Israel’s Media: Debating the Merits of War with Iran

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    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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In what seems to have become a favorite national pastime, Israeli commentators and dailies have spent the week occupied with discussing various scenarios for war with Iran. This round of speculation has been fueled by alleged leaked attack-plans published online, as well as comments from an outgoing minister theorizing that 500 Israelis would die in such a conflict.  Arguments from both sides — both in favor and against a preemptive attack — point to military and economic costs that action (or inaction) would incur on the nation and the region. One thing seems certain, however: the question of the Iranian nuclear program and the threat it may pose to Israel is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

The debate comes against the backdrop of great instability in the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring — a time when both Israel and Iran appear to have been caught unprepared for the changes brought about in the last year-and-a-half. One thing that has not changed, however, is Iran’s anti-Israeli message. This last Wednesday, as reported by the right-leaning Israeli Arutz Sheva, Iran’s Supreme Leader, “Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, once again expressed hope on Wednesday that Israel would be wiped off the map. The Iranian Mehr news agency quoted Khamenei as having expressed confidence that the ‘Palestinians’ will eventually retake control of their motherland….The statements come ahead of ‘Al Quds (Jerusalem) Day,’ which marks the Friday before the conclusion of the month of Ramadan.”

In Israel, meanwhile, the outgoing deputy defense minister’s comments that any casualties resulting from a war with Iran would be minimal have sparked a flurry of articles and editorials from people on both sides of the debate. Arutz Sheva’s David Levy sums up the minister’s comments: “Outgoing Homefront Command Minister and Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’I [who] wrote Thursday that, if a regional war does take place if and when Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, the country was well-prepared to face threats posed by Hizbullah and Hamas. As Homefront Command Minister, Vilna’i wrote, he has drawn up detailed plans that would ensure that the vast majority of Israelis, as well as most of Israel’s infrastructure, survive an attack by terror groups and Iran. Those plans, he wrote, could cut the expected number of casualties from a possible regional war.”

In an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, Riccardo Dugulin warns against arrogance, but declares war with Iran as a “war that can’t be lost…. The Iranian response to a strike on its nuclear facilities may be unconventional, but it would not threaten Israel’s existence…. [But] a debate on the possible outcome of a military action is utterly necessary because if Iran can’t win, then Israel and United States can’t lose. The prospect of a war that can’t be lost is extremely dangerous as it creates hubris, limiting critical thinking and proper strategic preparation; it nevertheless generates a window of opportunity which is rarely available in the course of history.”

Others, however, are less confident that this would be a war that Israel could not lose. Moti Bassok and Hagai Amit make the argument in an article on Haaretz, that economically speaking, a war with Iran would be disastrous: “While all government ministries and top agencies have protocols in place in the event of war with Iran, including an Iranian counter-attack against Israel, most are tight-lipped about the details. And while no one knows whether Israel will attack Iran or how Iran would respond, what is known is that a war with Iran could cost Israel tens of billions of shekels…. ‘Economists called the decade after the Yom Kippur War ‘the lost decade.’ There was a decline in the standard of living. Enormous amounts were diverted into restoring the military establishment, at the expense of civilian budgets,’ [former Finance Ministry director general] Ariav said, adding that a war would hurt Israel’s credit rating, tourism and foreign trade.”

Yedioth Ahronoth’s Rafael Castro makes what he calls a “Zionist case against attacking Iran…. Most analyses of the benefits and risks involved in attacking Iran have been military…. Nevertheless, wars do not happen in a vacuum. It is thus worth considering the potential economic and diplomatic fallout of a conflict engulfing the Middle East…. the survival of Israel is owed in no small degree to past leaders distinguishing calculated risk-taking from gambling. Netanyahu and Barak must realize that an ill-planned war might very well pave the roads to Jerusalem for Zion’s enemies. This would be a genuine tragedy for Jews and Gentiles alike.”

There are still those, like Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, who believe attacking Iran is the right course of action, but: “We must not fall into the trap of determining different stages for dealing with the Iranian threat and list them in chronological order — with diplomacy being the first stage, sanctions the second and only then military action. There is no way to precisely define when the first phase begins and when it ends….the nuclear program must be stopped, and in order to do so the international community must simultaneously impose sanctions, exert diplomatic pressure and initiate military action….The U.S. is the key, and Israel must secure its full cooperation vis-à-vis the Iranian threat.”

The Jerusalem Post editorial also moves beyond the question of whether an attack on Iran is warranted or not, and focuses instead on a set of requirements before any such action is taken, including: “Israel must keep the U.S. — its most important ally — in the loop regarding any action against Iran, without giving up its right to make independent decisions. Secondly, such fateful decisions should be made in consultation with the cabinet, together with the relevant security officials, behind closed doors, and not by the prime minister and defense minister alone. Finally, the public and the press must be given basic information on what their role is, in the event of an Israeli strike, especially when it comes to the home front.”

Elsewhere in the region, there are some who see petty personal interests at play rather than grand strategic calculations. The UAE’s The National, for example, argues “There is growing evidence that a military strike would fail to achieve its strategic goals. That, however, has done little to deter Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak from their campaign of threats. For these two men, it seems, a regional war is an acceptable risk to promote their own political careers….Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak are playing a dangerous — potentially catastrophic — game….The rest of the world, especially the United States, must resist this two-man show that so clearly ignores the risks and the reality.”

Iran, meanwhile, is trying to shed any notions that it is politically alienated or isolated from the rest of the world. In an article written for Tehran Times, Seyyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, spokesman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee at the Majlis (Iran’s parliament) reports on the upcoming Non-Aligned Movement summit due to take place in Iran, noting “Hosting a summit of such size in Iran’s capital will prove Iran’s capabilities at the international level and spike in the idea that Iran has been isolated by the West’s sanctions….Over the years, Western media has tried to snub out Iran’s narrative to the world. The upcoming NAM summit will be a prime opportunity to deliver Iran’s massage directly to the international community. Despite the boycott imposed by the west, Iran will have the opportunity to make the world aware of what it has to say regarding the nuclear issue, human rights, Syria and the Islamic Awakening movement in the Arab world.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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