Friday, June 20, 2008

Israel's Two-Track Strategy against Iran

The Israeli power elite are pursuing a two-track strategy against Iran: make their own military threats against Iran, while their supporters push for a naval blockade against the country. The two go hand in hand with each other, as the former adds to pressures for the latter.

The latest example of the Israeli military threat is reported in today's New York Times:
Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

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More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the maneuvers, which were carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and over Greece during the first week of June, American officials said.

The exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew more than 900 miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, American officials said.

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But the scope of the Israeli exercise virtually guaranteed that it would be noticed by American and other foreign intelligence agencies. A senior Pentagon official who has been briefed on the exercise, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the matter, said the exercise appeared to serve multiple purposes.

One Israeli goal, the Pentagon official said, was to practice flight tactics, aerial refueling and all other details of a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear installations and its long-range conventional missiles.

A second, the official said, was to send a clear message to the United States and other countries that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium continued to falter.

"They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know," the Pentagon official said. "There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels." (Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, "U.S. Says Exercise by Israel Seemed Directed at Iran," 20 June 2008)
The threat like this has real power given the fact that Israel has gotten away with bombing the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981 and what it says was a nuclear facility in Syria in 2007.1

At the same time, the push for a naval blockade by a "coalition of the willing" is fast gaining influence in both the United States and Europe: Laura Rozen, "Tracing an Iran Oil Blockade Meme," MojoBlog, 30 May 2008; Emily Blout, "Is a New Congressional Resolution Declaring War with Iran?" National Iranian American Council, 12 June 2008; Knut Mellenthin, "Naval Blockade against Iran?" MRZine, 16 June 2008; and Carah Ong, "H.Con.Res. 362: Pushing for a Naval Blockade against Iran?" MRZine, 19 June 2008. Click here to sign the Just Foreign Policy-sponsored letter to oppose H. Con. Res. 362.

1 Citing retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, however, Robert Naiman argues that an Israeli bombing is unlikely to set back Iran's nuclear program very much: "'The signal I received is that Israel does NOT have the capability to effectively attack Iran's nuclear facilities,' Col. Gardiner says" ("Is Israel Really Preparing to Attack Iran? Col. Gardiner Says No," Huffington Post, 20 June 2008). Naiman is most likely correct that the Israeli war drums are just for the purpose of drumming up support for a US-led military blockade and other coercive measures. Before Israel bombed Syria, for instance, it didn't make a peep about its intention -- it just went ahead and did it. So, all this saber rattling might even be evidence (such as it is) that Israel, too, doesn't see any viable military option. Then again, though, putting a stop to Iran's nuclear program is not the main goal of the Israeli power elite, nor is it that of the empire.

Update 1

From the FWIW department: "Russia's Foreign Minister Strongly Warns against Use of Force on Iran," Associated Press, 20 June 2008.

Update 2

More from the FWIW department: Lin Noueihed and Firouz Sedarat, "U.N Atom Watchdog Chief Says to Quit If Iran Attacked," Reuters, 20 June 2008.

Update 3

Barack Obama says that Israel is justified in militarily threatening Iran: Caren Bohan, "Obama: Israel Justified in Providing for Security" Reuters, 20 June 2008. Now that the Democratic primaries are over, what little rhetorical difference that existed between Obama and the other candidates on Iran in particular and the Middle East in general has already melted down, though it's only June and we have months to go before election day.

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