Command and Control

This week, the world's major powers resumed negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Should they fail, the specter of a possible Israeli strike looms large, seeming to grow more likely as Tehran's nuclear program advances. 

In recent weeks, however, the conventional wisdom has shifted to favor the view that Israel is not on the cusp of a strike against Iran. This has been driven in part by public comments from former Israeli security officials -- notably former Mossad head Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin -- questioning the wisdom of such an attack. An Israeli strike is not feasible, the thinking goes, so long as its security community remains divided -- and the thinly veiled threats of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are therefore mere bluster. 

Don't be so sure. Dagan and Diskin's views aren't likely to tell us much about the likelihood of a strike on Iran one way or the other. For starters, they're former officials -- given the sensitivity of this issue, and the recent media misinterpretation of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's remarks earlier this month, no other current members of the security establishment are likely to go public with their views. This means the perspective of those in the room when Israeli leaders decide whether to attack will only be known to the Israeli public after the fact, if at all.

What's more, don't expect the views of Israel's security establishment to determine whether Israel does or does not attack Iran. Just as in the United States, military decisions are ultimately made by the country's elected leaders. And a close look at recent history shows that Israel's politicians have often shown little compunction about overruling the top brass.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Olivia Holt-Ivry is a research assistant at the Washington Institute.

The above article was published in foreignpolicy.com on May 23rd, 2012.

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