Analysis / It won't end in six days
New research from the Defense Ministry indicates that an Israeli attack on Iran would likely lead to a bitter war that would last years
These are, more or less, the ground rules that have been laid down for us by U.S. President Barack Obama: The Israel Navy is permitted to intercept weapons shipments from Iran to Hezbollah and Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence may disclose details of the latest long-range rockets tested by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But, at least in the short term, as long as the international community is engaging in dialogue with Tehran in an attempt to formulate an agreement that could perhaps stop its nuclear program, it would be best if Israel did not make too much mischief and get in the way of the responsible adults.
The seizure in the Mediterranean Sea of an arms-laden ship from Iran is not very different from the operations undertaken twice this year by the American fleet, despite the fact that the volume of arms captured this time by the IDF is much larger. Evidently, the IDF monitored the shipment for an extended period of time, identified the right vessel and planned an interception that went off without a hitch.
Both the ship's seizure and the revelations about Hamas' latest rockets occurred just prior to the United Nations General Assembly vote on the Goldstone report. At a time when the IDF is being accused of war crimes in the Gaza Strip, it doesn't hurt to shine a spotlight on Iran's continuing efforts to arm terror organizations in the region with rockets whose only purpose is to hurt Israeli civilians.
The Obama administration has a completely different order of priorities. In addition to the critical decision on the future of the war in Afghanistan, the president is preoccupied by domestic concerns and his fall in popularity at home. After these, in a high but not the highest position on Obama's list of international priorities, comes Iran. It appears that we can expect a few more weeks of dialogue, followed, in the event of their failure, by a U.S. initiative to impose sanctions against Iran. Only in March 2010 or thereabout will it be possible to assess the likelihood of halting Iran's progress toward nuclear weapons capability through nonmilitary means.
A figure who until recently was a key player in the decision-making process in Israel, and who continues to advise many of the country's leaders, said this week that the idea of sending Iran's enriched uranium to Russia is not necessarily a bad one, noting that a similar proposal was raised in Israel as far back as five years ago. The key, he said, is in the supervisory provisions in the agreement. If Iran does confound observers and accept an agreement similar to the draft it avoided signing onto last week, then there will be something to discuss.
The IDF must prepare itself for the possibility of an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities because that's its job. But the important question is how willing the U.S. is to protect Israel in the event of a counter attack. The message Israel is getting from Obama's administration at this time is that it is out of the question - and thus the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran diminishes drastically.
But how will an Israel-Iran war look if it breaks out eventually? This question is at the center of a new study compiled by Defense Ministry researcher Dr. Moshe Vered. He suggests that Iran's willingness to sacrifice many victims over of a long period of time in a conflict against Israel means that such a war "will be measured in years, not weeks or months."
Vered, a physicist and performance analyst, is publishing his findings this week in the context of his sabbatical at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. The Shi'ite-Khomeinist outlook, he writes, "sees Israel's existence as a wrong that must be corrected for the sake of world redemption. The achievement of this goal will only be possible once Israel is annihilated. The Iranians will continue fighting this war, as much as it is up to them, until they achieve their objective, despite the heavy toll that will be exacted in battle," Vered writes.
Vered argues further that only the fear of the Iranian regime being toppled could bring such a war to an end. But it seems unlikely that Israel will be able to pose a real threat to the Iranian regime, and "in the absence of a way out, acceptable to both sides, the war could continue for a very long time."
He notes that the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s lasted eight years. Iran paid an inconceivable price in that war - half a million dead and economic damage higher than the country's entire oil income in the 20th century - before it agreed to a cease-fire. The cease-fire came only when there was a real danger that the Iranian regime would not survive.
The assumption that the war will become prolonged should affect the way Israel prepares for it, as well it should affect the decision whether or not to attack Iranian facilities in the future. Vered rejects the assumption that in the absence of a shared border an Israel-Iran war would be fought only with surface-to-surface missiles. Such warfare shouldn't last a long time because Iran's supply of long-range missiles isn't large. However, he writes, it is more plausible to assume that Iran will want to continue the fighting against Israel via its proxies Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. He plays down the likelihood of a short confrontation (an Israeli assault on Iran's nuclear facilities followed by a punishing counterassault and then an immediate cease-fire under international pressure while both sides realize that the war has played out).