear weapon”, said the senior Israeli political source, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter. […]
Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal. Its aircraft bombed Iraq’s atomic reactor in 1981 and launched a similar sortie against Syria in 2007.
But many independent experts believe Israeli forces could not take on Iran alone. The Iranians have dug in, dispersed and prepared to defend many of their nuclear facilities.
Even were its warplanes to manage a successful sneak attack, Israel would almost certainly suffer retaliatory Iranian missile salvoes worse than the short-range rocket attacks of Lebanese and Palestinian guerrillas in the 2006 and 2009 border wars.
There would be a wider diplomatic reckoning: World powers are in no rush to see another regional conflagration, especially while sanctions are still being pursued against an Iranian nuclear programme which Tehran says is peaceful.
The planning department of Israel’s Foreign Ministry is one of several units guiding government strategy. Chief among these are the National Security Council and an inner cabinet made up of Netanyahu and six other top ministers, including Lieberman. Netanyahu’s office declined comment on the Lieberman initiative. A senior Israeli official said: “The government’s position is that all attempts have to be made to prevent Iran from going nuclear.”
Israel’s government has voiced cautious confidence in sanctions. But it also believes Tehran could have a nuclear warhead as soon as 2012-2014, an assessment shared by some in the West.
Israeli defence officials have placed a priority on improving the national missile shield and bolstering a network of civilian bomb shelters – a posture that may herald resilience in the face of an eventual nuclear-armed Iran or a bracing for reprisals should Israel strike Iran first.