April 30, 2012
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Has Israel’s game of chicken with Iran jumped the shark?
|Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak|
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in recent months have been more explicit than ever about the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran to keep it from obtaining nuclear weapons capability.
A number of current and former top military officials are now suggesting that the duo has gone too far, turning what was meant to be a calculated bluff into a commitment to a strike that could accelerate Iran's nuclear program and engulf the region in war.
Are Barak and Netanyahu merely posturing, or are they really intent on waging war?
Last week, Barak marked Israeli Independence Day with a speech dismissing the likelihood that Iran will succumb to diplomatic pressure to end its suspected nuclear weapons program. He said that while the likely success of an Israeli military strike was not “marvelous,” it was preferable to allowing Iran to press forward.
A week earlier, Netanyahu had made a searing Holocaust Remembrance Day speech in which he likened Iran to Nazi Germany and stressed his commitment to Israel’s self-defense.
Such posturing is not novel: Israel, like other parties to longstanding conflicts, for years has used brinksmanship to ward off actual warfare. Statements from its military ending with the threat “we will know how to respond” are routine.
The target of such pronouncements is not only Iran but also the international community, said Steve Rosen, a former foreign policy director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who maintains close ties with some of Netanyahu’s top advisers. Western leaders are likelier to act to isolate Iran when they are faced with the real prospect of Israel going it alone, he said.
“It’s no secret that American and European interest starts with Israel doing something,” Rosen said.
Eitan Barak, a Hebrew University expert on international relations (and no relation to the defense minister), described the tactic as one of brinksmanship.
“There is a possibility that Barak is saying in a closed forum, ‘The military option is not on the table, but let's say it in public in order to keep this position of brinksmanship,’ ” the professor said.
The problem might be that the “closed forum” now encompasses only Barak and Netanyahu, he said.
“If this is a diplomatic game, the game should be stopped when you discuss this with people like the Mossad and the Shabak,” Eitan Barak said, using the Israeli acronym for the Shin Bet internal security service. “But it could be that Netanyahu and Barak decided it’s such an important issue, they should make themselves really warlike even in the Cabinet, so that there will be no doubt in eyes of foreigners and diplomats that they are ready to launch a military attack.”