Israeli hawks fighting to preserve Israeli security are in open warfare against the militant political core of the War Party. Those who want to avoid a second Hiroshima should take advantage of this opportunity to work with the most rational individuals among the hawks to prevent the disaster toward which short-sighted War Party politicians are headed.
The argument among Israeli hawks and their American fellow travelers about the idea of a preventive war to prevent Iran from assuming its natural role as a regional power (though of course the hawks never put it in those terms) keeps spreading. Morality plays no role in this debate, which essentially amounts to a civil war between the short-sighted politicians and those who are cautious enough to counsel limiting Israeli (or American) aggression to economic, technical, and asynchronous warfare. Both sides retain the blind assumption that force is the way to resolve the issue of whether or not Iran will be allowed to emerge as a major regional player.
No one in this group seems able to understand the fundamentally self-defeating nature (for democratic societies interested in living in a peaceful world) of preventive war. Nevertheless, the differences between the politicians looking for short-term accomplishments to burnish their careers and the military/intelligence specialists looking to strengthen the foundations of Israeli security are enormous, and as long as the war party writ large is publicly debating over tactics, the world has an opportunity to promote a rational outcome.
IDF Military Intelligence Chief Brigadier-General Aviv Kochavi reported to the Knesset in January his assessment that the issue regarding Iran was about political intent, not technical capability, and that he judged Tehran to be unwilling to develop nuclear weapons at this time:
The question is not when Iran will have the bomb. The question is how long it will take for an Iranian leader to decide to have the centrifuges start enriching at 90 percent…. Iran's regime is guarding [the country's] stability despite the sanctions against it….The sanctions don't hurt their nuclear development program or the strengthening of their military. Rather the sanctions affect the country's economy and citizens.
He thus presented Iran as a rational actor and the issue of Iranian nuclear arms as one amenable to political, rather than military, solutions. (Coincidentally, at the beginning of June, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Russia has “no evidence” of such a “political decision” or that Iran is building a bomb.)
Dagan has reputedly shown himself quite willing to engage in illegal adventures to the point of covert warfare against Iran:
According to a Wikileaks report, Dagan told a senior American official that it would take a series of coordinated moves to stop the Iranian nuclear program. He reportedly suggested increasing the economic sanctions against Iran, preventing the export of products required for the nuclear project to Iran, covert warfare, and encouraging minority and opposition groups to topple the Iranian regime.
Nevertheless, in January he estimated Iran would not have the technical capability to build a bomb before approximately 2015. In early May Dagan called an air strike on Iran a “stupid idea that offers no advantage.” A few weeks later, Dagan told a Tel Aviv University audience that an attack on Iran:
would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program….The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible. [New York Times, June 4, 2011.]
On June 9, another former Mossad chief, Zvi Zamir, seemed to voice implicit support for Dagan’s warning, stating that Dagan was “expressing his distress.”
Former DIA official Jeffrey White, who now works at the AIPAC mouthpiece, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described an attack on Iran as “a complicated thing. It’s not something you can easily gloss over the complexity of” and said an attack would be “a big attack,” i.e., genocide like Hiroshima, not some hypothetical pinpoint removal of nuclear infrastructure.
Dagan’s remarks were no outburst, though they have been so described by War Party members now on the defensive, individuals who are notably playing “kill the messenger” to evade debating the issue. Dagan’s remarks were instead some of the most intelligent and thoughtful recently heard from any major U.S. or Israeli official on the issue of Israeli national security:
there is shallowness in the debate over Israel's security challenges, they are all being dealt with in slogans. I don't dispute the authority of the Prime Minister and Defence Minister, they are responsible, but I have already said that sometimes, brains and good decision-making are not connected with being elected.
Unfortunately, the unwillingness—perhaps inability—of decision-makers supporting an unprovoked war on Iran to engage in serious debate (as opposed to propaganda) means that the debate remains shallow, still mired in slogans. For example, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon intoned in late May:
We strongly hope that the entire civilized world will come to realize what threat this regime is posing and take joint action to avert the nuclear threat posed by Iran, even if it would be necessary to conduct a pre-emptive strike....An Iran possessing nuclear weapons would be a threat to the entire civilized world.
But an official glimpse of reality was given recently by Minister of Home Front Defense Matan Vilnai in a sobering speech to Israeli industrialists:
In an all-out war, most of your employees have been called up to the various fronts, and simultaneously, hundreds of missiles fall in central Israel. Not thousands, hundreds. We checked this and measured it. We calculated how many missiles they have, how many we can destroy in attacks we initiate, how many we can intercept in mid-flight and more. They will fire thousands of rockets and missiles daily and hundreds will hit central Israel. And this will take at least a month, including Fridays and Saturdays, without rest.
And Vilnai was describing just a war with Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah.