What's the Point of Israel's Psychological Warfare Against Iran?

Politicians and the public have been accusing the media of 'wantonness' for their discourse on Iran, but the media is not to blame – the decision-makers are.

Full disclosure: Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, hasn’t spoken to me recently. Actually, he has never spoken to me at all. Nor has Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, or any other defense establishment officials in Tehran.

I also admit that I’m quite envious of my military reporter colleagues and defense analysts who get to go to lots of briefings by defense officials and political decision-makers, which include details about the necessity of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, its timing (more or less), and even exactly how many kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium Iran has.

Still, I can only imagine Jafari or Vahidi, who receive an Israeli press summary each morning, slapping their foreheads with their hands and yelling; “Inconceivable!” Just like that clever Sicilian, Vizzini,  in the movie “The Princess Bride,” who yells that over and over, Jafari surely spits out that word every morning anew.

“It just can’t be that the Israelis are knowingly compromising themselves, giving us critical information about the timing of their attack and are even disclosing some details about what they know (and also about what they don’t) about our nuclear program,” he must be saying to himself.

Jafari presumably then explains to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that, “There’s something here being hidden from us, the Iranians. The Israelis and particularly Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is known to be a genius as well as a trickster, is playing games with us. He’s talking with innumerable Israeli journalists and briefing them, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling columnists in Israel and the world who support an attack and is speaking with them personally [as disclosed by Barak Ravid in Haaretz], and are doing all this even though they really don’t plan to attack.”

If Khamenei should ask him why the Israelis won’t attack, Jafari will give him several reasons: The danger to the pilots is great; they will only succeed in delaying the nuclear project by a year, at most; the international community will oppose them, and Israel’s home front is totally vulnerable. And while it’s true that the number of Iranian missiles that can reach central Israel is small, Hezbollah has plenty of them. And if anyone in Israel is entertaining the thought that Hezbollah won’t attack if Israel bombs Iran, he ought to recall that group’s performance during the past two decades and examine Hezbollah’s almost exclusive source of funding (hint: It’s Iran).

In the end, Khamenei, who is nonetheless worried, will apparently order him to boost the country’s air defenses to make sure that in the event someone in Israel is stupid enough to bomb while also telling everyone beforehand, Israel will at least lose as many planes as possible.

One has to admit that the incessant talk in Israel about a possible attack succeeded about a year and a half ago in creating a sense of urgency in the international community about the need for sanctions. The trick worked and the sanctions being imposed on Iran are more drastic than they’ve ever been.

But what do Netanyahu and Barak expect to accomplish now by leaking so much information to the media? A strengthening of Iran’s air defenses? Are they harboring the childish thought that they can push the U.S. administration to attack before the presidential elections? After all, that won’t happen even if Netanyahu and Barak scream “stop us” at the top of their lungs.

A lot of politicians and the public have been accusing the media of “wantonness” for conducting this discourse. But the media is not to blame.

Those decision-makers who have, almost every day, made sure to stuff reporters with information about how close the Iranians are to a nuclear bomb are the ones responsible for this anarchy. They are the ones stoking international hostility against Israel, they are the ones causing everyone to view Israel as making baseless threats (“otherwise they’d never be talking so much”) and above all, they are the ones who are reducing the chances that an operation against Iran will succeed.

Vahidi said this week that Israel’s declarations constitute psychological warfare. I tend to agree with him. But perhaps, since I’m not as clever as Vizzini, and certainly not as brilliant as Ehud Barak, I don’t understand the objectives of this psychological warfare.