Israel considers the option of war with Iran
Israelis are being asked again whether or not they support a proactive strike on Iran, even at the risk of starting a war. The overwhelming majority – more than 70% – say yes!
In a recent poll, just more than one in two also said that Israel should have attacked Iran years ago during the “early stages” of its nuclear development rather than wait for a negotiated settlement.
The debate is back in the news after last week’s reports that Jerusalem had approved $1.5 billion (R22.1 billion) for aircraft, intel-gathering drones, and unique armaments needed for a potential strike on Iran.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that even more funds would be necessary. “Israel is challenged militarily on many fronts,” he said, “the most significant threat facing Israel – and the one for which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) most needs to allocate its resources – is Iran and its nuclear programme”.
The goal of an Israeli strike on Tehran would be twofold.
Primarily, it would aim at preventing the regime from being able to build an atomic bomb. From the start, the previous Israeli government under then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was against the July 2015 nuclear deal signed between Tehran and world powers.
Under its terms, Iran agreed to dismantle much of its nuclear programme and open its facilities to more extensive international inspection in exchange for billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief.
But three years later, to Israel’s delight, former American president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement and since then, the Islamic Republic has again started to ramp up its nuclear activities. It has also refused access to the International Atomic Energy Agency to repair surveillance equipment damaged in a June attack on a nuclear site that has been blamed on Israel.
The blast destroyed a camera and heavily damaged another, although it’s unknown how many cameras are there in total.
There is now renewed rigor by the current American administration and European powers to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, but their patience is running thin. Tehran is stalling, even more so after ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi won the presidential election in June.
The second goal of a potential IDF strike on Iran would be to reduce the country’s efforts, through its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, to establish a permanent base of operation on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, close to the Israeli border.
In recent months Israel has conducted numerous strikes on Syria, the latest reportedly on Monday morning, 25 October, to prevent precisely this.
But such attacks are becoming more difficult for Israel as Syria continuously improves its air defence capabilities, partly due to upgraded Iranian-made components. Iran also recently begun deploying advanced air defence systems in Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon to protect its forces and proxies in those countries from Israeli strikes.
In a five-hour meeting last Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to maintain Moscow’s tacit acceptance of these strikes.
In spite of the fact that Bennett has replaced Netanyahu (only temporarily, many Israelis would tell you), the county’s leadership is on the same page when it comes to Iran.
Everyone – as in the Israeli political elite and the public – understands that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would effectively amount to declaring a war. For this reason, most in Israel would prefer the United States and Western countries to take the lead and for Israel not to have to shoulder the full responsibility and consequences of an attack on Iran.
There is also a lot of tension in the Islamic world, and Tehran is far from popular. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries in the Gulf that Israel recently signed peace treaties with, like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, are also concerned about Iran’s nuclear capability. But their messages are ambiguous, and it seems that their preference, at least in the short term, would be for actions short of war.
What’s more, an Israeli assault on a major Muslim country could very well unite Arab countries against the Jewish state.
First prize for Israel, of course, would be if any of these countries came on board a planned Iranian strike. But if they don’t, and before Iran’s nuclear programme reaches the point of no return, there seems to be an understanding in Israel that she would have to strike alone.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi has admitted that Israel has “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Iran’s nuclear programme.
Already at the beginning of the year, Kohavi publicly declared that Israel was preparing fresh “operational plans” for a potent military strike. Two months ago, he admitted that Iran’s nuclear progress had prompted the IDF “to speed up its operational plans”. Reports suggest that an IDF strike plan is in the “draft stage”.
But an Israeli strike on Iran presents numerous challenges. In addition to having to find ways to strike Iranian facilities that are buried deep underground and that require specialised munitions and tactics, the Israeli Air Force will have to deal with increasingly sophisticated Iranian air defences in order to conduct such a strike. The air force will also have to prepare for an expected retaliation against Israel by Iran and its allies throughout the region.
The Iranians, for their part, have sounded a note of defiance in the face of Israeli threats.
One of Iran’s most senior leaders recently threatened that if Israel attacked its nuclear programme, the country’s response would require Israel to spend “tens of thousands of billion dollars” to reconstruct the country.
Israel views the Iranian nuclear project as a near existential threat. Amidst the international community’s hesitancy regarding Tehran’s real intentions and reluctance to take action – at least for now – Jerusalem will increasingly prepare for a D-Day when it might just be forced to go the road alone.