Home > Middle East, News of the moment, The Politics of War > Is Benjamin Netanyahu bluffing on Iran strike?

Is Benjamin Netanyahu bluffing on Iran strike?

By Donald Macintyre  Jerusalem  Tuesday 28th August 2012.

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Nothing better illustrates Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to condition his public to a unilateral strike on Iran than the obloquy visited this month by his circle on the – these days – popular state President Shimon Peres.

When Mr Peres dared to say publicly that Israel should only act in concert with the US, Israelis were told that he had a long history of misjudgments, including his opposition to the 1981 solo strike on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear plant at Osirak.

Mr Peres is not alone, however. The public opposition to a strike by the immediate past heads of Mossad and the internal security service Shin Bet widely reflects similar views among most of the serving security establishment, excluding the defence minister Ehud Barak, but including the chief of general staff Benny Gantz. Given that Mr Netanyahu’s record is that of a fairly risk averse Prime Minister, is he going to ignore their strongly held view that the benefits – a short delay in Tehran’s nuclear programme of three years at most – are greatly outweighed by the dangers?

If not, Mr Netanyahu could be bluffing, course. The strike threat having helped to persuade the Western powers to tighten sanctions against Iran, he could even now be using it to tighten them further. The problem with the bluff theory – apart from what the writer David Grossman has called Mr Netanyahu’s “messianic-catastrophic” belief that his purpose in life is to prevent an Iranian bomb – is partly one of raw politics. Might the Prime Minister not have a credibility problem if he were now to back off, with the issue, as Israel saw it, unresolved?

If he is not bluffing then the motives for a possible strike before the US elections are twofold. The military one is that Iran’s nuclear installations, some deep underground, will soon enter what Mr Barak has called a “zone of immunity” – the point at which they become impervious to a unilateral strike by Israel, which lacks the deep penetration bombs the US has.

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