The Corner

Is Netanyahu Signaling a Preemptive Strike Against Iran?

Speculation in Washington and the Middle East is suddenly intensifying about a possible Israeli preemptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Are these unsubstantiated or exaggerated rumors being stirred by the media or by Netanyahu’s enemies, or is the Netanyahu government is seriously contemplating going to war? The answer may be both.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues see Iran steadily getting closer to building operable nuclear warheads and the ballistic missiles and terror networks to deliver them. They hear apocalyptic rhetoric coming from the mouths of Iran’s leaders, threatening to annihilate the Jewish state in order to hasten the coming of their so-called messiah, the Twelfth Imam. They see Iran denying the reality of the first Holocaust, while aggressively preparing to cause a Second Holocaust. What Netanyahu and his team do not see is the Obama administration and the international community willing to take decisive action to stop Tehran before it’s too late. To the contrary, President Obama remains unwilling to change his failed “engagement” policy towards Iran, a policy that has resembled Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler and that has given the mullahs nearly three more years to advance their nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu spoke to the Knesset on Monday and delivered his most sobering warning yet about the magnitude of the Iran threat and the rising dangers Israel is facing throughout the Middle East. “If I had to summarize what will happen in our region, I would use two terms: instability and uncertainty,” Netanyahu told his parliamentary colleagues and his nation. “The collapse of Qaddafi’s regime in Libya, the bloody incidents in Syria, the American forces leaving Iraq, the new government in Tunisia, the upcoming elections in Egypt and many other events — these are all expressions of the immense changes occurring around us. These changes can increase the instability within these countries, and the instability between countries. … A nuclear Iran would pose a terrible threat on the Middle East and on the entire world. And of course, it poses a great, direct threat on us too.”

Then, Netanyahu made news. “A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone,” he insisted. “It must also include offensive capabilities, which is the very foundation of deterrence. We operate and will continue to operate intensely and determinately against those who threaten the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is ‘If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,’ and the second is ‘If anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands.’”

Over the past decade, I have not heard Netanyahu or his advisers discuss such principles so publicly and so clearly. #more#There seems to be little question that the Prime Minister and his team are laying the moral and strategic framework for preemptive military action, both against the Hamas terrorists that are firing rockets and missiles at Israel from Gaza in the near term, and against state enemies such as the Islamic Republic of Iran in the not-too-distant future.

Behind the scenes, Netanyahu is reportedly in active discussions with his cabinet on how best to proceed. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week reported that Netanyahu and “Defense Minister Ehud Barak are trying to muster a majority in the cabinet in favor of military action against Iran,” citing “a senior Israeli official.” According to the official, the paper reported, there is a “small advantage” in the cabinet for the opponents of such an attack. “Netanyahu and Barak recently persuaded Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who previously objected to attacking Iran, to support such a move.” Some Netanyahu advisors, however, deny that such discussions are a prelude to any action in the near-term and argue that the left-wing media in Israel is making the discussion more ominous than it really is.

Perhaps, but the Israeli Defense Forces just test-fired a Jericho missile capable of reaching Iran. Israel recently pre-positioned submarines in the waters not far from Iran. What’s more, Israel has been running a series of national civil-defense drills over the past year to prepare the Israeli population for a war that could involve thousands of rockets and missiles raining down upon them.

These are not the only signals the Netanyahu government has been sending, just the most recent. In September, Netanyahu delivered a major address to the U.N. General Assembly in which he stated bluntly: “Today I hope that the light of truth will shine, if only for a few minutes, in a hall that for too long has been a place of darkness for my country. So as Israel’s prime minister, I didn’t come here to win applause. I came here to speak the truth. … The international community must stop Iran before it’s too late. If Iran is not stopped, we will all face the specter of nuclear terrorism, and the Arab Spring could soon become an Iranian winter. … The world around Israel is definitely becoming more dangerous. Militant Islam has already taken over Lebanon and Gaza. It’s determined to tear apart the peace treaties between Israel and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan. It’s poisoned many Arab minds against Jews and Israel, against America and the West. It opposes not the policies of Israel but the existence of Israel.”

These comments followed closely on the heels of a speech by Major-General Eyal Eisenberg, chief of home-front command for the Israeli Defense Forces, who said in early September that “Iran has not abandoned its nuclear program. The opposite is true; it continues full steam ahead.” Eisenberg then added ominously that with the Iran nuclear threat rising, Arab revolutions spreading, and Turkey becoming hostile towards the Jewish state, “the likelihood of an all-out war is increasingly growing.”

Such developments are why former vice president Dick Cheney recently speculated that Israel is preparing for a first strike against Iran. It is also why in October President Obama sent Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to Israel with a surprising message from one ally to another: Don’t even consider launching preemptive strikes against Iran. The White House is trying to end U.S. military involvement in the Middle East and North Africa as fast as possible. It certainly does not want another conflict before the elections.

One thing seems clear: Israelis increasingly feel they cannot wait much longer. Economic sanctions are having an effect, but haven’t stopped Iran’s feverish bid for nukes. The Stuxnet virus has had an effect, but hasn’t shut down Iran’s nuclear program. The assassination, defection, and mysterious disappearance of senior Iranian nuclear scientists continues. Yet the Persian Bomb is closer to becoming a reality. The Obama White House is not taking decisive action to neutralize the Iran threat. Neither is the U.N. or NATO. None of the leading Republican presidential candidates have, as of yet, delivered a major address outlining a serious, principled, credible policy to neutralize Iran. At some point, Netanyahu may choose to go it alone. It all sounds like the plot of a political thriller. Unfortunately, the prospect of an all-out Israeli-Iranian war is becoming all too real.

 Joel C. Rosenberg is the author of eight best-selling novels and non-fiction books about the Middle East. His latest political thriller, The Tehran Initiative, is currently #9 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list.


The Latest