Israel sends out loud warning to Iran
By Victor Kotsev
Through a number of leaks and well-publicized war exercises, the Israeli
government has dramatically increased its threats against Iran in the past
days. Since the Israeli military likes to act by surprise, it seems this
specific escalation is a bluff designed to help pass tougher diplomatic
measures against the Islamic Republic at the United Nations Security Council,
specifically following the anticipated publication of an important report by
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) next week.
However, given the exceptionally high and rising regional tensions (not all of
which involve Israel directly), a larger war in the Middle East is a distinct
possibility. Thus, the Israeli rhetoric can be interpreted in two additional
ways (all three are not mutually
exclusive): as an attempt to deter a possible first or second strike by Iran
and its allies, and as a campaign to prepare public opinion, both at home and
abroad, for hostilities.
According to a widely circulated if anonymous assessment (presumed to have come
directly from high-ranking Israeli officials), the window of opportunity for
striking the Iranian nuclear sites this year will close in a matter of weeks,
with the coming of the winter.
The urgency implied in this argument is not necessarily very real - according
to most assessments, if Iran were to choose to produce a nuclear bomb, it would
need several years at the current rate of enrichment to have enough
weapons-grade uranium or plutonium.
In the worst-case scenario, if the Iranian leaders choose to dash headlong
toward a bomb, they would need at least a few months. There is some controversy
about the precise time frame, but the Institute for Science and International
Security estimates six months. 
However, it was not very difficult to twist the assessment into a powerful
sound bite ("the window of opportunity for a strike against Iran is closing")
and to put it to use to justify and amplify an impressive Israeli show of
force. In the space of a week or so, Israel conducted a simulation of a
long-distance air strike together with Italy, tested what was allegedly an
upgrade of its Jericho 3 intercontinental ballistic missile, and conducted a
home front drill centered around the scenario of a chemical weapons attack
delivered by a missile.
All three drills were conducted in an extraordinarily open way; the usually
tight-lipped Israeli military censor allowed the Israeli press to publish
pictures of the exercise in Italy and speculations about the Israeli missile
program . Moreover, these reports were accompanied by a flurry of other
reports and leaks, all conveying, explicitly or implicitly, the same message;
that an Israeli strike on Iran is imminent.
"[Benjamin] Netanyahu trying to persuade cabinet to support attack on Iran,"
was the title of a November 2 article on the Israeli prime minister's
intentions in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz . "With Syria on the way down, Iran
needs nukes more than ever," another Ha'aretz headline from the same day reads
. "US fears unilateral Israeli strike on Iran," a website associated with
another Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, claimed just days earlier. 
Even The Guardian chimed in, reporting that the United Kingdom was "stepping
up" its preparations to assist the United States in a "potential military
action against Iran". 
Last month, the US think-thank Stratfor suggested that the US was finally
siding with Saudi Arabia in a more aggressive stance against Iran. 
On the one hand, much of this is clearly posturing, and Israel seems to be
playing the bad cop in the American pressure campaign against Iran at the UN
If Russia and China could be persuaded that the Israeli government is serious
in its threats, they would theoretically become more amenable to tougher
sanctions against Iran (something they have so far opposed).
The IAEA report is due to be released next week, and it is rumored to be
harshly critical of the Iranian nuclear program. It could - backed up by the
American allegations that Iran conspired to assassinate the Saudi Arabian
ambassador in Washington - serve as a basis for another round of sanctions.
In the past, Israel has conducted highly dangerous and controversial operations
- a planning a potential strike on Iran would fall in this category - in the
greatest of secrecy; it is unlikely that it would make so much noise now while
preparing to attack imminently. Nevertheless, as a whole there is a real danger
of a regional war, the time frame for which is not clear, and the Israeli moves
could well be meant to address that threat.
In the analysis of Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer,
It is important
to note that the drills and tests of recent days, and those expected to take
place in the coming days, were all planned months ago.... However, one cannot
ignore the proximity of these events, together with the continuing operational
work on the Iron Dome systems in Gaza and in northern Israel, the acceleration
of the Magic Wand and Arrow 3 defense systems - and naturally the public
discourse over the last few days concerning the possibility of a strike on Iran
... All these elements - with differing degrees of planning - provide the
background music in a concert of a military apparatus preparing for a possible
Even if the decision to attack Iran has not yet been made, and despite
opposition by senior security officials, the IDF's [Israel Defense Forces] task
- and that of the rest of the security and intelligence bodies - is to provide
the decision-making level with the maximum number of operational options and
the offensive and defensive options. 
An attack on the
Iranian nuclear program might not come from Israel - and neither is it certain
that Iran and its allies will desist from initiating hostilities themselves.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, recently threatened to "burn the whole
region" in case of a foreign intervention in his country. Days ago, he
professed to accept an Arab League plan for defusing the violence, but then
reportedly contradicted himself once again by murdering dozens of people in
Meanwhile, after the death of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, the attention
of all those who feel Responsibility to Protect is clearly fixed on Syria. The
comparisons run on multiple levels - according to a recent report, the IAEA is
investigating a new suspicious site in Syria, which closely resembles a Libyan
uranium plant that Gaddafi abandoned several years ago . Such an allegation
could theoretically help justify an intervention against Assad.
For Israel, moreover, a confrontation with Iran or Syria need not take the form
of a direct exchange with either of these countries. It is very likely, for
example, that last weekend's escalation in Gaza between the Israeli army and
the Islamic Jihad militant organization happened on orders from the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards. The Israeli muscle flexing can thus be interpreted also
as a loud warning to Iran that it can easily cross the line when stoking
conflict on Israel’s borders.
Victor Kotsev is a journalist and political analyst based in Tel Aviv.