Encouraging the Iranians (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Zalman Shoval 05/22/12)
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The foreign press has become Israeli politicians´ favorite forum for
criticizing their government. Speaking ill of the government to the
foreign press is not a crime (and, in the Internet age, no one can be
prevented from doing it), but responsible individuals would be wise
to think twice before letting their tongues or pens loose.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an article co-authored
by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and a respectable group of foreign
intelligence experts, military experts and diplomats. The article did
not minimize the danger posed by a nuclear Iran, nor did it overtly
rule out a military attack on Iran (though it was implied), but its
main argument was that Iran´s nuclear ambitions can be curbed, and a
blow can be dealt to the political and military figures spearheading
the nuclear efforts, by way of sanctions.
The article suggested delivering "a potentially decisive economic
blow to the regime" by completely cutting Iran off from international
banking systems, placing blanket embargoes on investments and
commerce with Iran, preventing Iran from using shipping services
(blocking its exports), and imposing crippling sanctions on insurance
companies that maintain ties with Iran.
The article´s co-authors are clearly aware of the shortcomings of
existing sanctions ("history has made clear that the regime will
never change course due to half-measures," they wrote), but they fail
to address the fact that every possible sanctions arrangement will
have some holes in it, and that by the time results are visible, if
they are achieved at all, Iran will have already advanced to the
point that it cannot be stopped.
In the meantime, the leaders that convened at Camp David for the G-8
summit this weekend decided to widen the holes and ease the sanctions
on the supply of spare parts for Iranian civilian planes as well as
on technical support for Iran´s oil industry (in stark opposition to
Dagan and his colleagues´ recommendations).
Dagan and his co-authors are highly regarded, but it has been a long
time since any of them have been in the intelligence loop in their
respective countries. Dagan is an expert in military methods and
organization thanks to his senior positions in the military,
intelligence and the Likud faction, but it is a shame that he ignored
the recent advice offered by former Military Intelligence chief Maj.
Gen. Amos Yadlin (who remarked that the more people dismiss the
military option, the less effective sanctions will be).
Incidentally, the scenario that the Wall Street Journal article
presents could have drastically different results than those
projected by its authors, and there is a historical precedent: In
1941, Japan went to war with the U.S. mainly because it believed that
the economic choke hold the U.S. had imposed (due to aggression
toward China and the threat to American interests in East Asia) could
undermine its regional dominance. Therefore, the isolation of Iran
could conversely prompt the Islamic republic to launch a war (and in
this scenario, Iran would have the advantage of dealing the first
blow). The Japanese were also considered rational, but the fact that
those who commanded the Pearl Harbor attack knew they could not win
did not deter them from making the self-destructive decision to
It is safe to assume that Iran´s leaders were pleased to read Dagan´s
article, as were certain officials in the American administration who
are trying to take the wind out of the sails of the military option ó
whether their reasons are legitimate or have to do with oil prices
and presidential elections. (Incidentally, the overwhelming majority
of the American public supports a military strike on Iran.) Even the
well-known political commentator Fareed Zakaria, whose articles are
often influenced by policymakers in Washington, wrote last week
that "while Iran does pose a threat, it has been systematically
exaggerated over the past few years."
The current reports surrounding "understandings" and "diplomatic
solutions" through nuclear negotiations, alongside the surprise visit
by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano to Tehran
this week, are apparently a part of this process. Iran on one side
and the U.S. and Europe on the other (and Russia, of course) are all
in the business of buying time. Iran wants to clandestinely continue
its nuclear program, and the U.S. and its allies want to avoid making
Without giving Dagan and his cohorts´ article too much weight, they
may yet regret having written it.
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