Andy,In my opinion, this oped likely represents another example of an unstoppable force (Israeli strategic doctrine) meeting an immovable object (the limits of Israeli military power).That a highly intelligent man like Ephraim Sneh should make quite fantastic claims about the ability of Israel, alone and unaided, to set back the Iranian nuclear programme is something which, I think, needs explaining. It may be that he has simply succumbed to hubris. But it is also possible that he is being less than candid.There is, it seems to me, no reason to question the sincerity of his claim that Israel is under 'existential threat', or to dismiss it as paranoia .Unlike Netanyahu, Sneh is not attempting to conjure up alarm by suggesting an Iranian nuclear capability would be under the control of irrational -- and by implication undeterrable -- fanatics. Rather, he is focusing on the crucial questions of the psychological impact of such a capability, and its impact on r isk-taking, in the context of Israel's intractable demographic problems: considerations to which the ability to deter deliberate attack is of very limited relevance.Certainly might dispute Sneh's conclusions, but they hardly self-evidently silly: Israel cannot live in the shadow of a nuclear Iran. Immigration will cease, more young people will emigrate and foreign investments will diminish.
An Israel that is no longer a safe home for Diaspora Jews and is not characterized by entrepreneurship and excellence means an end to the Zionist dream.A nuclear Iran will increase the audacity of the region's extremists, threaten the moderates and lead within a few years to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The regional balance of power will change to Israel's disadvantage. Although Nasrallah would obviously call things by different names, it is not clear to me that his reading of Israeli vulnerabilities is fundamentally different.So what options are open to Israel to avert the hardly so very implausible scenario which Sneh is conjuring up?One possibility to which he refers could be the kind of '"crippling sanctions" that might perhaps undermine the regime in Tehran. But a necessary condition for these would be the participation of China and of Russia -- which at the moment does not seem very likely.Failing the internal collapse of the regime in Tehran, one is indeed back to the massive discrepancy between the requirements of Israeli strategic doctrine and the capabilities of Israeli military power, which you pinpoint in your comment. The only way to square the circle is to enlist the massive military capabilities of the United States in support of Israeli objectives.One obvious possibility is for Israel to attack Iran, in the expectation that events would develop in such a manner as to draw the United States into the conflict. Both Phil Giraldi and Clifford Kiracofe have suggested that this is something which the I sraelis might well try to do, and be able to do.And indeed, in his recent report on the subject, former USAF Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has been involved in a lot of work on hypothetical scenarios relating to crises involving Iran, suggests that it might be very difficult for Obama not to side with Israel in a conflict with Iran, even if the Israelis started it.(See http://www.foi.se/FOI/Templates/NewsPage____9027.aspx.) However, seeking to inveigle the United States into a war in this way is a very high risk strategy, to put it mildly. The kind of effects which Sneh suggests might be expected from an Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, while they may indeed constitute an 'existential threat' to Israel, quite patently do not do so to the United States.Whether they constitute a serious enough threat to the United States to warrant the costs and risks of military action is, it appears to me, a matter on which informed opinion is divided. Even among those who think that wh en push comes to shove it may be better to accept such costs and risks, many are likely to think that these are decisions Americans should make for themselves, in their own time.Accordingly, an attempt to inveigle the United States into war with Iran could be a massive strategic catastrophe for the Israelis -- either if it failed, or if it succeeded, but the crushing of Iranian power generated seriously negative side effects.One might then expert a perfectly rational Israeli strategic planner to see himself (or herself) as caught between a rock and a hard place -- and to want to keep options open. If such a planner wanted to keep the option of attempting to inveigle Obama into a war open, it would seem advisable to do certain things.Crucially, it would be necessary that the actual objective of a possible attack was not made overt. It would be imperative to present it as an heroic attempt by a desperate Israel to escape by its unaided efforts from an intolerable situation. In making such a presentation credible, it would help enormously to suggest that those who had planned the operation genuinely believed that Israeli capabilities were adequate to the task.It would further be an absolute priority to avoid unnecessarily antagonising Obama and influential elements in the United States -- particularly in the military -- who might be in two minds about how to act, once a war between Israel and Iran was a fait accompli. From such a perspective, the decision by Netanyahu to confront Obama over the settlements at this time of all times could only be seen as simple lunacy.The appropriate strategy would be precisely that which Sneh recommends -- 'an open-ended freeze of settlement and outpost expansion, refrain from building new neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and stop construction for Jews in Arab neighborhoods.'What would further be required would be for Israel to attempt to give every appearance of going along in good faith with the strategy of t rying to pressure Iran, or provoke 'regime change', by sanctions -- even in it was judged that this strategy was unlikely to work. And this, again, appears to be what Sneh is recommending.Last but not least, it would be necessary to have either 'evidence', or plausible-sounding speculation, suggesting that an Iranian nuclear capability was an imminent prospect, appearing at a time when electoral calculations might push the Obama administration to conclude in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran that their least worst option was military intervention against the latter country to finish the war quickly.The suggestion by Sneh that in the absence of 'crippling sanctions' it is 'reasonable to assume that by 2011 Iran will have a nuclear bomb or two' obviously has to be seen together with the suggestion that Israel 'would have to act around the congressional elections in November, thereby sealing Obama's fate as president.'Of course, one could read this as suggesting that amon g the anticipated possible benefits from an attack on Iran would be the replacement of Obama by a president more congenial to Israel. But although this may be a consideration, it would not seem to be the only or the decisive one. In a crucial paragraph, Sneh suggests that:The acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran during Obama's term would do him a great deal of political damage. The damage that the resulting independent Israeli strike would cause Obama - soaring gasoline prices and American casualties in retaliatory operations - would be devastating.This suggests to me the hope of creating a situation where Obama and his advisers would calculate that they could best hope of preventing gasoline prices remaining high for a protracted period and minimising American casualties lay in a prompt and devastating deployment of military power against Iran.And in such a situation, Sneh may also be suggesting, Obama and his advisors might be influenced by the calculation that such a prompt and devastating deployment would gain them the kudos of having forestalled an imminent Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons.In putting forward this possible reading of his remarks, I am not suggesting that Sneh is committed to a strategy of attempting to inveigle the United States into a war against Iran. What does seem to me likely is both that he wants to keep the option open, and is sending a covert message both to Netanyahu and many others that if they want to do this, a bull in the China shop approach to the Obama Administration is not exactly clever.Meanwhile, I would expect to see a good deal of disinformation surfacing in various places -- probably including London -- designed to suggest that an Iranian nuclear capability is a significantly more immediate possibility than is likely to be the case. And it would not greatly surprise me if such an information warfare campaign would be designed to climax sometime in the autumn of this year.An alternative expla nation, as I noted at the start, is that Sneh is suffering from hubris. A less than comforting thought is that if he is not, he probably thinks Netanyahu is. Habakkuk