The prize for most ludicrous statement this week goes to authoritative Israeli officials who briefed reporters that as far as the looming clash between Iran and the United States is concerned, Israel “will stay out of the picture.”
For most people and governments around the world, Israel is the picture itself. Against the world’s better judgment, Benjamin Netanyahu pressed Donald Trump to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran, thus putting Washington and Tehran on an inevitable collision course. Even now, Netanyahu and his ministers have to exert themselves to hide their drooling over the prospect of seeing Tehran down on its knees — because of the threat of war, or because it was carried out.
The prime minister’s former national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror — who is not bound by the gag order imposed by Netanyahu on his ministers — advocates a powerful preemptive U.S. strike against Iranian installations, including, presumably, its nuclear infrastructure. “In two hours it will all be over,” he said in a radio interview last week.
Even though the rule is that predictions of quick victory are notoriously short-lived, especially in the Middle East, Amidror and the many Israeli officials who agree with him privately may be an exception — provided they have received ironclad guarantees that a devastating U.S. strike won’t induce Tehran to unleash its doomsday weapon — thousands of Hezbollah missiles — against America’s number one ally, Israel, the root of all evil.
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Netanyahu and his colleagues have understandably shied away from preparing the public for the possibility that the campaign against Iran could entail retaliation by Hezbollah — such an eventuality might mar Netanyahu’s reputation as the grandest schemer of all time. The lack of any other public discussion of the threat, however, is puzzling. Whether it derives from a false sense of security that the missiles from the first set won’t fire in the third; or relies on expert analyses that Hezbollah wouldn’t dare risk its privileged status in Lebanon, never mind its very existence; or stems from trust in Israel’s power of deterrence or from blind faith in Netanyahu’s diplomatic acumen, the lack of debate reflects a willful blindness toward a clear strategic and increasingly present danger to Israel’s future. In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, such collective myopia was dubbed “konceptzia.”
If Hassan Nasrallah fails to disobey an order from Tehran to “die with the Philistines,” as Samson said before bringing the house down on himself and his enemies, Hezbollah could impose a harsh military campaign on Israel. In a worst-case but nonetheless plausible scenario, Hezbollah could fire thousands and thousands of guided and unguided rockets and missiles on Israeli strategic targets and civilian population centers. Many of these missiles carry a 500-kilogram or 750-pound explosive device, capable of flattening a city street and killing anyone within a 100-meter range. The thought of the destruction and loss that could be wrought by one such rocket — never mind hundreds — makes Hamas rocket attacks in the south seem like child’s play.
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Out of a healthy respect for the organization’s potential to wreak havoc, Netanyahu and the heads of Israel’s security services have traditionally walked a fine line with Hezbollah, careful not to push the Shi’ite paramilitary group into a corner of desperation. In the present confrontation with Iran, however, Israel isn’t calling the shots. It has put its fate and trust in the hands of a capricious U.S. president whose foreign policy achievements so far include volunteering to serve as Kim Jong Un’s stateside PR manager while he continues his country’s nuclear drive, as well as the ambitious “ultimate peace plan” that so far has only yielded the debacle in Bahrain to which, it seems, Israel is not invited.
Trump is entering the fray like a lone ranger, devoid of allies, with a sense of self-confidence that is in inverse proportion to his experience and diplomatic talents. He is engaged in a complex game of brinkmanship with people long considered masters of the art. For now, however, Israeli public opinion, guided and encouraged by its leaders, is giving Trump standing ovations.
There may come a day of reckoning, in which Netanyahu is asked to account for his string of decisions on Iran — from confronting Barack Obama to goading his successor Trump, from advocating the abandonment of a flawed but workable nuclear agreement in favor of a risky and complex clash with Iran, managed by an impulsive novice.
But such an accounting will take place only after the rubble has been cleared, the dead are buried, Netanyahu explains there was no other choice and promises that the goal of stopping a nuclear Iran is clear-cut and close at hand, if only the world would listen.