The Asianist

Balanced and fact-based analysis of Asian affairs

Posts Tagged ‘israel bomb iran

Does Netanyahu Really Want to Attack Iran?

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For all the escalating rhetoric and drama surrounding Israel’s potential attack on Iran, there are still many who doubt the seriousness of such a scenario.

In analyzing the recent meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vali Nasr, professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, thinks that most of this is hot air and the the US and Israel are just playing good cop-bad cop with Iran. On the likelihood of an actual attack, Nasr told NewsHour on PBS:

I don’t think it’s likely at all. It’s rhetoric designed to force the U.S.’s hand. The Obama administration actually likes it because it puts pressure on Iran. It’s like good cop-bad cop. It allows Obama to say, ‘you can either deal with me, or you can deal with Israel, which has made very clear that they want to attack you.’ It’s not a given that Netanyahu would attack or not attack, but if they do, they could conceivably look as bad as that Turkish flotilla debacle.

There may be even more reason to question the wisdom of an Israeli attack given the domestic political dynamics there. In a rare look at this dimension a few days ago, Daniel Levy wrote a piece for Foreign Policy, arguing that Netanyahu is a risk-averse politician who does not need to take a gamble on Iran in order to shore up his popularity at home. Here’s Levy:

A tendency characterizing Netanyahu’s long term in office, and a counterintuitive one at that, is the degree to which he has been risk-averse, not only in matters of peace, but also in matters of war. No Operation Cast Leads, Lebanon wars, or Syria Deir ez-Zor attack missions under his watch. In fact, he has no record of military adventurism. What’s more, Netanyahu hardly appears to be in need of a Hail Mary pass, military or otherwise, to salvage his political fortunes. Polls consistently show that he is a shoo-in for reelection. The right-wing block in Israel currently has a hegemonic grip on Israeli politics, something that seems unlikely to change. Netanyahu secured his own continued leadership of the Likud party in Jan. 31’s primary. His primacy on the right faces few challenges from either within the Likud or beyond it. Despite never winning favor with much of the mainstream media, the messy management in his own office, and the challenges of coalition balancing (particularly over issues of religion and state), Netanyahu maintains solid approval ratings with a relatively strong economy and can even now bask in Israel’s lowest unemployment numbers in 32 years.

He goes on about the risk of an attack on Iran, calling it “possibly the biggest threat to Bibi serving a third term” given strong domestic political opposition among former security establishment figures:

Former security establishment figures at the highest levels have mounted an unprecedented campaign warning Israel’s leader and its public of the follies of launching a solo and premature Israeli military action against Iran. Most outspoken has been recently retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who has described a strike on Iran as “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.” But he has not been alone. Other former IDF chiefs of staff, as well as Shin Bet and intel leaders, have joined the cautioning chorus. Many are unlikely to shut up if Bibi defies their counsel. And in the public arena, these voices cannot be dismissed as just so many self-serving chickenhawk politicians. The fallout from an attack on Iran is possibly the biggest threat to Bibi serving a third term.

To this we can add some poll figures released last week by Shibley Telhami on whether Israelis support a strike on Iran. Here’s a summary of what Telhami found, though the numbers themselves are fascinating and I’d encourage readers to look at them in greater detail:

They don’t support a strike without U.S. backing, a new poll shows, even though they are not fearful of Washington’s retribution if they go against U.S. advice. They appear less influenced by the rhetoric of U.S. politicians competing for their embrace, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the Obama administration’s reluctance to support a military strike against Iran has apparently not affected their preference for Obama as the next president. In fact, their views seem to partly reflect the White House’s assessment of the consequences of war and the problems created by military action.

Given all this, it is worth at least asking how credible this war of words really is, even if it is impossible to predict exactly what Israel’s actions in the future will be.


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