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Not even the IDF chief can stop a war with Iran

A leading Israeli defense reporter writes that Barak and Netanyahu have decided to attack Iran before November, and only IDF chief Benny Gantz can stop them. I say even he can’t.  

Channel 10 defense reporter Alon Ben David, who’s been covering the Israeli security establishment for about 20 years and is as plugged in up there as anyone alive, writes in Haaretz today that the only person who can stop an Israeli attack on Iran before the November 6 presidential election is IDF chief Benny Gantz. This is an extremely newsworthy op-ed because Ben David is not a pundit, he’s a top-drawer reporter (also writing for the “Bible” of military affairs, Jane’s Defence Weekly) and he’s saying Netanyahu and Barak have made the decision to strike between August and October. He also says the cabinet – a majority of which supports an attack, and no surprise there – “will only be convened right before the strike to prevent leaks.” Interestingly, the key leaker whom Netanyahu and Barak want to keep in the dark about the exact time of the attack is Shimon Peres, who, Ben David writes, might go so far as to alert the White House to try to stop it.

The chief of the Mossad, head of military intelligence and commander of the Air Force all oppose a war, according to Ben David – and so does Gantz, at least for now.  “The State of Israel cannot go to war without the support of the chief of staff,” Ben David notes, so it’s going to be up to Gantz to face down the entire political leadership. He would be speaking on behalf of the security establishment, which opposes an attack.

Much of what Ben David has to say about Gantz is encouraging. First of all, he’s not gung ho.

Gantz is familiar with the widespread assessment that an attack will not only not scuttle the Iranian bomb project, it is liable to intensify the pace of its development. Israel will be dragged into a painful war, which will not defeat it but will paralyze it and deliver a critical blow to the home front, after which Israeli society may be irrevocably changed. It will be a war that is liable to lead many Israelis to reconsider their future in this place.

Also, in line with Gantz’s hesitancy about a war, Ben David says he has an “accurate moral compass.” All very good to hear. On the worrisome side, though, he “so dislikes personal confrontations.” Barak, who is Gantz’s direct boss, lives for them. There’s another problem – Gantz was not Barak and Netanyahu’s first choice for IDF chief; their first choice, Yoav Galant, who lost the appointment over his tricky land dealings, was said to be in favor of a war.

Ben David writes that the military/intelligence brass are “walking around like they’re carrying a heavy burden” – they don’t want to do it. With few exceptions like Galant and Amos Yadlin, director of Israel’s leading security think tank, the retired military/intelligence types are against it, too. So is a majority of the Israeli public (though a majority, like most of the military/intelligence establishment, would like the U.S., with it’s far superior capabily, to do the job instead).

It’s only the politicians who are eager to strike. A huge problem is that that the politicians include three former IDF chiefs (Barak, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya’alon) as well as other ex-generals and master spies.

Ben David says that in the end, it will all come down to Gantz. If he agrees with Netanyahu, Barak and the cabinet majority, Israel will attack; if he doesn’t, Israel won’t.

I happen to disagree with Ben David, and I’m speaking strictly out of my own reading of things. Finally, the army takes orders from the elected political leadership. If the IDF chief of staff tells the prime minister and defense minister he’s against a war, that Israel cannot do enough damage to Iran’s nuclear facilities to make the  consequences worth suffering, I’m sure Netanyahu and Barak will listen politely – and then tell the cabinet it’s time to vote, the vote will be for war, and Gantz and the army brass will have no choice but to launch it. Unless, of course, they resign on the spot, which is not the sort of thing these career military men would ever dream of doing. They may voice their disagreements, but in the end they will follow orders – and as Ben David reports, the people who give the orders, the political leaders, are down for war. Sometime before November 6.

