Strategic Assessment of the Leader of Iran's Latest Remarks

Monday, March 25, 2013

Which One Is More Credible: Israel’s Threat or Iran's Response?

Mahdi Mohammadi
Expert on Strategic Issues

Two years ago, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was addressing the audience at a university in the United States. During that address, he noted that in his opinion, in the absence of a credible military threat to accompany such options as sanctions, negotiations and intelligence operations, it would not be possible to change Iran's policy on its nuclear energy program.

Since that day, the same allegation has been frequently heard from both Netanyahu and a group of other officials of Israel. It seems that by stressing on the need for credible military threat, they actually mean that a series of measures should be taken to make Iran really believe that in case of the final failure of negotiations as a result of Iran's intransigent insistence on its positions, the road would end not in the recognition of Iran as a nuclear power, but in inevitable war. Form the viewpoint of Israeli officials, one of the most important problems in the current strategic standoff between the West and Iran is that Iran does not take the West’s threats seriously. By referring to “credible military threat” Israel is only pointing to one thing: the West must pose such a serious threat to Iran that it would be believed and taken seriously by the Islamic Republic.

Assuming that creating such a credible military threat against Iran should be the cornerstone of any strategy which targets Iran's strategic calculations, the community of the Israeli strategists has made strenuous efforts to make that threat a reality.

Since a long time ago, the Israelis have been insisting that in the absence of such a credible military threat, no sanctions – regardless of how forcefully they are imposed – would be able to block Iran's progress toward achievement of peaceful nuclear technology. In strategic terms, the Israelis believed, and apparently still believe, that sanctions would be only effective if Iran makes sure that the option of war actually exists beyond sanctions. Otherwise, they argue, if Iran were sure that sanctions constitute the last and sole remaining option against its nuclear program, it would undoubtedly put up with sanctions one way or another regardless of the scope or severity of those sanctions.
On this basis, the Israelis have done their best during the past two years to convince the United States that if it sought to make its strategy toward Iran more effective, it would finally have no choice but to pose a credible military threat to Iran.

A review of the strategic rhetoric used by the Israelis during the last Iranian calendar year (ended March 20, 2013) will show that a major reason for the existing strategic contentions between the United States and Israel over Iran's nuclear energy program was that Israelis believed that the United States should finally pose a credible military threat against Iran on the table. The United States President Barack Obama did his best during that period to answer the Israeli’s demand by frequently reminding them that “all options are on the table.” The Israelis, however, maintain that this sentence has lost its value and the Iranians have not been taking it seriously due to their complete knowledge of the United States strategy toward their country.

Netanyahu’s obsession about this issue was so serious that last year he went as far as turning the issue of creating or not creating a credible military threat against Iran into an issue of domestic policy for the United States. He was trying to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the US presidential election to force Obama put a clear military threat against Iran on the table. From the viewpoint of Israel, which was later also clearly announced by Netanyahu, no military threat against Iran would be credible unless it is announced in a plain form by the United States and includes a clear red line for Iran's nuclear energy program, so that, Tehran would know that crossing that line would be tantamount to a military attack against the country.

The United States has been largely opposing Israel’s proposed strategy on the account of four major reasons. Firstly, Washington contends that a military option is not a good solution for Iran's nuclear issue because it would, at best, only cause a temporary delay in the Iranian nuclear energy program for a short period of time. Secondly, a possible military strike against Iran will further consolidate the domestic consensus in Iran over the need to go on with the nuclear energy program. Thirdly, the American officials believe that the United States basically lacks necessary military and economic stamina to get engaged in a real conflict with Iran, even if it wanted to. Fourthly, the United States knows that in case of drawing a red line for Iran, Tehran would not hesitate to cross it and it would be an adverse blow to the United States’ international prestige. The insistence by the Israelis on the need to pose a credible military threat against Iran, on the one hand, and the United States opposition, on the other hand, finally led to a comic performance at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. During that session, Netanyahu tried by drawing a childish diagram to show to the rest of the world what Israel meant by a red line which should be considered for the accumulation of enriched nuclear material in Iran.

