Israel is pursuing a studied ambiguity on whether it will attack Iran, keeping its options open on how to rein in Tehran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions, Israeli experts say.
Speculation about an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities has reached fever pitch in recent weeks, driven by comments from Israeli officials and a slew of articles in the international media.
Israel, like much of the international community, accuses Tehran of using its nuclear program to mask a weapons drive, a charge denied by Iran.
The Jewish state, the sole, if undeclared, nuclear power in the region, has made clear it sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat that it will prevent it at all costs.
However, experts say Israel’s rhetoric about a military strike could be seen as a strategy to obviate the need for an attack by piling the pressure on Iran and the international community.
Political science professor Yehezkel Dror’s book Israeli Statecraft analyzes various ways Israel could confront Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions and says that bellicose rumblings from the Jewish state serve a range of purposes.
“Israel certainly wants other countries to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons, and is surely using the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran as one of the means to convince them to do so,” he said.
By brandishing the threat of military action, Israel targets policy-makers both in Tehran and the West, Dror said, using “a very accepted means of creating deterrence, as well as a motivating force.”
Israel’s saber-rattling appears to have stepped up, with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon saying that no Iranian facility, however reinforced, is immune to Israeli attack.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also said to have asked officials to stop “blabbing” about such an attack, saying that it could create the impression an attack was imminent or be seen as undermining tough new European sanctions against Tehran.
For Israeli military and intelligence writer Ronen Bergman, the attack rhetoric is a good way for the Jewish state to preemptively justify an eventual military operation.
“Israel is trying to tell the world: ‘We told you that if you wouldn’t act, we would,’” he said. “Part of the international legitimacy for the decisionmakers is to say: ‘We raised the alert, we did everything throughout the years to get the world to impose sanctions to prevent an attack.’”
Bergman caused a splash last month with a New York Times magazine cover article entitled “Will Israel Attack Iran?” which concluded, based on discussions with senior Israeli officials, that an attack this year was likely.
However, he said that even among his most informed sources, there was still uncertainty.
“There has not been a decision to attack,” he said.
Avner Cohen, an Israeli-American professor with the Non-Proliferation Center at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, also said Israel was keeping its options open for tackling Iran’s nuclear program.
Israeli talk of an attack “may be an 80 percent bluff in the current context, in the sense that Israel has not made a decision,” he said.
However, he said that “Israel under Netanyahu and [Israeli Minister of Defence Ehud] Barak is committed to act, if nothing else would stop Iran, if Iran continues and develops nuclear weapons.”