Since a couple more articles pertaining to the looming crisis with Israel, Syria and Iran have appeared, I thought I'd post this here in the hopes that it would be of interest and spark more discussion. Thanks!
The current issue of Newsweek (the 1 October 2007 issue) has an article by Dan Ephron and Mark Hosenball titled "Israel's Raid on Syria: Prelude to a Nuke Crisis?" (the title displays as "The Whispers of War," until you go to print it; once you have the printable view, the title changes to "Israel's Raid on Syria: Prelude to a Nuke Crisis?" -- *Shrug*) that echoes and reinforces the bass-line that we've been hearing about the impending war with Iran.
Ephron and Hosenball use retired U.S. Air Force colonel and professional war gamer/consultant Sam Gardiner as their hook: "In Gardiner's war games, the conduct of Iran's nemesis, Israel, is often the hardest to predict." The authors note that "The simulations have led Gardiner to an ominous conclusion: though the United States is now emphasizing sanctions and diplomacy as the means of compelling Tehran to stop enriching uranium, an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities could end up dragging Washington into a war."
While the authors report that "a European intelligence official said it wasn't certain Israel had struck anything at all" on 6 September and "[i]n Washington...the consensus against a strike is firmer than most people realize," they also record the observation of "a well-placed Israeli source, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized to speak for the government:"
"'Two thousand seven is the year you determine whether diplomatic efforts will stop Iran'....'If by the end of the year that's not working, 2008 becomes the year you take action.'"
"The idea of a pre-emptive strike also has popular support" in Israel, even though the aforementioned "well-placed Israeli source" concedes, "'No one in their right mind thinks that there's a clinical way to totally destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities.'" (Hence the logic behind the White House planning for a first nuclear strike by the U.S. against Iran.)
While the ever-ubiquitous "knowledgeable sources" say that departed Middle East adviser to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, David Wurmser, "told a small group of people that Cheney had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz --and perhaps other sites -- in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out," which in turn "would then give Washington a pretext to launch strikes against military and nuclear targets in Iran," neither Wurmser nor Cheney's office would confirm this. Surprise, surprise.
The authors' most sobering observation comes four paragraphs from the end of their piece: "The question may not be whether America is ready to attack, but whether Israel is." They continue:
"In Tel Aviv last week, former deputy Defense minister Ephraim Sneh concurred. Sneh, a dovish member of Israel's Parliament and a retired brigadier general, took a Newsweek reporter to the observation deck atop the 50-story Azrieli Center. 'There is Haifa just over the horizon, Ben-Gurion airport over there, the Defense Ministry down below,' he said, to show how small the country is. 'You can see in this space the majority of our intellectual, economic, political assets are concentrated. One nuclear bomb is enough to wipe out Israel.'"
One of the authors, Dan Ephron, was interviewed in the first half hour of Here & Now, a nationally syndicated news and arts program originating at WBUR-FM in Boston, on Tuesday, 25 September; you can listen to the interview here.
Not to be outdone, CBC Radio One's evening news, arts and human interest programme, As It Happens, interviewed Dennis Ross, counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in the second (of three) part of their Tuesday, 25 September show, on the strength of his web-only article for The New Republic, dated Monday, 24 September; you can listen to AIH's interview with Ross here (click on "Listen to Part 2;" the interview is a little over seven minutes long, and leads the segment).
Ross's piece -- "What Israel Really Gained by Bombing Syria" -- argues that Israel's air strike on a Syrian facility stocked with nuclear materials from North Korea (Thursday, 6 September) was designed to send a strong message to Syria's president, Bashar al Assad: that he can keep precious few secrets from Israel, and that he won't like the outcome of the limited war he's apparently planning to wage against Israel. (Syria has apparently made "significant...weapons acquisitions," made a "forward deployment of forces," and issued "directives about a possible war.") Ross also notes that many in the Israeli government and military were anxious to reclaim their air of invincibility in the wake of the less than stellar outcome of the war with Hezbollah last summer; after the evidently successful strike against a Syrian nuclear weapons program, "Major General Amos Yadlin, the head of Israel's military intelligence, was quoted as telling the Israeli cabinet that Israel had 'restored its deterrence.'" Ross continues:
"From this standpoint, Israel may also have had Iran in mind. The press is now reporting that an accident took place in July in Syria at a chemical plant at which a number of Iranian experts were killed. Perhaps this is just a coincidence. Or perhaps Israel is also sending messages to Iran that it has the capacity, and more importantly, the will to protect itself from those who would seek to threaten it with weapons of mass destruction."
The incident that he refers to was a major explosion on Thursday, 26 July that "rocked" a "joint Iranian-Syrian project to fit short-range ballistic missiles with chemical warheads," located at "a military complex outside the city of Aleppo;" the blast killed "at least 15 soldiers and wound[ed] 50." The Associated Press also noted that Jane's Defense Weekly said that "in addition to the 15 Syrian troops killed, 'dozens' of Iranian weapons engineers died." On As It Happens, Ross suggested that Israel could've been the cause of this explosion, rather than an accidental ignition of rocket fuel, as reported in the AP account printed in the Thursday, 20 September edition of the Los Angeles Times.
The reason why Israel's sorties against Syria have not caused an official reaction in the Middle East is because Israel has been unusually close-mouthed about the whole affair: this allows the neighboring Arab countries to pretend that nothing happened, which is apparently what they prefer to do, since, as Ross writes, "No one in the Arab world much cares if Syria suffers blows to its prestige and losses to its military capabilities." (Apparently there's no love lost either way: on AIH, Ross said that Assad called the other Arab leaders "half men.")
The U.S. has also been able to maintain an ominous silence (Bush, when questioned at his press conference on Thursday, 20 September, about Israel's bombing of the Syrian facility, replied three times, "I'm not going to comment on the matter"). If the intent of the U.S. and Israel is to make Iran nervous, it seems to be working: Ephron and Hosenball report in Newsweek that war preparations are proceeding apace in Iran, and that "Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [who is the real ruler in Iran, notwithstanding the higher visibility of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who lectured at New York City's Columbia University this past Monday and at the United Nations yesterday] has also sent envoys to reach out to European negotiators recently, in the hopes of heading off further sanctions or military action."
This could all be a game of Texas hold 'em at one of the biggest tables imaginable; but depending on whose bluff is called, we could stand to lose a lot more than our shirts.