On the whole, a military attack against Iran is currently neither on the agenda of the United States, nor that of Israel and present arguments and discussions are mostly focused on whether such an attack on Iran would be useful in any way. The Israelis are of the opinion that such an attack would be quite useful because it would be the sole way to force Iran not to cross a set limit in its nuclear energy program. The Americans, on the contrary, argue that such an attack would not be useful because their final conclusion is that a war with Iran would not be feasible.

The question, now, is who took the option of a military attack off the West’s table and how, and to whom Iran owes this strategic achievement? It seems that the answer is quite straightforward. It was only Leader of Iran Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei who changed the reckoning as well as the literature of the Western side about the possibility of a military option against Iran by producing a totally calculated and strategic literature and using it logically and on time.

To better understand this issue, four strategic steps taken by the Leader in this regard should be first differentiated and then carefully studied.

The first step was taken when Israel launched a secret attack against Syria’s nuclear facility in al-Kibar on September 6, 2007. Before that and in 1981, Tel Aviv’s warplanes had attacked and destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility in a similar operation. Although Israel never dared to publicly own up to the attack on Syria’s nuclear facility in al-Kibar, they had indirectly launched massive propaganda hype around that operation to make Iran believe that it can expect the same if deemed necessary by Israel. In his first step, the Leader of Iran clearly responded to that propaganda hype by saying that no “hit-and-run” attack against Iran's nuclear program would be possible. By saying that the Leader meant that there could be no possibility that an attack against Iran would go unanswered and every country thinking about an attack on Iran should also give due consideration to the consequences of such attack.

In the second step and in parallel to the growing trend of threatening literature from the Israelis, the Leader of Iran added a new phrase to the strategic and military literature of Iran. The Leader noted that Iran had adopted the strategy of “threat for threat” and countermeasure against any threatening measure. The Leader’s emphasis on threat against threat had practically no other purpose but to let the enemy know that in addition to being really ready to thwart all kinds of threat, Iran was actually posing new threats against its enemies some of which were psychological threats. The strategy of threat against threat was, in fact, a way to expand the actual front of strategic confrontation from a real into a psychological phase and from potential to active fields.

The third step was, in fact, extension of the second step. At a time that threats posed by the Israelis against Iran had reached their acme, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution clearly announced that Iran had supported the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian resistance groups, respectively, during Israel’s 33-day war on Lebanon and 22-day war on the Gaza Strip. The Leader went as far as announcing that Iran will, from that time on, help and support anyone who would engage with the Israelis. This was the first time that the enemies of Iran saw themselves faced with the strategic consequences of using threat against threat. In strategic terms, this meant that the threats against Iran have not only failed to push the Islamic Republic into passivity, but have further emboldened it to prepare itself for long-term and energetic confrontation with its enemies.

The fourth step was taken on March 20, 2012, in a public addressed delivered by the Leader of Iran in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad. His clear emphasis that Iran would raze to the ground the Israeli cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv in response to any military attack by the enemy, proved Iran's immediate readiness to answer to any threat.
On the other hand, the Leader’s stance not only proved Iran's strategic power to produce a decisive response to any threat, but more importantly it also indicated that Iran has already made meticulous operational plans so that, in case an immediate response is needed, it would not have to start planning again or review its previously made operational plans. Another very important meaning of the Leader’s announcement was that Iran considers any attack against its nuclear program as tantamount to annihilation of Israel. Therefore, in response to such attack, Iran will not simply target Israeli’s nuclear facilities, but will also take a direct hit at the very existence of Israel.

It will transpire through an accurate assessment that these four strategic steps, all designed and taken by the Leader of Iran, have practically caused the other party to know that a military option is out of the question not only in actual global environment, but also in media propaganda, and cannot be kept on the table anymore. Therefore, it is not difficult to guess that from now on, the curve of military threat against Iran will take a downturn and there will be very small, if any, space for the repetition of the past allegations.

Key Words: Strategic Assessment, Leader of Iran, Israel’s Threat, US, Strategic Contentions, Military Threat,  Mohammadi

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