A document purported to be a leaked Israeli government memo suggests Israel is prepared to attack Iran to cripple the Persian nation’s nuclear capabilities. The document, recently published by American journalist Richard Silverstein, who writes a blog focused on Israeli-Palestinian peace, has sparked widespread debate about the ramifications of Israel going to war with Iran.
Silverstein says the memo was intended for Israel’s eight-member security cabinet and outlines a coordinated cyber attack and ballistic missile strike that would cripple Iran’s telecommunications network, underground missile bases and above ground nuclear facilities. He says it depicts a “sanitized version of 21st century war” that could turn into a “protracted, bloody conflict closer to the nine-year Iran-Iraq War.”
According to The BBC, Israel’s outgoing civil defense minister, Matan Vilnai, said attacking Iran would lead to a 30-day conflict that would leave 500 Israelis dead.
Israeli President Shimon Peres voiced a strong protest to the prospect of a strike last week, saying attacking Iran alone, without an understanding with the United States, would be catastrophic, writes Shai Feldman of Foreign Policy.
Despite this opposition and concerns voiced by other senior Israeli and U.S. intelligence and defense officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, may still choose to act, according to John Bell, director of the Middle East Program at the Toldeo International Center for Peace in Madrid. Bell writes the Israeli leadership may feel compelled to strike “because of its concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and because rhetoric has boxed the leaders in.”
Iran denies accusations it is developing nuclear weapons and says its activities are for peaceful purposes, like generating electricity.
Israeli popular opinion about warding off an Iranian threat is mixed. While most oppose attacking Iran, as widespread anti-war protests demonstrate, 32 to 35 percent of Israelis still support taking on Iran alone, according to Reuters.
Questions have been raised as to what role the United States would play if such an attack were to occur.
Panetta has asserted the U.S. “will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period.” But he also has said he does not believe Israel has made the decision to go to war with Iran, and that there is still room for negotiations.
The Israeli publication Maariv wrote the U.S. will be forced to join Israel’s campaign if it acts against Iran. The publication went on to claim that Democratic sources close to U.S. President Barack Obama support this assertion. Silverstein refutes this claim as “so improbable as to beggar belief.”
Feldman of Foreign Policy adds that Israel “simply cannot take action that would be framed in Washington as ‘putting American lives at risk.’”
Meanwhile in Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the existence of the “Zionist” regime in Israel an “insult to humanity” and adds that confronting Israel would “protect the dignity of all human beings,” according to the Associated Press.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the statement “offensive and inflammatory.”
However, Nima Shirazi, a blogger and political commentator from New York, argues Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement “does not constitute a direct threat of military action.”
If Mr. Netanyahu chooses to act, and Iran and its regional allies choose to respond, Thomas Rogan of The Guardian suggests that all sides will restrain their actions. He writes, “Each state views the prospect of a war as counter to their particular long-term ambitions.”
Delaney Chambers is a junior reporter and intern at Voice of America. A graduate student in Political Communication at American University, her interest in the Middle East stems from a year spent in Egypt and Syria, where she witnessed the beginnings of the two countries' respective revolutions. With over eight years of journalism experience in the US and UK, she is contributing her regional and linguistic expertise to VOA, Middle East Voices and our social media outlets.