. Empty words from Israel? | London Progressive Journal
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Empty words from Israel?

Mon 7th Nov 2011

Everybody knows the scene from school - a small boy quarrels with a bigger boy. "Hold me back!" he shouts to his comrades, "Before I break his bones!"

The Israeli government seems to be behaving in this way. Every day it shouts that any minute now it is going to break the bones of Iran.

Iran is about to produce a nuclear bomb. Israel cannot allow this. So it will bomb Iran to smithereens.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says so in every one of his countless speeches, including his opening speech at the winter session of the Knesset. Ditto Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

Every self-respecting commentator writes about it. The media amplifies the sound and the fury.

Haaretz splashed its front page with pictures of the seven most important ministers - the "security septet" - showing three in favour of an attack, four against.

A German proverb says: "Revolutions that are announced in advance do not take place." The same goes for wars.

Nuclear affairs are subject to very strict military censorship. Very, very strict indeed.

Yet the censor seems to be smiling benignly. Let the boys, including the prime minister and the minister of defence - the censor's ultimate boss - play their games.

The former chief of the Mossad Meir Dagan has publicly warned against an attack, describing it as "the most stupid idea [he has] ever heard."

There was a veritable deluge of leaks on Wednesday.

Israel tested a missile that can deliver a nuclear bomb more then 5,000km away, beyond you-know-where.

And Israel's air force has just completed exercises in Sardinia, at a distance larger than you-know-where.

And on Thursday, the Home Front Command held training exercises all over greater Tel Aviv, with sirens screaming away.

All this seems to indicate that the whole hullabaloo is a ploy - perhaps to frighten and deter Iran. Perhaps to push the US into more extreme actions. Perhaps co-ordinated with the US in advance.

It is an old Israeli tactic to act as if it is going crazy. We shall not listen to the US any more. We shall just bomb and bomb and bomb.

Well, let's be serious for a moment. Israel will not attack Iran. Full-stop.

Some may think that I am going out on a limb. Shouldn't I add at least "probably" or "almost certainly?"

But I repeat categorically - Israel will not attack Iran.

Since the 1956 Suez adventure, when US president Dwight D Eisenhower delivered an ultimatum which stopped the action, Israel has never undertaken any significant military operation without obtaining US consent in advance.

The US is Israel's only dependable supporter in the world - besides, perhaps, Fiji, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau.

To destroy this relationship means cutting its lifeline. To do that, you'd to be more than just a little crazy. You'd be raving mad.

Furthermore, Israel cannot fight a war without unlimited US support because its planes and bombs come from the US.

During a war, Israel needs supplies, spare parts, many sorts of equipment. During the Yom Kippur war, Henry Kissinger had an "air train" supplying Israel around the clock. And that war would probably look like a picnic compared to any war with Iran.

Let's look at the map. That, by the way, is always recommended before starting any war.

The first feature that strikes the eye is the narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which every third barrel of the world's seaborne oil supplies flow. Almost the entire output of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Iraq and Iran has to run the gauntlet through this narrow sea lane.

The entire width of this waterway is some 35km (or 20 miles). That's about the distance from Gaza to Beer Sheva, which was crossed last week by the primitive rockets of the Islamist jihad.

When the first Israeli plane enters Iranian airspace, the strait will be closed. The Iranian navy has plenty of missile boats, but they will not be needed. Land-based missiles are enough.

The world is already teetering on the verge of an abyss. Greece is threatening to fall and take major chunks of the world economy with her. The elimination of almost a fifth of the industrial nations' supply of oil would lead to catastrophe.

To open the strait by force would require a major military operation, including "putting boots on the ground," that would overshadow all the US misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Can the US afford that? Can Nato? Israel itself is not in the same league.

But Israel would be very much involved in the action, if only on the receiving end.

In a rare show of unity, all of Israel's service chiefs, including the heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet, are publicly opposing the whole idea. We can only guess why.

I don't know whether the operation is possible at all. Iran is a very large country, about the size of Alaska, the nuclear installations are widely dispersed and largely underground. Even with the special deep penetration bombs provided by the US, the operation would stall the Iranian efforts - such as they may be - only for a few months. The price would be too high for such meagre results.

Moreover, it is quite certain that with the beginning of a war, missiles would rain down on Israel - not only from Iran, but also from Hezbollah, and perhaps also from Hamas.

The amount of death and destruction would be prohibitive.

Suddenly, the media is full of stories about Israel's three submarines, soon to grow to five, or even six.

It is openly said that these give us the capabilities of a nuclear "second strike," if Iran uses its - still non-existent - nuclear warheads against Israel. But the Iranians may also use chemical and other weapons of mass destruction.

Then there is the political price. There are many tensions in the Islamic world. Iran is far from popular in many parts of it.

But an Israeli assault on a major Muslim country would instantly unite Sunnis and Shi'ites, from Egypt and Turkey to Pakistan and beyond.

But the talk about the war serves many purposes, including domestic, political ones.

On October 29, the social protest movement sprang to life again. After a pause of two months, a mass of people assembled in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.

This was remarkable, because on that very day rockets were falling on the towns near the Gaza Strip. Until now, in such a situation demonstrations have always been cancelled. Security problems trump everything else. Not this time.

Also, many people believed that the euphoria of the Gilad Shalit festival had wiped the protest from the public mind. It didn't.

By the way, something remarkable has happened - the media, after siding with the protest movement for months, has had a change of heart.

Suddenly all of the media, including Haaretz, were sticking knives in its back. As if by order, all newspapers wrote the next day that "more than 20,000" took part.

Well I was there, and I do have some idea of these things. There were at least 100,000 people there, most of them young. I could hardly move.

The protest has not spent itself, as the media asserts. Far from it.

But what better means for taking people's minds off social justice than talk of the "existential danger?"

Moreover, the reforms demanded by the protesters would need money. In view of the worldwide financial crisis, the government strenuously objects to increasing the state budget, for fear of damaging Israel's credit rating.

So where could the money come from? There are only three plausible sources - the settlements (who would dare?), the Orthodox (ditto!) and the huge military budget.

But on the eve of the most crucial war in Israel's history, who would touch the armed forces? It needs every shekel to buy more planes, more bombs, more submarines. Schools and hospitals must, alas, wait.

So God bless Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Where would Israel be without him?


This article first appeared on the website of Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc)- an Israeli based peace organisation

Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist, a founder of Gush Shalom, and a former Knesset member
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