This article originally appeared at LobeLog, which is a treasure trove of valuable foreign policy analysis. I hope you will check the site out, I’m sure you’ll find it worth your while.
Headlines today featured news of a spike in oil prices based on fears of an Israeli strike on Iran. That fear is based on last week’s major uptick in Israeli rhetoric — mostly from Defense Minister Ehud Barak — which was geared toward goading the United States into military action against Iran. While tension has indeed risen, Israel’s tactics could backfire.
The most recent surge of tension began with an“anonymous” leak, widely believed to have come from Barak, stating that the US had a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that showed Iran to be a greater threat than previously believed. Barak then told Israeli Radio that there was a new report, perhaps not a NIE, which brought the US assessment closer to “ours.”
The “ours” Barak referred to was that of himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose assessment differs not only from the Obama Administration’s, but also from Israel’s own military and intelligence establishment. Netanyahu and Barak’s take also differs from Israeli public opinion about the threat Iran poses. In a poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 10 and announced earlier today (Hebrew only), only 23% of Israelis support a strike on Iran, while 46% oppose it.
But Netanyahu and Barak had indeed attempted to sway public opinion. The day after Barak’s statements, Israeli headlines were devoted to a possible strike on Iran. Netanyahu also proceeded to rekindle Holocaust fears and another article appeared in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, with an anonymous “decision maker” — almost certainly Barak again — warning about the unspeakable consequences of a nuclear Iran and urging action.
It’s no surprise that markets are reacting with fear to all of this, but what can we make of recent events with a more sober eye? For one, Netanyahu and Barak are growing more concerned about the potential for an attack on Iran — something they want very badly. They are also now playing a much higher-stakes political game in order to get Iran attacked.
As Ha’aretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn points out, Netanyahu and Barak have been screaming hysterically about Iran while other world leaders haven’t been all that concerned about their complaints. Israeli rhetoric has been escalating steadily for years now, but there are good reasons to believe that there will not be an Israeli attack. First, there is serious internal opposition. Second, Israel isn’t likely to strike Iran because it doesn’t have, by itself, the capacity to destroy or substantially set back the Iranian nuclear program. In other words, Israel can’t make the minimal gains required to justify the risks and consequences of taking on Iran alone. Continue reading