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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Is US acting to sabotage an Israeli strike on Iran?

An interesting analysis by Ron Ben Yishai at YNet, after Congress released a large report on the possibilities of an Israeli strike on Iran:

The US Administration recently shifted into high gear in its efforts to avert an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities by the end of the year. The flood of reports in the American media in recent weeks attests not only to the genuine US fear that Israel intends to realize its threats; moreover, it indicates that the Obama Administration has decided to take its gloves off.

Indeed, in recent weeks the Administration shifted from persuasion efforts vis-à-vis decision-makers and Israel’s public opinion to a practical, targeted assassination of potential Israeli operations in Iran. This “surgical strike” is undertaken via reports in the American and British media, but the campaign’s aims are fully operational: To make it more difficult for Israeli decision-makers to order the IDF to carry out a strike, and what’s even graver, to erode the IDF’s capacity to launch such strike with minimal casualties.

The first and most important American objective is to eliminate potential operational options available to the IDF and the State of Israel. I have no intention of detailing or even hinting to the options which the US government aims to eliminate by exposing them in the media. A large part of the reports stem from false information or disinformation, and there is no reason to reveal to the Iranians what’s real and what isn’t. However, it is blatantly clear that reports in the past week alone have caused Israel substantive diplomatic damage, and possibly even military and operational damage.

Another Administration objective is to convince the Israeli public that an Iran strike (including a US attack) will not achieve even the minimum required to justify it; that is, a delay of at least 3-5 years in Iran’s nuclear program. A lengthy postponement would of course justify the suffering on Israel’s home front, while a six-month delay – as argued by a US Congress report – does not justify the risks.

The six-month figure was meant for the Israeli public, so that it would press Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to avoid a strike, whose futility the Americans are trying to prove in every way possible. At the same time, the campaign aims to erode the validity of demands voiced by many members of Congress and Senate – both Democrats and Republicans - who criticize the American president’s inaction.

The Congress report published Wednesday is maligned by several inaccuracies, in terms of both analysis and information. However, this makes no difference. The aim was to make headlines in the Israeli and Washington media, rather than an in-depth analysis, which isn’t possible as Congress researchers in Washington do not have access to all the relevant information, fortunately.

The third objective of the recent publications is to scare the Israeli public via an apocalyptic account of possible retaliation by Iran and its “clients.” This effort also aims to press Israeli decision-makers not to act (including the mention in the Congress report of the accurate fact that Israel’s home front is not adequately prepared to sustain a blow.)

...The damage has to do with the revelation of secret information and assessments that would require an expensive, risky intelligence effort for the Iranians to acquire. Indeed, the Iranians already realize that the West and Israel possess plenty of up-to-date information on Iran’s nuclear project, including centrifuge workshops in Tehran homes. The Ayatollah regime can also predict possible attack routes and methods by Israel and the US.

Any Iranian intelligence analyst who reads the latest US Congress report or the Foreign Policy report will find invaluable information there. The overwhelming majority of the information has already been published, yet instead of forcing the Iranians to piece together all the assessments themselves, the Congress report offers them everything in one place, including detailed analysis.

To sum up, the American publications caused the following damage:
  • Iran now has a decent picture of what Israel’s and America’s intelligence communities know about Tehran’s nuclear program and defense establishment, including its aerial defenses.
  • The Iranians now know about the indications that would be perceived by Washington and Jerusalem as a “nuclear breakthrough”. Hence, Iran can do a better job of concealment.
  • The reports make it more difficult to utilize certain operational options. These options, even if not considered thus far, could have been used by the US in the future, should Iran not thwart them via diplomatic and military means.

Needless to say, this is not how one should be treating an ally, even if this is a relationship between a superpower and a satellite state.
Some evidence for this comes from today's Ha'aretz:
According to a war simulation conducted by the U.S. Central Command, the Iranians could kill 200 Americans with a single missile response to an Israeli attack. An investigative committee would not spare any admiral or general, minister or president. The meaning of this U.S. scenario is that the blood of these 200 would be on Israel's hands.

The moment the public dispute over whether to attack Iran is put in those terms, Israel has no real option to attack in contravention of American declarations and warnings.
It does indeed sound like a deliberate US plan to use any means to stop an Israeli attack, including by "bribing" Israel with more missile defenses - whose effectiveness will be somewhat less than 100%, not the most comforting idea. (The Patriot missiles meant to dissuade an Israeli attack on Iraq in the beginning of the Gulf War were essentially useless.)

Today's article in Foreign Policy from the not-very-reliable Mark Perry saying that Israel is going to use Azeri airfields in an Iranian strike might fit under this campaign as well.

(h/t Joel B)