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Israel vs. Iran: The Shadow War
Book reviewed by Dr. Adnan Abu Amer for Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations
This book is one of the most recent publications addressing what has been known as the “Iranian issue” -compared to the “Jewish issue” and the “Eastern issue”- and which has been triggered in any talk in political, security and strategic fora.
Title: Israel vs. Iran: The Shadow War (in Hebrew)
The 9-chapter book gains its importance not only because of the rich biography of its authors but also because the Israeli circles of decision-making embraced it upon its publication and held discussions, workshops and political debates to discuss its content. The discussions were held with wide participation from army generals and intelligence officers at a time when debate about possible attack on Iran has reached a peak after former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, declared that it was the most stupid idea he encountered in his life.
The book discusses what it calls the “shadow war” which started between Israel and Iran following the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and tackles the secret methods the Mossad pursued during the last years. It also sheds light on the Israeli air attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and the assassination of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists in addition to the war waged by the Israeli navy on high seas.
The book attests that the pursuit of the military option against Iran needs more consideration and deliberation as it might not be a wise choice. It suggests that the American president can solve this “problem” by unequivocally declaring the US rejection for the negative impact of the Israeli attack on the American interests in the Gulf, thus thwarting the resort to the attack. Yet, the book asserts that such an American declaration is not likely whether now or in the future.
The authors stress that during the last years, the region has been witnessing rapid developments which mostly indicate an Israeli military measure against Iran. They confirm that since the victory of the right-wing in the parliamentary elections, the Israeli focus has been on the Iranian nuclear file. In addition, the authors attest that the recent developments, coupled with the secret and public shuttle meetings, show that Israel has been preparing some attack against Iran while the region is on the verge of dramatic developments with unclear consequences.
The book bases many of its chapters on the findings of Western strategic research centers which have tried to portray a “hypothetical scenario” for the expected Israeli attack on Iran. It further notes that in the absence of real and flowing intelligence information, the attack would be particularly complicated and its results might be disastrous for Israel especially with the presence of dozens of Iranian nuclear reactors fortified in concrete blocks and located at tens of meters under the ground.
However, the authors demand the Israeli security institution to answer “critical” questions necessary to estimate the military strike: how efficient the intelligence agencies are to know the nature of the targets to be attacked, how far would the strike be successful in reaching the targets, which weapons should be used in the attack and their ability to penetrate the Iranian fortifications and most importantly the extent of damage or the delay of the Iranian nuclear program following the attack.
Here, the authors warn that the Iranians have learnt the lessons from the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor and they established their facilities all over the country and under the ground. They stress that the operation today is different from that launched against the Iraqi reactor drawing the attention of the attack proponents that we are in 2011 and not in 1981.
On another hand, the authors point to the fundamental change in the Israeli approach to the “Iranian issue” which was perceived as a “universal problem” that it would not solve on unilateral basis. However, Israel has been recently hinting that it is free to pursue any measures against Iran. This inclination has been growing gradually and developed to suggest that Tel Aviv is required to take military action against Iran, even on unilateral basis.
The authors stress that any military action against Iran has the primary objective of improving Israel’s deterrence capability. This capability has declined since Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, the disengagement from Gaza Strip and the failure in the last two wars of 2006 and 2009. Israel will doubtlessly evoke such slogans as the “war was imposed on us”, “the war with no choice” and “the war for survival.”
The book displays a “package” of measures to confront the Iranian threat presented by some military leaders in Tel Aviv who were interviewed by the authors. These measures include an attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities besides supporting the Iranian opposition to undermine the authority in Tehran and bring it down. However, the resort to a military attack would remain an open option while maintaining ambiguity regarding its implementation.
The book quotes a “well-informed” source saying that the Iranians should believe that the Israelis are insane and ready for anything till the final scenario. They should also know that Israel has the ability not only to demolish a part of Iran but all its central cities. This conviction, according to the source, will create “deterrence and fear” on the Iranian side. This opinion, however, underestimates the possibility of an Iranian retaliation and disregards the thousands of Iranians missiles which can target Israel.
The Green Suit
The authors believe that the Iranian threats should be taken seriously; thus, Tel Aviv is required to show more wisdom in dealing with the file and hit first and impose the rules of the game while avoiding the mistakes of the Yom Kippur War. They further mention that many politicians, including Shimon Peres and Ezer Weizman, opposed former Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s decision to attack the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. They conclude that had Begin listened to his opponents, Israel would have been facing an Iraq armed with nuclear weapons headed by Saddam Hussein threatening to burn down Tel Aviv. At the same time, Israel would not be able to confront him for fear that he would retaliate by launching missiles carrying atomic warheads.
Here, it seems that the authors demand the current PM Benjamin Netanyahu to “act correctly” and pursue Begin’s choice despite the voices warning that the attack would bring about a terrible regional war with the thousands of rockets which will cause destruction and killing in all Israeli cities.
On another level, the book presents a lengthy interview with one of the leaders of the CIA who has direct knowledge of the developments of the Iranian file. It also unveils heated dialogues and meetings which were held behind closed doors to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of any Israeli decision to attack Iran. The meetings were attended by Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief of Staff, Yuval Diskin, the Director of Shin Bet, and Amos Yildin, the former military intelligence chief, at the invitation of PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak.
Based on the minutes of the meetings it could attain, the book shows that the efforts led by the two men to attack Iran were rejected by wearers of the “green suit,” referring to the military and intelligence members. Thus, many of those meetings ended without reaching an agreement after the PM and senior ministers failed to get security cover for their decisions, for they fear the Winograd Committee which everyone is already preparing to face.
Reasons not to Attack Iran
The book provides a set of reasons for the Israelis not to attack Iran, including:
1. The operation will not eliminate the Iranian project but might delay it for several years.
2. The attack would make Iran an active enemy to Israel over generations.
3. The attack will give Iran the legitimacy to proceed with its project overtly claiming the right to self-defense against regional nuclear superpower.
4. Expecting an Iranian retaliatory attack with the participation of its regional allies against Israeli facilities and internal civilian centers.
The authors suggest increasing pressure on Iran to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear bomb while convincing it about the real dangers of attacking its facilities. They further display some of the ongoing deliberations within the seven senior cabinet members, which they describe as deep and intense and which are held with the participation of experienced figures. The authors demand that all choices concerning the Iranian issue remain on the table even if the military option would remain a last-resort choice.
A Rich Military Biography
Dr. Yoaz Hendel is a military historian who served in the Israeli army and joined the intelligence. He studied history in Tel Aviv University and earned his doctorate on “the historical development of methods of collecting security information.” Later, he worked as researcher in Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies (JCSS). Hendel is currently a research fellow at Begin-Sadat Center of the Bar-Ilan University where he teaches a special course on terrorism and guerilla warfare. He writes in Yedioth Ahronoth and Maariv and hosts a radio talk show. Hendel has a famous study on al-Aqsa intifadah entitled “Let the IDF Win” in addition to different studies on security and the military.
The other author, Yaakov Katz, is military correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and correspondent for Jane’s Defense Weekly, the international military magazine. He is also lecturer on national security issues in Israeli universities.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 19/7/2011