Unfortunately, Netanyahu, Barak and the people they frighten into obedience, which is a lot of people, hate to hear dissent, especially on a matter as colossal and fraught as this. Anybody who speaks out, like ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, like ex-Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, like Netanyahu’s long-time chief aide Uzi Arad, is discredited and turned into an outsider. With the political leadership set on war, Gantz, as head of the military, will make it his business to remain an insider. He may stick to his current opinion and even say it out loud, but he will also make it absolutely clear that if those who give the orders want to attack, he will be a 100% loyal soldier and lead the IDF toward its objective with everything he’s got.

“All the weight of this decision has been placed on the narrow shoulders of a single army officer,” Ben David concludes. I’m afraid this is much, much too big for any one officer, even the IDF chief, to stop.

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    1. Richard Witty

      Any thoughts on the different math of a limited strike?

      Not MAD.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Witty

      The Mossad arguments include impossibility of a complete mission, and intelligence gamed likely outcomes from/in Iran, Lebanon, Gaza, West Bank, attacks on foreign embassies, etc.

      Most wars are limited, not all out. Testing the adversary.

      Last week’s warnings to Hezbollah were an attempt to raise the question there and in Iran, of what their grey response would be, not black/white.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Richard, it seems to me that if Israel attacks Iran’s nuke facilities, it will be out to do as much damage as possible. In response, Iran will hit Israel as hard as it can – tho there’s a question whether it could/would use WMD-tipped missiles. What happens after that – U.S., Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, for instance – who knows?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Richard Witty

      I think they will undertake a limited strike on a strictly military target, indirectly related to the nuclear effort.

      Mossad has leaked that the intelligence is incomplete, the bunker-busting weaponry is insufficient, the logistics of a 15+ simultaneous target is impossible without Saudi or other Arab basing (or US aircraft carrier basing), and that the degree of retaliation is unknowable.

      Its hard to know if the leaderships are smart and intend a grand gesture as a gross world warning (like the Cuban missile crisis resulted in the establishment of direct phone lines between Soviet and US presidents), or if they are utterly stupid and really mean the bluster as simplistically as it is presented.

      What do you think? Smart (with us not seeing all the nuances) or stupid?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ummmmmmmmm, stupid.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Philos

      They’re not stupid. They’re just f*****g insane. Hubris can be a form of madness, right?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Richard Witty

      I’m not sure if they are stupid.

      Netanyahu though has only worked to increase the degree of trust of Israel among commercial interests. I think that is a large success (limited to the commercial definition of success).

      In relation to all Muslim nations/people, he has presided over a devolution of trust and communication.

      Who do you think would be smart? Smarter?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Richard Witty

      In response to a limited strike, a communication, do you think that Iran would attack Israel, Israeli embassies and/or civilian centers, Hezbollah and/or Hamas/Islamic Jihad would attack Israeli civilians?

      Do you think the Iranian leadership is smart/stupid, by the same criteria?

      Reply to Comment
    9. It makes no sense for Israel to carry out a limited strike – the damage to Iran’s facilities would be minimal, plus Iran would have that much more legitimacy to arm. A limited strike would seem the last thing Israel would do.

      Reply to Comment
    10. AYLA

      I read the title and heard: not even the rain has such small hands. I’m grateful lyricism. especially given the actual content of this piece.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Richard Witty

      A limited strike is possible, whereas a large attack that confidently took out all significant Iranian facilities, is likely impossible.

      Most military action is primarily a communication (rather than communicate directly). A limited strike on strictly military target with no civilian repurcussions, would communicate “we can”, and would dare Iranian escalation.

      Iran would not have the scope to undertake or cue Hezbollah to undertake a MAD response, without giving Israel carte blanche world acceptance of a much larger assault, likely with US logistical support.

      Even China and Russia would not accept an all-out Iranian assault on Israeli civilian targets.

      The purpose of limited military efforts is to communicate.

      The danger is in miscommunication, between Iran and Israel, and within both Israeli and Iranian heated up personnel.

      The only way to avoid escalation is with communication. If that is not forthcoming, then a limited strike is short of all-out war.

