Israel is in the grip of separation anxiety. It has suddenly become aware that the Iranian threat is shrinking and that the good old military option, which until now provided so much security, has fallen off the table. How can the state go on with neither an immediate threat nor a military option?
The culprit in this loss is none other than the outgoing Mossad director, Meir Dagan. The man who launched a war against Iran suddenly gave the State of Israel a four-year survival prognosis. Rather than inevitable destruction tomorrow or next year by an Iranian bomb, we have until 2015. A worrisome postponement indeed.
Absurdly, Dagan's detractors, who basked in the success of the computer worm that was implanted in the software running Iran's nuclear centrifuges - according to foreign sources - thus delaying the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb, are now concerned about that success. As if that were not enough, it now turns out that the land-grab affair of the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff designate could sabotage the military option. If Yoav Galant is charged, heaven forfend, with corruption, then who would lead the attack on Iran? A state that has been stripped of its chief of staff and of its external threats, we all know, might as well be sitting on death row.
So first of all, take a deep breath and have some water. There's no lack of threats. Even if the nuclear bomb is gone, we still have Hezbollah, Hamas, radical Islam, an American cold shoulder, a rift with Turkey and creeping bigotry.
We can also stop panicking over the possibility, in the wake of Dagan's announcement, that the international community won't rush to put pressure on Iran because Israel, the world's adjudicator when it comes to the Iranian threat, called a time-out.
That attitude is misleading and dangerous. After all, Israel itself realizes quite quickly that having a monopoly over the fight against Iran is a double-edged sword. It conditions the international community's willingness to stop Iran on Israel's policy in the territories and its general morality.
So, for example, when Israel rejected the demand to suspend construction in the settlements it was seen not only as responsible for stopping the peace process but also as the obstacle to the creation of an Arab front against Iran.
Israel was unmoved by this claim. One could take the demagogic route and argue that for Israel the settlements are more important than the Iranian nuclear threat, since it singlehandedly is thwarting the international mobilization against Iran. But in fact there's no real connection between Iran's nuclear policy and Israel's policy in the territories.
No Arab state has adopted Iran's "Islamic bomb" option. The rift between most Arab states and Iran is so deep and the fear of Iranian political hegemony so effective a deterrent that the Arab states forged an anti-Iranian coalition regardless of Israel's policy in the territories. If the Arab states sought to obtain nuclear weapons, Israel gave them more immediate reason to do so in the past than Iran. In fact, with the possible exception of North Korea, no state in the world views Iran's nuclear aspirations as legitimate.
Sanctions were imposed on Iran well before Israel responded to the nuclear threat. Iran began to be viewed as a threat around the time of its Islamic revolution, and its inclusion on the list of state sponsors of terrorism was not a nod to Israel.
In the past 30 years Iran has been under harsh sanctions meant to curb both its uranium enrichment capabilities and its motivation to do so. Israel was not partner to the majority of them.
The rush in the past two years to impose harsher sanctions stemmed not from the growing threat to Israel, but rather from the assessment that time was growing short. The latest sanctions may have been spurred in part by the fear of an Israeli attack on Iran, but that fear has not disappeared. A new war in the Middle East is still an option for Israel. But more than a pinch of megalomania would be needed in order to think that Israel is behind the world's anti-Iran policy.
Intelligence assessments have always been a subject of controversy, and no intelligence is immune from colossal errors. Dagan did not eliminate the threat, he reestimated the time needed to realize it. If the reevaluation is correct, it provides vital room for economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran, or for a policy that would eliminate Tehran's motivation for obtaining nuclear weapons.
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