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Israel: How will it respond to Iran?

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21 August 2008 12:08

Guest blogger: Alex Duchen (pictured) is a Research Associate at the Lowy Institute.

So what is Israel going to do with Iran? Israel’s been giving some pretty clear indications lately. In late 2007, on the eve of a visit to Russia, President Shimon Peres pointed out what, to most Israelis, is the bleeding obvious. He said 'everyone knows their true intentions, and many intelligence agencies throughout the world have proof that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons for the purpose of war and death. … we must not underestimate Iran’s statements about annihilating Israel or moving it to Alaska'.

Then, in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in June, Olmert ramped up the rhetoric, saying 'all possible means' must be used to stop Iran from acquiring nukes. The speech came at around the same time Israel was conducting a military exercise in the Mediterranean which Shmuel Rosner noted 'looked suspiciously like a dry run for an attack on Iran'.

Foreign policy heavies at a major international conference on preventive force in Japan in May (including former US secretary of state George P. Schultz, Kim Beazley, Princeton Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter and the Lowy Institute’s Martine Letts) discussed the difference between Israel’s relatively simple strike on the Syrian reactor in September last year and the much bigger job of identifying targets in Iran and then making an effective strike. Wonks worry that a strike on Iran, like the 1981 attack on the Osirak reactor in Iraq, won’t stop Iran, may delay it somewhat, but ultimately will just drive its program further underground.

Counter to this, Rosner’s theory is that, whatever constraints Israel faces as a result of its military capability, or the complexity and uncertainty surrounding the size of Iran’s military program, its purpose in a strike would be to 'stir the pot' of international geopolitics and wake the world up to the threat posed by Iran, making it an international issue rather than just one for Israel. In other words, diplomacy by force.

Matters will be somewhat complicated by the Israeli elections, brought on by Ehud Olmert’s decision (dogged by claims of corruption and an official corruption investigation) to step down from the prime ministership in September. The two most likely candidates to take over power, according to various reports are Shaul Mofaz (a former defence minister), and Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu. Both are seen as hawks, making a strike appear almost inevitable in the face of current international paralysis.

Former US Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, seems to agree. In a recent speech at the Lowy Institute, Indyk appeared to identify strongly with the Israeli sense of self-preservation:

If you’re the prime minister of the Jewish State, right, and you have the responsibility for ensuring the survival of the commonwealth, and that is your primary responsibility because, you know, your state has been destroyed and it was recreated in a kind of a miracle… and there you’ve got, in this generation, a leadership in Iran that is saying they want to wipe Israel off the map. They’re not disguising their intentions, and Ahmadinejad’s not the only one who’s said it, Raf-sanjani [former president of Iran] said it, a very reasonable, pragmatic leader, he said it too. So, what would you do if you were Israel’s prime minister? Would you take it seriously?

Would you?

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