November 4th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

Is Netanyahu bluffing once again?

Editor's Note: Dr. Trita Parsi is the author of Treacherous Alliance – The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press, 2007), recipient of the Council on Foreign Relation's 2008 Arthur Ross Silver Medallion and the 2010 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. Dr. Parsi will be releasing his upcoming book A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama's Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press), early 2012.

By Trita Parsi - Special to CNN

Should the latest episode of Israeli calls for bombing Iran be taken seriously, or is it – like the many cases prior to it – yet another (politically motivated) false alarm? Like clockwork, Israeli alarm bells have gone off in the past fifteen years with predictable regularity. Bellicose statements by Israeli officials have been followed by alarmist analyses describing military measures as both necessary and inevitable. And then, without any explanation, the bellicosity recedes and Iran and Israel return to their more normal levels of animosity.

By now, as WikiLeaks documents show, U.S. officials tend to view the Israeli threats as a pressure tactic to get the United States and Europe to adopt tougher measures against Iran, and to refrain from any compromise with Tehran over the nuclear issue. These intense periods of Israeli warnings about its imminent intent to bomb Iran have indeed tended to coincide with times when the international community has been debating additional sanctions on Tehran.

This latest call for war is no different.

Next week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to publish a report expected to detail evidence on the Iranian government's suspected past weaponization activities. The Obama administration and the French government have pushed the IAEA to take a tougher line against Tehran. The IAEA report will be followed by a U.S.-EU push for harsher sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Security Council, where Western powers will meet stiff resistance from Russia and China.

The Obama administration has also launched a campaign to report the Iranian government to the Security Council due to its alleged attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Here again, the aim is to convince a skeptical international community to go along with new sanctions.

For Israel, the tactic of threatening war to secure sanctions has been a gift that never stops giving. The Israelis press the U.S. and the European Union to opt for more sanctions by arguing that absent new punitive measures, Israel will be "forced" to strike Iran unilaterally. Washington then uses the Israeli threat to press Russia,China and the rest of the international community to adopt new sanctions topreserve the peace. The choice is, the tactic dictates, between sanctions and war; not between confrontation and diplomacy.

To retain some minimal level of credibility, each new round of saber rattling contains new elements to set it apart from previous episodes. This time around, the narrative reads that intense debates are taking place within the Israeli cabinet between proponents and opponents of unilateral Israeli strikes. What are supposed to be confidential, internal deliberations have now been leaked to the public and the whole world can follow the debate over war and peace unfold like a bizarre reality TV show.

While skepticism about Israel’s saber rattling is warranted, it is also dangerous to completely dismiss it out of hand. At a minimum, there are two important factors that indicate the past pattern of empty threats may be changing.

First, stiff resistance from the U.S. military has in the past forced Israel to think twice about any unilateral strike against Iran. Pentagon officials believe that Iran will not differentiate between an American and an Israeli attack. As such, Israeli military strikes will beget significant Iranian retaliation against American targets. In July 2008, in the midst of a massive Israeli effort to convince former President George W. Bush to attack Iran before he left office, then chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen warned that an Israeli strike on Iran would prove "extremely stressful" for U.S. forces in the region. "This is a very unstable part of the world and I don't need it to be more unstable," he cautioned.

But with President Barack Obama in election mode, Benjamin Netanyahu may sense an opening. At a time when the Republicans are attacking Obama for being insensitive to Israeli interests, Obama cannot afford another confrontation with Netanyahu. In spite of the danger Israel would put U.S. troops under if it attacked Iran, Obama’s ability to exact a political price on Israel for doing so is currently limited.

Second, as I document in A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press, 2012),sanctions and military action are not either-or options in Israel’s view. Rather, they are complementary. While sanctions systematically weaken Iran and reduce its capabilities, including its ability to muster nuclear advances, military action is needed to push back Iran if it reachesimportant nuclear milestones, in Israel’s view. Sanctions can slow down Iran’s nuclear advances, but military action can set the nuclear program back, albeit only temporarily. Alone, neither approach is satisfactory for Israel. Only when the two are combined will the Jewish state feel confident that the balance of power is securely locked in its favor.

