The information provided by the prime minister on Monday, in an unnecessary and showy presentation, is largely recycled and was intended to persuade the United States and European countries to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu did not provide any proof that Iran is violating the agreement. Most of the information he presented had been published in a 2011 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which contains explicit information about Iran’s military nuclear programs, including the Amad project that was shelved.
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The immediate threat actually lies in a potential conventional confrontation in Syrian territory. Attacking Syrian bases that contained large stockpiles of weapons and possibly surface-to-surface missiles transferred from Iran to Syria goes beyond the last messages Israel sent to Syria and Iran. In fact, these attacks were not messages but actual warfare against Iran’s military buildup in Syria. This is the new front that the prime minister and the defense minister have been talking about for weeks as they announced, from every possible domestic and international platform, that Israel plans to prevent Syria from turning into an Iranian base against it “whatever the price,” as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it.
Stopping the arming of Iran on Syrian territory is indeed a supreme Israeli strategic interest, but the question of the price is equally important. Is the Israeli home front prepared to absorb an Iranian missile attack on its territory in response to Israeli attacks? Is the Iranian threat greater than the threat of war against Hezbollah, which according to military reports is armed with tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israel? Will Russia continue to give Israel freedom of movement in Syrian air space? It is reasonable to assume that the Israeli decision-making process takes these possibilities into account, but wars are not conducted by the book and their results are in most cases far more disastrous than what was foreseen in the planning stages.
Proof of unexpected developments lies in the very fact that Israel, which had maintained a policy of noninvolvement in the Syrian arena, has become actively and dangerously involved and may be dragged by its sloganeering into a military campaign that will get out of control. Syria is not the only front in which Israel is immersed. The Gaza border is heating up as the number of casualties among the demonstrators there increases and as Nakba Day (May 15) approaches. As in Syria and Lebanon, Israel views Gaza as an existential threat, so it is difficult to discern the hierarchy of threats that surround it.
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The Iranian nuclear agreement promises to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat for at least a decade, something that is good for Israel and good for the world. The conflict in Syria, on the other hand, requires the government to examine alternative ways and means to achieve its goals.