Security expert: Attacking Iran isn’t worth it

The public doesn’t know it, but ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan and his opposition to war with Iran have company

Retired army general Nathan Sharony, head of the Council for Peace and Security, which includes over 1,000 former high-ranking security officials with dovish views, says the positions of ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan and ex-army intelligence head Shlomo Gazit against an attack on Iran are “acceptable” to him.

Retired army colonel Yiftah Shapir, the leading expert on missile warfare at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), Israel’s premier security think tank, says he “does not think the price we will have to pay [for an attack on Iran] is worth the benefit.” He argues that the most Israel can do is delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions by “some months” – a far cry from the possible five-year delay that Israeli security officials are speaking about in the media.

Retired army colonel Ephraim Kam, deputy director of the INSS, says he “does not know” whether Israel should strike or not, because he does not have all the necessary information. But in the next breath he emphasizes that such an attack “is a very problematic idea, a very dangerous option.”

Israelis aren’t hearing these voices, those of members of the security establishment who oppose an attack on Iran, or who at least have deep doubts about it – and there are crowds of them in this country. If these career security people with impressive titles were to speak out, or, failing that, if journalists and activists were to seek out their opinions, the march to war being led by Barak and Netanyahu could at least be slowed, and maybe even stopped.

But as far as the public knows, the only security heavyweight against the war is Dagan. In truth, Dagan’s predecessor, Ephraim Halevy, preceded him in this view, and the two are joined by former IDF chief Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Gazit.

None of them are “peaceniks” on the issue – I’m not aware that any of them oppose an Israeli attack under any conditions and at any time; Kam and Shapir, for instance, both said it was vital to Israel’s deterrent power to be ready and, in principle, willing to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities. (Shapir acknowledged that this view, alongside his opposition to actually bombing Iran, amounted to a “Catch-22.”)

But unlike Barak, Netanyahu, Vice PM Moshe Ya’alon and all the other team players in and out of government, these people are talking about the downside, not just the upside, of a war with Iran: missiles landing on Israel; terror attacks on Israeli, Jewish and possibly American targets abroad; the chance of mission failure; an international oil crisis; and more.

And what is most unusual to be hearing from Israeli military men is that while a nuclear Iran is certainly a threat, it is not necessarily an intolerable one.

Kam: “With reservations, I think Israel can live with a nuclear Iran. The critical question is whether Iran would use nuclear weapons against Israel. Rationally, I say no. But this is an assessment that is not based on fact.”

Sharony: “I don’t know if the Iranians act rationally, I don’t know if Cold War deterrence is applicable to them. But I have to assume that national leaderships act rationally, which leads me to the conclusion that we can live with a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons. Is this a sympathetic situation? No.”

Shapir told me in 2007 that “the chance that Iran will launch a nuclear first strike is low.” If Iran went nuclear, he said, what would probably happen is that it would enter a “dialog” with Israel like the Soviet Union had with the U.S. and Pakistan has with India. “Strategic logic is stronger than any ideology,” he said.

Why are these and other critics and skeptics in the security establishment, except for Dagan and a few others, keeping their doubts to themselves? The main reason that emerged from these interviews was a reticence to challenge the government and its security advisors on such a fateful issue “without having solid information,” as Sharony put it.

I suggested to him that if all the skeptics outside of government and active military service continue to keep quiet because they don’t know what the people around the cabinet table know, then the people at that table, led by Barak and Netanyahu, will be the only authoritative voices the public hears, so they’ll be free to shape public opinion to their taste and have clear sailing to launch the war.

Sharony replied fatalistically: “By the way, that’s how it’s going to be.”

He’s probably right – the prowar forces have the field to themselves, and it’s likely to stay that way until the jet bombers take off. But probably does not mean certainly. It is impossible to simply accept this brainwashing, to watch the country sleepwalk to war behind Barak and Netanyahu, knowing that there are so many potentially influential people who are against it, or who at least have severe doubts about it.

The only people who can throw a wrench in the wheels of the war train are those like Dagan, Halevy, Lipkin-Shahak, Gazit, Kam, Shapir and Sharony – bitkhonistim, security types, warriors with big brains. If enough of them go public, they could start a backlash, and then opposition politicians like Tzipi Livni and Sheli Yachimovich – maybe even Yair Lapid (!) – might at least begin to ask the government embarrassing questions.

In 2007, former defense minister and IDF chief Shaul Mofaz told The Jerusalem Post that while he wasn’t ruling out a military strike on Iran, “The potential for a regional escalation as a result of an attack is great. Iran sees Israel as a target and has ballistic missiles that can reach every European capital. If it responds, then Hizbullah will respond and maybe Syria, and we don’t even know how Hamas will respond.” Mofaz quickly forgot those words, but if a wave of opposition arose against the war that’s looming, he might remember them.

There is no greater danger on earth today than that of an Israeli attack on Iran; in my opinion, it will be the beginning of the end of this country. There is no more urgent work for Israelis to do than try and prevent it. The key, the start, is in getting the antiwar warriors to come out of the closet.