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Is Israel preparing an assault against Iran? The media is ready

The IAEA report on Iran’s alleged nuclear program was surrounded by a media frenzy in Israel supporting an attack.

By Neve Gordon

Skimming the newspapers as I rushed to get my children ready for school, I suddenly understood that Israel might actually be preparing for a military attack against Iran. “[United States Secretary of Defence Leon] Panetta Demanded Commitment to Coordinate Action in Iran” read one headline, and “A Bomb at Arm’s Length” read another.

Feeding this hype were a series of military events that had been planned months in advance yet mysteriously coincided with the publication of the International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran’s efforts to produce a nuclear bomb. For four days straight all of the major television channels repeatedly showed images of Israel preparing for war.

It began with a report on Israel’s testing of a long-range ballistic missile, which emphasised the missile’s capacity to carry nuclear warheads. This was followed by interviews with pilots who were part of a comprehensive Israeli Air Force drill on long-range attacks carried out at an Italian NATO air base. Archival images of a missile being launched from an Israeli submarine were also shown. Ha’aretz readers were told that the submarine was important because it would enable Israel to carry out a second strike in case of a nuclear war.

These images of offensive arrangements were followed by images of Israel’s defence preparations. On November 3, the three major news channels dedicated several minutes of air time to covering a drill simulating an attack on central Israel; these clips showed people being carried on stretchers and soldiers treating casualties who had been hit by chemical weapons. A day later, Ha’aretz reported that the military preparations against Iran had indeed been upgraded.

Iran with nuclear capabilities has been continuously presented as an existential threat to Israel. On October 31, in the opening speech of the Knesset’s winter session Prime Minister Netanyahu noted that a “nuclearised Iran will constitute a serious threat to the Middle East and to the whole world and obviously also a direct and serious threat against us,” adding that Israel’s security conception cannot be based on defence alone but must also include “offensive capabilities which serve as the basis for deterrence.”

Analysts repeatedly mentioned that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier and Reuven Barko from Yisrael Hayom even compared Iran to Nazi Germany. One cannot underestimate the impact of this analogy on the collective psyche of Jewish Israelis.

Barko went on to connect Hamlet’s phrase “to be or not to be” to Israel’s current situation, while posing the existing dilemma confronting the State as “to hit or not to hit”. President Shimon Peres claimed that Iran is the only country in the world “that threatens the existence of another country”, but neglected to mention that for generations, the Palestinians have been deprived of their right to self-determination.

On the day when the International Atomic Energy Agency report was finally published practically all Israeli media outlets described it as a “smoking gun”. The report, according to the media, provides concrete evidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is also aimed at producing weapons. Zvi Yechezkeli from Channel 10 described it as “the end of the era of Iranian ambiguousness”, but failed, of course, to remark that Israel’s own ambiguity regarding its nuclear capacities continues unhindered; Roni Daniel from Channel Two declared that “we are relieved” by the report, suggesting that Israel’s claims have now been corroborated and that the report can serve to justify both the imposition of harsher sanctions against Iran and even an attack.

Notwithstanding the endless war mongering, most Israeli commentators claimed that the frenzy was no more than a “nuclear spin”. The majority of political analysts tended to agree that the media campaign, which presented Israel as seriously preparing to attack Iran, was orchestrated just in order to pressure the international community to impose harsher sanctions against Iran. Channel 10’s Or Heller put it succinctly when he said: “It appears that neither Iran nor the Israeli public is the target of what is going on here, but first and foremost it is the international community, the Americans, the British.”

The commentators also noted that there is wall-to-wall opposition to an Israeli assault, including the US, Europe, Russia and China. Alex Fishman summed up the international sentiment when he wrote: “If someone in Israel thinks that there is a green or a yellow light coming from Washington for a military attack against Iran – this person has no inkling whatsoever of what is going on; the light remains the same, a glaring red.”

The portrayal of Israel as a neighbourhood bully who feigns a rage attack while calling out to his friends to hold him back is not particularly reassuring, however.

After 10 days of media frenzy, Defence Minister Ehud Barak tried to calm the public by saying that “not even 500 people would be killed” in the event of an attack – but he failed to say that there would be no attack.

Yossi Verter from Ha’aretz explained that the media hype serves Barak’s interests. “A successful attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities under his ministerial leadership can rehabilitate his personal status, and help him recover the public’s trust.” Verter cites a leading member of the political system, who claims that “Barak is convinced that only a person of his security stature can lead perhaps the most fateful battle in Israel’s history since the War of Independence.”

Regardless of whether Netanyahu and Barak are already set on launching an assault, the media hype and the portrayal of Iran as constituting an existential threat to Israel surely help to produce the necessary conditions for a military campaign.

What is remarkable about this saber rattling is its abstraction. Not a single analyst noted that entering war is easy but ending it is far more difficult, particularly if on the other side stands a regional power with vast resources and a well-trained military (unlike Hamas or Hezbollah). And, of course, no one really talked about the likelihood of a gory future or what kind of life we were planning for our children. This kind of abstraction makes war palatable, providing a great service to the war machine.

Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation and can be reached through his website www.israelsoccupation.info

First Published in Al Jazeera November 18, 2011

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    1. aristeides

      Here’s a thing I’ve noticed: When Israelis complain about the growing incursion of haredi fanaticism into the nation’s public life, the comparison invariably made is to Iran. “The Iranianization of Israel” “The Jewish ayatollahs”

      It seems that Iran exists in the Israeli mind to be the epitome of evil of all sorts. Fact is, the type of theocracy towards which Israel is rapidly creeping is more similar to that in Saudi Arabia, compared to which, Iran is an outpost of liberalism. But I never see Saudi mentioned in such cases, always Iran, Iran, Iran.

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Adding: the same is true in the US. The neocon cartoonist Michael Ramirez regularly produces images of Iran and Ahmadinejad that would send Abe Foxman into an apoplexy if the target were Israel. In fact, many of his images seem to transcribed directly from the classic files of Der Sturmer.

      Reply to Comment
    3. I’m pretty sure that all the hype is a deliberate attempt to focus world attention on the seriousness of the threat. The hope is that some kind of ‘coalition of the willing’ – the US, UK and maybe one or two other European nations – will decide to take action. It boils down to an argument which says ‘it’s bad for you to attack Iran, but imagine how much worse it would be if we had to do it…’

      Reply to Comment
    4. aristeides

      No one ever questions the assumption that there IS an “Iran threat.”

      Reply to Comment
    5. Henry Weinstein

      It’s a good read, but if you were an Iranian you would be for accurate reasons scared as hell by all this war propaganda. Iranians are taken hostages between an increasing repression resulting from panic at the top of Iranian regime and the perspective of a total war against their nation.
      Some remarks:
      Factually Iran is not an existential threat to Israel and Saudi Arabia (if someone thinks Saudi Arabia is a neutral country, ask the Bahreini people, and the Iraqis).
      The Iranian regime – which is in deep structural political crisis at the the top – is on the defensive (moreover their Syrian ally is collapsing), and the last thing the Iranian people needs in his struggle for democracy – before the Arab Spring there was the Iranian Summer in 2009, and the crackdown just postponed the Green call for freedom – is to receive bombs and missils destroying the economical infrastructure of their nation.
      Factually it’s Israel war machine’s hubris at the present time which is an existential threat to world peace.
      Looks like we are back in summer 1914 with Israeli leadership eager to play the pyromaniac Serbian part.
      Another parallel can be drawn with Germany war machine planning the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, thinking it would be over in a matter of a few months.
      And for those who think an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites would be just another IAF attack, it’s the parallel with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which should come in mind before it’s too late.
      What recent wars in the Middle East have achieved?
      I repeat

      Reply to Comment
    6. Dannecker

      The comments of Henry and Aristeides is why I hope a colalition of Iran, Turkey, the EU and a second term Obama lead a flotilla to reverse the mistake of 1948 and restore a UN mandate of Palestine

      Reply to Comment
    7. Very interesting to find all of the glaring similarities between this piece and a piece written in the New Yorker today: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2011/11/iran-and-the-iaea.html

      It’s as if the United States and Israel had the same media….

      And let’s not consider the context in Iran at this moment. They underwent the Green Revolution in 2008, and the bellicose speech on Ahmadinejad must be juxtaposed with the voices for freedom in Iran.

      And thus, you have the governments of all countries talking war war war. And that’s the counter-revolution. That’s everybody against Occupy Wall Street. That’s everybody against the Green Revolution. And that’s everybody against J14.

      Reply to Comment
    8. thair

      One wonders, here in the states, if the people in Israel really believe the average American buys into the one-sided media and Obama/Clinton call for more war? The special relationship is in doubt, for many of us, and some want to see Iran do what our politicians and the neocons have failed at, namely neutralize Israel. We don’t forget the Rachel Corrie stories and the flotilla horrors. Israel has little actual support even from many Jewish folks here. Most think it’s time for Israelis to demand peace and quit stoking the flames for destruction. Once a people who fought hard for peace, the Jewish community needs to find a way to live together, or leave the Middle East. We’re tired of the same old crap.

      Reply to Comment
    9. ToivoS

      Israel is not going to attack Iran. It is just too difficult. Way too far and too many hostile countries between Israel and Iran. It would be a logistical nightmare.

      Having said that then why all of this noise coming from Israel? I think it is mostly to create a crisis atmosphere in which Obama blunders into some corner and finds he has to do the job. In short Israel, and her US neocon allies, are stirring the pot for another war so the US can fight another of Israeli’s wars.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Henry Weinstein

      Toivos, if you were the present Israeli government, you wouldn’t attack Iran, because it’s crazy.
      Unfortunately you are not the Israeli government.

      Reply to Comment