From President George Bush’s point of view one would have to wonder if Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz are really the best partners the US could hope for when it comes to a pre-emptive strike strategy against Iran.
A strike against Iran would be no small deal. While ostensibly such a strike would be to reduce or eliminate Iran’s capacity to produce a nuclear weapon, the real goal of such a strike is far more ambitious. And they’ll only get the one shot at it.
An attack on Iran is only part of a much larger strategy; a strategy that benefits both the Israelis and the US. In eliminating what the Israelis and the US perceive as the Iranian threat, the Syrians will be deprived of a strong ally. Syria has a defence treaty which commits Iran to Syria’s defence in the event of an attack by Israel. It was this alliance with Iran that prevented Israel from attacking Syria directly during last year’s war against the Hizbollah in southern Lebanon, a war that was designed to deliberately provoke Syria and Iran into attacking Israel knowing that in doing so the US would massively intervene on Israel’s behalf. As we now know, that strategy failed miserably. Both Syria and Iran practised restraint knowing full well what Israel’s game was and Hizbollah were able to hold their own against a concerted effort by the Israelis in southern Lebanon.
One of the reasons the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon, apart from the overwhelming worldwide public outcry over their indiscriminate bombing strategy, is because they are unable to take sustained casualties themselves without Israeli public opinion intervening, especially if it seems there is not going to be a quick result favourable to Israel. Despite the Israeli attacks on Hizbollah, the IDF were unable to prevent Hizbollah launching retaliatory rocket attacks against the Israelis and, if they were unable to absorb Hizbollah rocket attacks, they certainly would not have been able to sustain any attack on them by Iran’s far more sophisticated ballistic missiles which may well have been the risk they had to take had they attacked Syria. Since it was clear that neither Syria nor Iran were going to attack Israel, the US deferred involvement beyond supplying armaments to Israel. As a result Israel failed in both its declared war aim of eliminating Hizbollah and also its undeclared war aim of provoking Syria and Iran into some kind of final showdown that could well have escalated into war with devastating worldwide consequences which could even have included the use of strategic nuclear weapons.
Given these failures, the overall tactic has now shifted. The Israelis and the US have not given up their goal of eliminating forever those that stand in the way of their ambitions for creating a Greater Israel surrounded by passive, subdued and submissive neighbours. The tactic now is to first remove Iran from the bigger picture thus cutting off support to Syria and thence to Hizbollah and Hamas.
Eliminating Iran from the bigger picture is not something that Israeli is able to do on its own; at least not without using nuclear weapons. Eliminating Iran can only be accomplished by the US if conventional weapons are to be used with the possibility of using smaller tactical nuclear weapons only on Iran’s nuclear facilities. However, the moment the US attacks Iran, Israel will almost certainly need to attack Hizbollah and Hamas simultaneously and, at the very least, threaten Syria with a massive attack, possibly nuclear, if it intervenes.
The big problem here is; the present Israeli government with Olmert as Prime Minister and Peretz as Defence Minister have already shown that they are not able to deal with an extremely tenacious Hizbollah. To ask them to be able to take on Hizbollah again and, at the same time, also take on a Hamas that would likely see such a fight as one to the death and therefore one that would be extremely ferocious, is unlikely.
Olmert and Peretz have proved themselves to be weak and ineffective war leaders. The Israeli Chief of Staff responsible for conducting last years disastrous war against Hizbollah, General Dan Halutz, has already fallen by the wayside and it is generally expected that, once the Winograd Commission hands down its preliminary report into the conduct of the war later this month, Olmert and Peretz will fall similarly. Olmert’s likely successor will almost certainly be Benjamin Netanyahu who is reported to already have been in discussions with Kadima Knesset members.
Netanyahu’s closest ally in the Bush administration is Vice-President Dick Cheney who, in turn, has massive influence on Bush himself. It has even been reported that the last failed war was instigated and planned during an American Enterprise Institute conference held at Beaver Creek, Colorado, where Netanyahu and Cheney met in June 2006, just prior to the capture by Hizbollah of two Israeli soldiers inside the Lebanese border, the incident that was the casus belli of Israel’s attack on Lebanon. Netanyahu met with Cheney at the recent AIPAC conference where both spoke strongly of the need to deal with the ‘Iranian threat’.
Could it be that Bush, via Cheney, is waiting for a stronger government in Israel before launching any attack on Iran? Will the warmongering Netanyahu manage to persuade the Knesset to give him the Prime Ministership or force another election? Does the future of the entire Middle East hang on what the Knesset decides? One hopes that, if there is to be an election, that the Israeli people chose peace – not war!