Israel and the United States, apparently acting in coordination with each other, raised the stakes at the regional poker table over the weekend.
Pentagon officials said that Israel has already started the countdown ahead of a military strike. American television contributed its part to reinforcing the above assessment by providing a description of the manner in which Israel is expected to strike Iran’s nuclear sites. It was a simple and logical operational account, Hollywood-style. It was so convincing in its simplicity that all that’s left was to ask when the show will get on the road.
Meanwhile, Israel contributed the Herzliya Conference, with a variety of statements that hinted: Don’t mess with us. We know what needs to be done, and if necessary we’ll do it.
As opposed to what may appear around here, the Iranians got the message, yet they have not yet started to sweat. They too raised the stakes.
Supreme leader Khamenei reminded us that Iran assists every global party that fights against Israel. In order words, you’re going to hurt us? Not only Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas will operate against you; every terror group we fund worldwide, ranging from South America to the Far East, will give you no rest.
Now, the ball is back in the Israeli-American court. If the military threats don’t deter Iran, what should be done until the sanctions start affecting Tehran? More threats? Pull out the claws?
The Cuba model
Former Air Force Chief, General (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, estimates in closed-door forums that the crisis vis-à-vis Iran is following the model of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. As was the case then, the current crisis has three sides to it.
Firstly, we have the sanctions on Iran (similar to the naval blockade on Cuba.) Secondly, we see military threats in the form of reinforced American deployment in the Persian Gulf (similar to the high alert called by the US ahead of a possible strike on Cuba.) Thirdly, the US and USSR maintained a secret dialogue channel in 1962 that ultimately allowed the Russians to get off their high horse. It’s unclear whether such channel exists today.
In line with this model, over the weekend both Israel and the US reinforced the military threats. During the Cuban crisis, the Russians treated the American threat as one that may materialize. The Iranians, even after the past weekend, are not there yet. During the Cuban crisis, there was the possibility of a global nuclear war in the immediate range. Nowadays we are talking about the chance of a regional, conventional and non-immediate clash.
Moreover, today it is unclear who truly holds the reigns in handling the crisis. Under the Cuban model, there were two maim actors: President John Kenney and his brother, Robert Kenney. President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta wish to play the role of the Kennedys in the Iranian crisis. However, they’re not alone: Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak are also interested in the role.
Meanwhile, the Americans are unwilling to let Israel lead the handling of the crisis. The US and Europe do not accept Israel’s thesis of “now or never.”
In March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will determine whether Iran compiled with the demands presented to it. Should the new inspectors’ report, completed at the end of January, fail to satisfy IAEA chiefs, the way shall be paved for handing over the matter to the UN Security Council. A similar international atmosphere paved the way for the American attack on Iraq in 2003.
For Israel, the IAEA decision in March will be yet another stop in the decision-making process pertaining to the crisis. It is very likely that at that point, Israel will not only place declarations on the table, but rather, back them up with something more tangible.