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The Fog of Prewar?

By Yaakov Lappin
JINSA Visiting Fellow

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was one of the first to sound the alarm over Iran's nuclear armament program, identifying the threat it posed to global security in the early 1990s.

The last time he spoke openly about his views on the Iranian threat was when he was head of the opposition. After coming to power in 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu didn't change his views - he only muted them.

But then, in October, something happened which caused the Iranian threat to jump to the top of the Israeli news agenda.

The possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran was being discussed day after day on the front pages of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's largest circulation daily newspaper, which is aligned with the opposition Kadima party and is hostile to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Soon enough, all of the newspapers and television channels joined in the media frenzy.

Many Israeli readers were perplexed by the question: Why now? After all, Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear on several occasions in the past that he does not believe a nuclear-armed Iran can be contained, deterred, or accepted. Nor does he believe Israel can flourish under the shadow of a nuclear threat posed by a fanatical Shiite regime, one which has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction, and which constructs heavily armed proxies in southern Lebanon and Gaza. Furthermore, he has not made secret the fact that he does not rule out a military strike.

Soon enough, a discomforting claim emerged to explain the avalanche of reports. According to it, security or political insiders opposed to an Israeli attack on Iran leaked attempts by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to persuade the security cabinet to vote in favor of a strike. Government ministers accused the media of taking part in an unprecedented breach of national security.

Other observers, however, dismissed the entire media spectacle as a masterfully orchestrated performance, designed to pressure the world into acting ahead of the publication of an IAEA report. In its findings, the IAEA finally backed Israeli intelligence assessments, and stated that Iran was working intensely towards obtaining nuclear weapons.

Back in May, Meir Dagan, the recently retired Mossad chief, sent shock waves through Israel when he publicly came out against an aerial assault on Iran's nuclear program, describing the idea as "foolish" and stating that a regional war would lead to unforeseen results.

Dagan appears to be the leader of a school of thought, which favors the idea of relying exclusively on covert operations coupled with diplomatic pressure to prevent Tehran from going nuclear. His rejection of an overt attack could be interpreted as an affirmation of the effectiveness of stealth strikes.

This month's mysterious explosion at a strategically important IRGC missile base on the outskirts of Tehran, killing General Hassan Moghaddam, the architect of Iran's missile program, and at least 16 other Iranian officials, was linked by many observers to Dagan's stance.

In the midst of all this fog, some facts can still be discerned.

If the initial Hebrew media reports on Iran were aimed at turning a majority of the Israeli public against a strike, the initiative did not succeed. According to a poll taken by the Haaretz daily newspaper at the start of November, 41 percent of Israelis favor a strike, and 52 percent said they trusted Netanyahu and Barak to make the right decision on the issue.

In contrast, 39 percent of the public is opposed to an attack, and 37 percent indicated their lack of trust in the premier and the defense minister. Support for an attack was even found in the Israeli Arab community, where 25 percent of those asked said Israel should carry it out. A further 21 percent said they were unsure.

Furthermore, it is safe to assume that away from the stormy public discourse, the IDF has a fully operational plan in place to launch such a maneuver if ordered to do so.

The operation could involve the use of capabilities such as long-range ground-to-ground missiles, advanced midair refueling capabilities to enable hundreds of fighter jets to reach targets far from home, and Airborne Warning and Control (AWAC) aircraft - all of which are reportedly possessed by Israel.

Jerusalem also possesses military satellites for real time battle arena intelligence.

Many analysts believe Israel is armed with an advanced electronic warfare platforms that can blind radars, silence command and control centers and paralyze communications networks.

In 2010, Israel unveiled a fleet of giant IAI-made Heron drones. They could form the first line of defense against an expected Iranian counterstrike, as they can reach Iran and hover over bases housing long-range Shahab-3 ballistic missiles.

Back home, Israel's Arrow missile defense system is shielding Israeli airspace.

Yet, any military plans would inevitably have to factor in the guaranteed involvement of Hezbollah - armed with over 50,000 destructive rockets - Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

Perhaps most problematic is the utter chaos currently gripping Syria and Egypt. The regional upheaval is an undeniable strategic wildcard, and one which makes the lives of decision makers watching Iran with a wary eye that much more difficult.

Yaakov Lappin, JINSA Visiting Fellow, is a journalist for the Jerusalem Post, where he covers police and national security affairs. For more information on the JINSA Visiting Fellows program, click here.

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