      Ultimately the two states would have to recognize each other if they didn’t want these horrors to reoccur. As Iran as stated that it will “NEVER” recognize Israel, that is a difficult quandry.

      Political pandering (resulting in vague and shifting AIEA negotiation proposals) makes trustable communication very difficult, even through an intermediary.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Devin

      Israel is wiser than this to attalck Iran. It is not useful and Israel do not want to be involve in another war. US will prevent this war by all her power. Middle East can not go through this process anymore. Why Israel alway wants to go to war? They do not have any solution for their problems?.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Helder Vieira

      In the long run, it is vital for Israel’s interests to seriously reduce all iranian military capabilities.
      And to that purpose, an attack on enrichment or research sites is useless.
      So, the only important achievement Israel is probably interested in is to drag the USA military into war with Iran, hoping that in the end the state collapses and remains disfunctional for a few decades.
      So, maybe the best iranian response to an israeli strike would be not to respond, simply putting the issue in the SC hands while at the same time it would be preparing other measures, more efficient in the long term.
      As things are, however, even if Iran chooses not to retaliate, the american forces in the area will very probably be attacked.

      Reply to Comment
    14. max

      The wonders of modern reporting: a reporter reports of a reporter who reports that he can read minds.
      The reporter reported upon is a top-drawer, or else we wouldn’t believe that he can read minds. But our reporter is smarter: he gets the mind-reading part but not the conclusion.
      Or maybe the top-drawer one isn’t so much on top…
      And maybe the two top reporters are simply doing what they’re supposed to by those we read their minds – distribute speculative info?
      Wouldn’t it be great if reporters had a tally showing how often their speculations were right?

      Reply to Comment
    15. Kbrennan

      I have heard that there will be a war with Iran since Bush’s second term. What is different now?

      Reply to Comment
    16. Prometheus

      Most likely there will be no war between Israel and Iran.
      Contrary to what some say or believe to one is really interested in such all-out conflict where Iran’s population might be decreased to few millions while Israel will be inhabitable for quite a few years.

      Limited strike is not an option as well, because it won’t gain anything.

      So there are two options:
      1 – To economically suffocate Iran, cause rebellions, topple gov, etc.
      Apparently this option is preferable.
      2 – To completely destroy ALL of Iran’s military, scientific and other facilities in one strike so powerful there will be no retaliation.
      Obviously, Israel by itself is not capable of such military operation so the help of US is a necessity.

      “…the only person who can stop an Israeli attack on Iran before the November 6 presidential election is IDF chief Benny Gantz.”
      That’s hilarious. IDF chief is not in position to start or stop anything. It’s not his job, and that reporter should have known that.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Ziggy

      We are to believe that the Israseli government that can’t even stop college-aged anarchists from entering the country to riot every week in Bi’ilin will execute a deadly war? Will these geniuses arm the air force with paintball machineguns like with Mavi Marmara and allow Iran to use their courts to sue for
      “damages” also? A better policy at this point would be to pressure the Saudis with US help to open bases for the IAF nearer to Iran. We are in the same situation as before WW2. Appeasement never pays with fascists yet we are appeasing the anti-Semites of the world like crazy. First target should be the Dheir Hassan neghborhood of Hezbollah and the chief residences of the mullahs in Iran. THe government needs to crack down on the network of traitors in the country who are building a fifth column that will irrevocably destroy our ability to defend. Oslo allowed our enemies 18 years to build up the strike capactiy against us for war like Germany did in Rhineland and Czechoslovakia. In the US Arab money has brought the universities, churches, news media, labor unions and most of all the news media. Israel should tell Iran to open its nuclear facilties to outside observers–or else.Killing a few mullahs would be the start of the “or else”…

      Reply to Comment
    18. Devin

      Ziggy, you are sick and you need to visit Dr. for your mental.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Rafael

      There will be no war. Israelis are just too cowardly. As often, they’re trying to outsource the mission to the Americans.

      Reply to Comment
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