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    Middle East
     Aug 22, 2012


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Bargaining intensifies over Iran strike
By Victor Kotsev

It had been widely accepted that Peres was the most prominent Israeli opponent of a strike, but this was his official joining the fray, and his comments reverberated loudly. Ha'aretz published a cartoon of him jumping out of a birthday cake - he turned 89 earlier this month - and firing at Netanyahu and Barak with a sub-machine gun. Moreover, when the prime minister's people protested that the president had "forgotten his place", former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon, 93, jumped to Peres's defense.

Add to their camp a number of former security heavyweights - most importantly, the legendary spy chief Meir Dagan - and it is

 

very hard to claim that the doves in Israel lack historically grounded or authoritative voices.

Nevertheless, it is hard to call who will have the last say. What is truly remarkable about the Israeli debate is that it goes contrary to all military doctrines of the Jewish State, which rely heavily on the element of surprise.

Consequently, some observers have concluded that the Israeli behavior is a complex bluff designed to focus the international attention better on the Iranian nuclear program - a remarkably successful bazaar strategy. Others, however, contend that all the noise actually serves to desensitize the listeners and to create an environment in which the most surprising action paradoxically ends up being the one most frequently discussed - namely, an attack.

Still others caution that Barak and Netanyahu themselves are uncertain which it is, and a war might start without anybody truly wishing it. (Though the latter may sound incredible, there are plenty of historical paradigms for it.)

Ironically though predictably, a lot comes down to the interplay of economics and cold geostrategic calculations. Thus, for example, it could be that some in the corridors of power in Washington would like to see a war between Israel and Iran - if only to test how a future hypothetical missile exchange between the US and China might play out.

As Robert Haddick writes in Foreign Policy,
The outcome of an Israel-Iran missile war will have profound implications for military strategies and investments in Asia. The expansion and modernization of China's ballistic and cruise missile forces is a recurring topic in the Pentagon's annual reports on China's military power. In a recent study CSIS performed for the Pentagon, it noted the vulnerability of US military bases in the Pacific to missile attack and recommended increased missile defenses and dispersal of airfields and aircraft around the region.

Should a lopsided outcome occur in an Israel-Iran missile war, military planners on all sides would likely scramble to reassess their assumptions. Should Arrow and the US Navy's missile defense systems sweep a large Shahab-3 raid from the skies, American planners would undoubtedly gain confidence in their ability to sustain a forward presence in the Western Pacific in the face of China's growing missile forces.

By contrast, should Iran succeed in pummeling Tel Aviv and other targets in Israel, US policymakers would likely develop doubts about the long-term future of their forward-basing plans in the Pacific. The outcome of a missile war would also affect the long-running debate over funding the Pentagon's troubled effort to build limited defenses against intercontinental missiles. [4]
On the other hand, economic considerations seem to be the primary factor holding back a strike. The potential closure of the Strait of Hormuz and the catastrophic effect the resultant spike in the price of oil may have on world economy has received much attention.

Less known are the effects to the Israeli economy in particular. According to one recent report, the Jewish State stands to lose as much as US$42 billion over the five years following the war. [5] Even just the threats are reportedly hurting Israeli businesses, with foreign customers requesting additional guarantees. [6]

The hawks, of course, will argue that the costs of Iran producing a nuclear bomb would likely be higher, yet this is not an argument that can easily be verified - or, in all likelihood, quantified in specific amounts of money. Moreover, it could be that Tehran's own economic woes, given enough time, will bring the ayatollahs to their knees and prevent a war.

As a result of the ever-harsher sanctions to which the Islamic Republic is subjected, Iranian oil production is down (exports even more so), the Iranian currency has collapsed in value and the prices of most goods have skyrocketed. Many ordinary citizens are now priced out of foods such as meat, creating much anger and misery.

While the government is reportedly mulling a "multi-tiered exchange rate" akin to that introduced by Venezuela in 2010 in order to subsidize indirectly basic commodities, it is particularly telling that, according to some accounts, it has started to censor images of chicken from movies and TV.

Such an Orwellian situation attests to great distress, as do the ever-uglier Iranian counter-threats. On Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel "a malignant cancer, an insult to humanity", and expressed his hope for "a new Middle East, with no memory of the American or Zionist presence". A high-ranking Iranian general chimed in, saying that he would welcome an Israeli strike since it would give the Iranians an excuse to "get rid of Israel forever".

It is inconceivable that the hardship will not reach the Iranian nuclear program soon, if it isn't doing so already. Still, whether this will happen soon enough to prevent a war, and how much time is on the clock, is not known.

Notes:
1. US punched Bibi, Barak in the face, Ynet, August 15, 2012.
2. Netanyahu's pick for home front defense minister - a vote in favor of Iran strike, Ha’aretz, August 15, 2012 (registration required).
3. Obama set to assure Israel that, if all else fails, US will attack Iran by June 2013 — TV report, The Times of Israel, August 14, 2012.
4. This Is Not a Test, Foreign Policy, August 17, 2012.
5. War with Iran could cost Israeli economy $42 billion, The Times of Israel, August 19, 2012.
6. 'Debate over Iran strike is bad for business', Jerusalem Post, August 20, 2012.

Victor Kotsev is a journalist and political analyst.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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