With his cartoon presentation of the Iranian nuclear menace at the UN on Sept. 27, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appeared to be shifting away from military action. Instead of September 2012, he moved his red line six months forward to the late spring, early summer of 2013.
He thus removed a primary bone of contention with the Obama administration.
Since then, he seems to have taken another step back from a military option.
In his speech of Oct. 15, asking the Knesset to approve Jan. 22, 2013 as the date for an early election, Netanyahu appeared to unveil a new security doctrine with this comment:
“We did not start any unnecessary wars – we didn’t start any wars at all. In the seven years that I have served (during two separate terms), there were no wars and there was a decrease in terror. There was no war because we projected strength.”
He went on to pride himself on not having “a light finger on the trigger” – rather “a firm finger.”
On Iran, he had this to say: “We raised the Iranian threat to the center of the global agenda, and unprecedented sanctions were imposed” and “We have a capability that we didn’t have before to act against Iran and its proxies.”
He did not elaborate on this point, before going on to pledge that he would continue his policy of making Israel safe behind protective walls and fences.
Netanyahu, leader of Likud, seemed anxious to shed the hawkish image often attached to him with the help of campaign rhetoric appealing to centrist and left-leaning voters as well as buying diplomatic kudos.
Khamenei’s painful pinpricks fall short of stirring Netanyahu into action
How long Netanyahu holds to this doctrine, which fits neatly into Barack Obama’s global game plan, depends very much on who is elected to the White House on Nov. 6 – Obama or the Republican Mitt Romney – but even more on Iran walking a careful tightrope between military pinpricks against Israel and provocations that would force Netanyahu into a major response.
The prime minister’s new security doctrine, though tailored for the Israeli voter and Western opinion, also suits Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his strategic advisers. They have embarked on their own special brand of preemptive military action against Israel, and discovered that Israel will stay in its corner and not fight back so long as their well-publicized jabs are measured.
This Iranian doctrine was borne out on Oct. 6, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and Iranian sources report, when Israel did not hit back for the Iranian stealth drone launched by Hizballah, although it stayed aloft for more than two-and-a-half hours before being brought down by the Israeli air force.
In that time, the hostile drone flew over and photographed Israeli strategic sites and infrastructure, such as its Mediterranean gas and oil platforms and military bases along the coast, before turning inland to hover over the nuclear reactor in Dimona, film the building and its defense systems and fly on to record the electronic signatures of the sophisticated American X-band radar station in the Negev.
Iran’s pirated US drone capabilities make US Navy and military units vulnerable
During that time, the Israeli Air Force refrained from shooting the Iranian UAV down and neither did its air defense systems attempt interception. There were three main reasons for this:
1. The Iranian unmanned plane contained top-secret components – and therefore capabilities – pirated or copied from the American RQ-170 stealth drone brought down intact on Iranian soil with Chinese help in December 2011 (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 560 of Oct. 12: Iran's UAV Industry-Tehran on Track for Advanced Stealth Spy and Bomber Drones).
Israel’s air, missile and cyber defense systems are not configured to detect those capabilities in hostile hands.
2. The theft of those highly-developed US drone capabilities trouble America as much as Israel. It turns out that the unmanned Iranian invader was also invisible to American monitors in the Mediterranean, including the Sixth Fleet, to US bases in Israel, and to the American X-band radar stationed in both Israel and Turkey. It took off undetected from Lebanon and remained unseen until it had spent time over southern Israel.
This means that the US Navy and military units in the Persian Gulf are wide open and vulnerable to Iranian stealth drone over-flights and surveillance.
US and Israeli engineers are working around the clock to plug these electronic holes.
Branching out from terror to breaching Israeli air space
Israel resorted to an unusual corrective measure Sunday, Oct. 14, when Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel ordered the entire air fighter jet fleet grounded for 24 hours – officially in pursuance of an inquiry into the prevalence of near-accidents in training, but in reality, for a reset of Israel’s radar and monitoring procedures for the prevention of further Iranian drone penetrations. This task could not be performed while the warplanes were in the air.
3. A third reason is the nonchalant attitude common to some Israelis, who may prefer to rely on intuition and a flair for improvisation rather than going strictly by the book. A spotter along the drone’s path may have noticed an unusual object flying overhead and decided it was harmless and not worth bothering his superiors about.
But after the event, US and Israeli military planners alike don’t doubt the UAV was the harbinger of more to come. Tuesday, Oct. 16, a senior Iranian defense official claimed that Iranian-made surveillance drones from Lebanon had for years made dozens of undetected flights into Israeli airspace to probe its air defenses and collect reconnaissance data. For Tehran therefore, this is an ongoing process.
The Islamic Republic is now perceived as having branched out from the campaign of overseas terrorist operations against Israel which it sponsored in the first half of 2012 to directly trespassing Israeli skies, using Hizballah’s Lebanese bases as launching pads.
This overflght may also be the precursor of a further escalation in line with Iran’s threatened “preemptive” assaults on Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to keep a light hand on the trigger may prove untenable and shown up as a vote-winning gambit rather than a practicable security doctrine.
Three war games on the same day, Oct. 21
And in the meantime, a lot is going on.
On Oct. 21, three important military exercises begin. The US and Israel launch AC-12, a large-scale joint war game lasting three weeks, alongside an Israeli home front drill dubbed “Turning Point 6.”
Both are geared to defending Israel against hostile missile attack from Iran, Syria and/or Hizballah.
Iran has scheduled the start of its own war game for the same day – and not by chance.
The simulated scenario selected for Israel’s home front drill is that of a high 8.0 magnitude earthquake striking the country from an epicenter in the Mediterranean Sea, followed by a huge tsunami which engulfs its coastal cities.
Israeli civil defense experts calculate that this natural disaster has the capacity to cause 7,000 deaths, injure 70,000 people and leave 170,000 homeless.
Our military sources report that Haifa and Netanyahu are targeted as the cities suffering the worst ravages.
The first of the 3,000 US troops taking part in the joint drill disembarked at Ashdod Port Monday, Oct. 15 from US landing craft, bringing with them Patriot missile batteries.
One thousand will work directly with Israeli units, the other 2,000 will man US command posts across the Middle East and parts of Europe.
Our military analysts note that the effect of tsunami waves striking Haifa and Netanyahu would be equivalent to that of a primitive nuclear device dropped by an Iranian aircraft at a certain point in Mediterranean waters opposite the two towns.
Prominent Washington figures advise Netanyahu not to bank on Obama
At the same time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources reveal a radically shifting US scene behind the war games.
A number of high-placed Democrats and some former top US diplomats, such as former Ambassador Martin Indyk, have come forward to privately advise Netanyahu to place no reliance on Obama cooperating with Israel in a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites if he is reelected. They warn him that Obama will continue to procrastinate and come up with very possible pretext and stratagem to avoid reaching the point of military action, whether by the United States or Israel.
This advice has been strongly supported by Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State and National Security Adviser, and George Shulz, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State. “Don’t wait for Obama,” they are all telling the Israeli prime minister.
This advice comes in the wake of President Obama’s latest choice of advisers on Iran, revealed by our sources: They are former Brent Scowcroft, National Security Adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush, and retired diplomat Thomas Pickering, former Undersecretary of State. Both are emphatically opposed to any US and, even more especially, an Israeli attack on Iran.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just appointed Pickering to lead a department panel investigating the attacks in Libya which killed four American diplomats.