September Surprise: Israeli Attack on Iran? ~ by Richard Silverstein


July 5, 2011 | Richard Silverstein | Tikun Olam-תיקון עולם: Make the World a Better Place

panetta with obama

With specter of willing president looming, will new Defense Secretary Panetta abandon pragmatism of predecessor and support Iran attack?

A retired journalist who covered the intelligence beat, and with extensive senior intelligence sources, reports to me that Israel is planning to attack Iran before the September UN meeting at which Palestinian statehood will be discussed and possibly approved.  He wrote to me some weeks ago:

…Some U.S. intelligence officials think that such a surprise [attack] on Iran could possibly take place in…September when [Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman] McMullen retires. It would [be] political war with its object to divert attention from Palestine.

…Senior US intelligence officials are saying that just recently a big US military force has been conducting large contingency planning drills in preparation for an intervention if Israel attacks Iran. Planning for a U.S. intervention is very far advanced.

…But perhaps the chief thing that counts here is that senior members of the US intelligence are resisting such notions with all the force that they can.

More recently, he sent this:

…The news is dismaying. Israel is planning a surgical strike against Iran.  I’ve been talking to former senior agency officials and officials in military intelligence. Not only is [it] “very far along” in planning for a regional war, the Obama administration has signed off on it.

It will  happen soon, before September…This is no drill.

If this is right, the timing of the attack couldn’t be more propitious for Israel, as it will certainly either derail entirely, or at the least delay the matter.  It would also further reinforce the conviction of many that the Netanyahu government is using the issue of Iran as a pressure valve to deflect world attention from something that is a much higher priority for the current Israeli government: maintaining the Occupation.

To be fair, I find the statement that the U.S. is “planning for a regional war,” and that Obama has “signed off on it” to be overly alarmist.  If the U.S. has signed off on an Israeli attack and possible U.S. support for it, I doubt we’re wishing or willing to instigate a regional war.  Though on the other hand, just about every serious analyst warns that this is what will occur if Israel does attack.

Until yesterday, I also thought my source’s claim that Obama had signed off on it was exaggerated.  That was when I spoke with a former military intelligence analyst who is one of my heroes of the Vietnam era.  He told me in no uncertain terms he was certain Obama would approve such an attack were it presented to him.  That brought me up short, since I have so much respect him.  So I think I now have to change my view about Obama, and concede that given the resounding ‘success’ of, and approval generated by the Bin Laden assassination, it is likely Obama would support an Iran attack.  I never believed this was possible till now.

A September attack could complicate the November elections, but if it was deemed successful it would further inoculate the Democrats and ensure success at the polls.

Turning to Israel, you’ll remember Meir Dagan’s recent public excoriation of Netanyahu and Barak, who he accused of planning to mount a 2010 attack on Iran, which the former Mossad chief foiled when it was brought before a meeting of senior cabinet ministers for approval.  The reason Dagan uncharacterisitcally went public is that he stated that all of the senior military and intelligence figures (himself, Yuval Diskin of Shabak, Gabi Ashkenazi of IDF, and Amos Yadlin of Aman [military intelligence]) who universally opposed war against Iran, are all now gone.  There is a new cast of characters running each of these agencies, each of whom will be outdoing himself to ingratiate his way into the hearts of Barak and Netanyahu.  Which would make it much more likely they would support such an attack.

Believe me, someone like Meir Dagan, a man famous for his silences and hatred of public attention and media interviews, does not open his mouth unless it is important.  Very important.  For this reason alone, I’d say that such an attack is not only possible, but likely.

Further confirmation of the thesis advanced by the former intelligence reporter comes from no less likely a source than Jeffrey Goldberg, who’s known to have a long interest in Israel bombing Iran.  In writing of the reasons behind Meir Dagan’s “going native” on Bibi & Barak, he describes the thinking of Israeli sources who explained Dagan’s motivation:

[They] suggested that Netanyahu wants to change the subject from his difficulties with the Palestinians.  It’s no secret that the prime minister has been outfoxed by the Palestinian leadership lately, and that Israel is desperately trying to stop a Palestinian independence initiative at the United Nations. Netanyahu is capable of great cynicism, and he has made clear that the peace process doesn’t interest him very much.

While a former senior IDF commander and political leader who has served as a past source, refused to confirm this specific story (in order not to expose Israeli operational plans), he did not rule it out.  Further, he did confirm that there is a specific Israeli military contingency for such an attack.  In fact, Maariv’s Ben Caspit, who’s uncharacteristically becoming a bit of a dove regarding the Iran attack scenario, notes it prominently (Hebrew) in this article:

When Bibi Netanyahu became prime minister he received a briefing on the [Iran] military option being planned.  The one [Barak] now claims didn’t exist.  The meeting was prolonged.  Then another was planned.  And another.  Till finally Bibi spent a full 20 hours considering the matter.  And according to an aide, “his eyes sparkled” the whole time.

We know that Ehud Olmert asked George Bush for a green light to attack Iran and that while Cheney pushed for it, Bush ultimately declined.  If Olmert was willing to go to war, why would we doubt that Bibi would too?  Bibi, who casts the Ayatollahs practically as Satan’s demons on earth.  We also know that Bibi is obsessed with Palestinian and world efforts to “delegitimize” Israel.  And that the September UN vote is one of the top threats on this list.  So why would anyone think he’d be too dainty to use Iran to foil Palestinian statehood?  Especially if he was reasonably certain it would redound to his credit (as delusional as such an assumption might be).

Returning to the words of the source quoted at the beginning of this post, where he noted an attack could come after the retirement of Admiral McMullen–the latter has made some statements indicating he’s less than enthusiastic about the prospect of the U.S. supporting an attack on Iran.  Defense Secretary Gates has just retired and before he did he made a very specific statement that he frustrated Dick Cheney’s war camp in their lobbying for war with Iran.  Now, in their (Gates and McMullen’s) stead we will have Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey.  One would presume that these newcomers would be much less willing to go out on a limb and be iconoclasts than their predecessors, and more likely to support an Iran attack if the president did.  It’s almost a mirror image of the situation in Israel.  And grounds for fear of what may lie ahead come September.

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