Try Some of the Israeli Perspective

The cacophony of voices trying to explain whether Israel will attack Iran continues. Twitter, especially, is a good forum for watching new theories and predictions develop. A recent idea put forward is that Israel’s sudden increase in threats is part of a longer game, of trying to leverage a strike on Iran against a coming Palestinian bid at the United Nations. Others have assumed Israel is simply trying to push the US to take harsher action against Iran.

I won’t—because I can’t—predict with clear certainty whether Israel will attack Iran. I suspect it would if the government finally came to the determination that Iran was about to obtain a nuclear bomb, but as Michael Koplow effectively points out, there are so many signs that can be interpreted in different ways that it’s anyone’s guess—and they are only guesses.

But I would argue that many of the Western observers and analysts who are providing the bulk of the speculation are simply not thinking like an Israeli security official. And this affects the nature of assumptions and explanations about potential Israeli action.

This is, I think, partly an outcome of the general tension—dare I say antipathy or hostility?—toward the Netanyahu government that many feel. Bibi’s government has continued the settlement enterprise unashamedly. While he isn’t responsible for the largest increase in settler population, he has been loud and clear about his determination to see the process continue, and he has presided over some nasty and illiberal efforts by members of his government and his party to inhibit criticism of them and to promote rightist preferences more generally. This has colored perceptions of Bibi, casting him as untrustworthy and therefore his claims that Iran is a genuine threat to Israel aren’t to be taken as seriously.

At the same time, many simply ignore Israel’s long historical record of privileging an aggressive security policy, a willingness to risk American ire, a deep suspicion of waiting for things in the Middle East to turn out for the best, and the sense that Israel’s deterrent posture is a critical element of its overall foreign and security policy.

Look closely at the claims that Israel’s former and current military and security officials oppose a strike on Iran: such statements are conditioned upon timing and a belief that Iran continues to pose a threat to Israel. In other words, security leaders don’t necessarily oppose an attack itself, they are just skeptical of the utility of one right now.

Perspective is important, but what we need is more effort to understand the perspective of those intimately involved in constructing potential policy.

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