But with Washington having little left to sanction in Iran, and Israel’s credibility reaching a new low as a result of its many false alarms, how much longer can this game of brinkmanship and sable rattling be pursued before it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Post by:
Topics: Iran • Israel • United States

soundoff (169 Responses)
  1. Stephen K. Mack (@StephenKMackSD)

    Israel has the best, most well equipped military outside of the USA. We ought to know, we paid for it to the tune of 147 billion dollars in aid since 1947. And did we also finance the 100 atomic warheads that Mr. Netanyahu has bragged about in the past? Who makes US Foreign Policy Mr. Netanyahu and his American Likudnik allies, Neoconservatives and their sub rosa allies and an utterly supine President Obama? That is a tantalizing question certainly worthy of extended discussion, but in the face of the irrational threats of the murderous thug Mr. Netanyahu, we need a world leadership that will put in check this mad man, and I say that without apology.Even the threat of nuclear war by one nation against another is grounds for sanctions against that nation. Israels possession of of usable atomic warheads and the capability of targeting Iran is the destabilizing force in the region, and for any one with any honesty, is, perhaps, the driving force that may be leading Iran to develop it own atomic weapon. How does the world community address this potentially destructive situation? Perhaps President Obama could grow a set and make clear to Mr. Netanyahu that continuing aid to his country will be predicated upon a cultivated rhetorical rationalism with policies that follow that model i.e. no more threats of imminent attack on any country or people in the region. Although, if you listen carefully, you can hear the baying of the dogs of war drawing ever closer.

    November 6, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • jesse

      Very well said Stephen. I wish America would listen to you. I hope Obama remembers his own promises before being elected & listen.

      November 6, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  2. eric calderone

    I essentially agree with the article. Israel has no plans to attack Iran. At most it can only hope to delay Iran's nuclear production, not to stop it. Any attack by Israel on Iran would provoke Iran's considerable missile barrage on Israel, something that Israel never has faced before.

    Israel is hoping to trap the U.S. into attacking Iran. Such an attack would be a foreign policy blunder of biblical proportions. While an Arab government here or there might favor such an attack, muslims around the world would be enraged. Moreover, nothing short of a ground invasion can stop Iran's evolving nuclear capabilities. Not only would a ground invasion suffer very considerable casualties as Iran is not a third world country– it has a professional military - but the ensuing insurrection against occupation forces would make the very worst days in Iraq look like a picnic.

    Should Iran be seeking nuclear weapons, it needs to be pointed out that there is an up side. A nuclear Iran would level the playing field in the middle east for the Palestinians. It would bring irresistable pressure on Israel to make long overdue concessions. It would force Israel to take into consideration the consequences of its reckless policies, as it could no longer look to the U.S. to ensure its impunity from the consequences from its actions. Furthermore, given that Israel, the most reckless country in the middle east and a de facto, if not de jure, enemy of Islam, has nuclear weapons, why should Iran not have them?

    November 6, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • jesse

      great point, & excellent question!

      November 6, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  3. troy

    Israel follows up after announcing new settlement constructions with additional announcements of attacking Iran
    so as to change the subject and to wash out any responsibility to the rest of the world.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  4. Rocky

    Its everyone's fault but the muslims. The muslims are the most persecuted "religion" on the planet. Not ! They just don't see it. They are the biggest murderers on Earth, all in the name of their fake allah and pedophile "prophet".

    November 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • jesse

      Hey Rocky, the anti-Israelis roated you here buddy. With all the help you received from the AIPAC, it seems like you lost big time. Go home boy.

      November 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • dev

      Hey Rocky, how much do you get paid for writing such crap? By thge way , you were a cute alter boy!!! All the priests remember you!!!

      November 6, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  5. jesse

    CNN shame on you for not posting my comments. It's true that CNN is run by JEWS & Zionists.

