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The Winds of War

By Peter S. Probst

The following is excerpted from an article to be published in the winter edition of the magazine, “Inside Homeland Security.”

I recently returned from Israel where I had been invited to speak at the World Wide Counter -Terrorism Summit, an annual conference sponsored by Israel’s International Institute for Counter Terrorism and organized by Dr. Boaz Gaynor.  This year the conference drew an estimated 1,300 attendees from some 90 different countries.

An issue that dominated much of the discussions concerned the threat of a nuclear Iran, and how Israel and the US would likely respond to the challenge. Virtually every Israeli I spoke to was adamant that Iran could not be permitted to go nuclear. There was less certainty as to the degree and nature of support Israel could expect from its friends and allies.
Despite official Israeli declarations that no decision has been made, I came away with the strong impression that at the highest levels of the Israeli government a decision had been rendered.  Israel will launch a military attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, and I believe the target list could well be broadened to ensure that Iran will not represent a serious threat to the Jewish state for years to come.  To repeat a much overused phrase, “It is not a question of if, but when.”

On the topic of Iran there was remarkable consensus.  Danny Yatom former head of Mossad; Shaul Mofaz, a Former Chief of Staff and Minister of Defense; Boaz Ganor, the founder and Director, of the ICT, and Don Radlauer, Director of the Institute for Asymmetric Conflict essentially echoed the same theme. Iran will attack Israel once it has a nuclear capability.  The sanction regime is not working, and Israel will do whatever is necessary  to assure its survival –the subtext being a virtually explicit embrace of what we used to call “anticipatory self-defense,” or in more familiar jargon—preemptive attack.  The 21 September issue of Israel Today Magazine featured an article titled “Israel: No choice but to attack Iran,” which I believe succinctly sums up the position of most high- level Israeli decision makers.

Because the Israelis are truly convinced that the survival of their nation is at stake, the US does not have leverage to veto the attack but, depending on the situation, we may be able to influence the timing and, perhaps, the scale of such an operation.

In discussions with Washington, I assume the Israelis are making the argument that because their attack is inevitable and a nuclear Iran would be a disaster for all concerned, it is in our national interest to provide full support.

The reality is that even if we were to sit on the sidelines and do nothing, we would still be seen as somehow complicit and reap the consequences.  To minimize the price we would have to pay, we really have little choice but to fully engage.  And there is much to recommend a defanged Iran.

There is another factor to be considered.  Given recent revelations about the extent and sophistication of the North Korean nuclear program, its history as a proliferator, its long-standing covert relationship with Iran, and the failure of US intelligence to detect this game-changing development in my view makes an Israeli attack a virtual certainty.

The undetected nature of the North Korean advance must have shaken Israel’s confidence in US intelligence capabilities to provide accurate assessments as to the Iranian program.  For us a failure to anticipate an Iranian breakout would be an embarrassment.  For the Israelis, it could be catastrophic.

Doubtless such an attack would significantly change the balance of power in the region.  Some at the conference were concerned as to how the Arab and other Muslim states would respond. Recent revelations support a school of thought to which I subscribe that the Arab states would be secretly delighted and turn a blind eye, although no doubt there would be official protestations but even these might be muted.  The Arab street might be aflame, but many Arab governments would secretly applaud.  And some like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE would likely provide covert support.  Increasingly throughout the region, Iran not Israel is seen as the prime threat.

Among Israelis at the conference I found general agreement that the country would pay a very heavy price if it launched a pre-emptive strike.   However, most also believe it would be better to take their losses up front than wait until later when Iran’s position would most certainly be stronger and Israeli casualties most certainly higher.

It is a given that Tel Aviv and much of the country would come under ferocious missile bombardment and suffer significant casualties.  Terrorist groups such as HAMAS, Hizbullah, as well as the al Quds Force, the elite arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) that specializes in covert, extraterritorial operations, would attack targets inside Israel as well as Jewish and US targets in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the Americas.  Worldwide embassies would be bombed, synagogues burned, and Israelis and Jews murdered.  For this reason, I believe we would see an Israeli campaign that would not only target Iranian nuclear sites but their conventional and unconventional capabilities as well.

A successful attack against the Iranian facilities/capabilities using overwhelming force could for us have the added benefit of providing North Korea a demonstration as what to expect should they continue on their present reckless course. Further unsettling the North Koreans should be concern that their nuclear program and other military capabilities could be vulnerable to a variant of the Stuxnet worm.  As the Chinese might say, “We are living in interesting times.”

Peter Probst has over 30 years experience in combating terrorism with CIA and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He is a frequently featured speaker at business forums and international security conferences, and has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 firms. He also co-authored a provocative major study,”Terror-2000,” that is widely credited seven years before 9/11 with predicting the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center using hijacked passenger aircraft.