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Encouraging the Iranians (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Zalman Shoval 05/22/12)Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1927 Israel Hayom Israel Hayom Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 strike.

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 uncomfortable decisions.

Without giving Dagan and his cohorts´ article too much weight, they may yet regret having written it.

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