    November 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  6. jesse

    CNN, you've done this too many times. A comment that's free of profanities but critical of Israel's policies should be posted without question. People say NUKE IRAN & you shamelessly post that! Heaven knows how many comments critical of Israel weren't posted, or removed later. SHAME ON YOU CNN. Shame on all the ZIONISTS in any media outlets.

    November 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  7. stop the bs

    Iran hasn't even developed a nuclear bomb, yet has threatened to wipe Israel off the map on numerous occasions which this foolish author conveniently forgets to mention. Israel has had the A bomb for about forty years now and has yet to threaten any of their neighbors with nuclear annihilation even though most of her surrounding countries are her sworn enemies.

    November 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  8. Desert Eagle

    Dr. Parsi gives a Persian-American academic view that is nonetheless part of the Muslim World's propaganda campaign. Iran today threatened to destroy Israel (again) in its entirety with five nuclear armed cruise missiles obtained from the former Soviet Union. This week the weak-and -unarmed IAEA will announce unequivocal evidence that Russian scientist are helping Iran develop detonators for nuclear missile warheads. But Dr. Parsi does the class psychopath head trip - blame the victim. Israel has the right to pre-emptive attack.

    November 7, 2011 at 3:15 am |
  9. jesse

    CNN shame on you again. 5 or 6 pro Israel comments to 1 anti, & you're still losing.

    November 7, 2011 at 3:56 am |
  10. Glenn Harris

    what a load of hooey. apparently the author has no access to public news information. only yesterday iran publicly stated its intention to destroy israel with 4 missiles. one sided false reporting does nobody any justice but obviously that is not the authors concern with his not so well concealed agenda of bashing Israel.

    November 7, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  11. Mark zoya

    As long as this ridiculous double standard is enforced by USA that there is one law-rule for Israel and another for everyone else you Americans are not going to have peace no matter how powerful your military is or how advance your weapons are. Politicians in USA and western politicians in general rushed to defend Israel when Iranian president said Israel will one day be wiped off the map because of much higher rate of Palestinian population increase but now the same politicians are completely silent when Israeli president and PM openly threaten Iran with Military strike. This is why people in the middle east hate your guts. Your politicians suck up to the Jews in order to get reelected and your young people pay the price in afghanistan's and Iraq. I am against the nuclear weapons and even nuclear generated power but what I don't understand is why its OK for Israel to have nuclear weapons but not OK for Iran?

    November 7, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  12. TowelHeadsAreMorons

    So when will the Doilie Heads and the Towel Heads start going at it? Oh I know....After the republicans regain power!

    November 7, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  13. Bribarian

    ISrael starting mores wars eh, i guess Mel deserves an apology

    November 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • pinko

      Hi Thartea

      That's the most ridiculous excuse Jews give you for displacing those poor Palestinians and stealing their land. Do you think if there really was a God they could inflict so much misery on those poor Palestinians and get away with it? No way. This alone is a great proof that there is no God.

      November 9, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  14. Thartea

    Israelites are the Choosen-Children of God. Those who ever opposes them shall have to face the consequences. None of us is greater than God.

    November 8, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  15. No more american dream

    I hope Iran wipe of America off the map, the world don't need fat americans. In fact the world would be better whitout america. U.S kill people all over the world, and now is time for Iran to kill some lazy fat americans.

    November 9, 2011 at 1:41 am |
    • pinko

      Hi no more

      Don't think Iran can do you that favour and wipe off the yanks but give us another 10-20 years and Chinese are going to demolish Americans economic for sure.


      November 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  16. Naseem

    Trita Parsi/NIAC are the mouthpiece of the Iranian regime. As a lobbying group for the Iranian regime, Parsi/NIAC are willing to falsify, fabricate, lie, and distort to protect that evil regime's interest.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  17. Rocky fan

    Rocky, I think I love you. You are a fearless lover of truth.

    November 10, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  18. Rocky

    To Rocky fan. Thank you for your kind words. I am telling the TRUTH because i really love our planet , created by G-d, and i don't want to see any more destruction of humanity by the evil cult of islam.

    November 12, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
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