Four separate Israel-based command groups are working overtime to shout down an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. A strident and continuous blast of concentrated public clamor issues from most mainstream media. Much of it overlaps opposition political campaigns to unseat the Netanyahu-Barak government.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s political sources identify those command groups as one American, two Israeli and a fourth Jewish-European. They don’t coordinate on a regular basis, but they do network, monitor each other’s campaigns and often spin off from each other.
It’s a small though vocal arena. Many of the American, European and Israeli campaigners are personally acquainted with “the right people” in other camps, who are useful for dovetailing efforts for common goals – whether to tie Israel’s hands against attacking Iran and/or hounding Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak out of office before their government’s term is up next year.
They help each other when they can by riding each other’s campaign. For example, before June, new pressure groups protesting some government step or other were popping up every few months. Their numbers were never great, but the frequency of their rallies and multiplicity of their issues proliferated in July and August from day to day. And their press coverage became formidable.
What the four centers do share most is information.
It filters upward to strategists from likeminded Israeli journalists, PR operators, middle- and low-level politicians, government bureaucrats, military officers, lawyers and academics. Members of the latter groups are often motivated by their hopes of getting their feet on a political ladder.
The American command center is widely connected
The key command center operates out of the US Embassy building in Tel Aviv. It operates under the direction of the senior political adviser to the ambassador, Robert “Bob” Silverman.
As head of a nine-man political section largely responsible for US-Israeli bilateral diplomatic exchanges at the government level, he has developed a large circle of acquaintances among the bureaucrats who matter inside Israeli ministries and agencies and local op-ed writers and TV personalities.
His special assignment for the White House and State Department since early this year is to shoot down any Israeli decision to go to war on Iran before the US presidential election on Nov. 6 by enlisting local talent, especially journalists. They are occasionally surprised by phoned briefings from high places in Washington.
Some Israelis call his tactics “overt psychological warfare.” By definition, his mission cannot avoid personally targeting the two men responsible for deciding whether to attack Iran, Israel’s Prime Minister and defense minister. An official US seal of approval on his efforts is avoided by keeping the ambassador, Dan Shapiro and his bureau strictly out of it.
Bob Silverman is eminently qualified to run a nuanced campaign by his service in eight previous overseas posts. A career member of the US Senior Foreign Service, he speaks fluent Hebrew and Arabic. (He can also carry on a conversation in Turkish, Azerbaijani and Swedish.)
Israeli veteran politicians don’t recall relations with Washington ever being weighed down by this level of rugged negative pressure – to the point that the traditional, historic friendly dialogue between the two governments has ground to a halt.
Two Israeli groups gunning straight for Bibi
The leading “Israeli headquarters” is headed by a duo of disaffected Kadima politicians: ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert and former minister Haim Ramon, who is using the Iran campaign to springboard another new centrist party which Olmert is slated to head.
The third member of this group is Arnon (Noni) Mozes, owner and publisher of a media empire of newspapers, magazines and television outlets clustered around the wide circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily. His private hate campaign against Netanyahu goes back some years.
The second Israeli group is small, compact, doctrinaire and highly vocal.
While attracting prominent Israeli intellectuals, writers and academics, the group’s live wire is Eldad Yaniv, a lawyer and journalist who authored the New Zionist Left political manifesto. A former close adviser of Defense Minister Barak, Yaniv nurses a personal grudge against his former boss and friend and has turned it into a vendetta against him.
Thursday, Aug. 16, some of the group’s adherents posted letters to Air Force pilots urging them to flout their orders if assigned to bombing Iran’s nuclear program.
The fourth command center based in Tel Aviv directs a conglomerate of social protest groups. Their debut last year on Israel’s city streets attracted sympathy and funding from European organizations – some governmental, as well as certain European and American Jewish tycoons, who share the ambition to remove Netanyahu and discredit his right-of-center power base.
Bibi hits back, names new Home Front Defense czar
Those backers invested vast amounts of funding and a huge organizational effort this year to bring the masses out on the streets and pin Netanyahu and Barak to the wall until they stepped down.
So far, the Israeli public has kept its distance, except for a few score regulars who carry a wild mix of fringe banners.
Netanyahu has not been passive. He and Barak have repeatedly stated that the Iranian nuclear menace is real and far outweighs the perils posed by the repercussions of an attack on its nuclear and military facilities. Israel has the will and capacity for a proactive operation, they insist.
Journalists are invited lately for special briefings in the prime minister’s office to hear many of their reports to the contrary dismissed as half-truths and outright lies.
His overnight decision Tuesday night, Aug. 14, to appoint former Shin Bet Director Avi Dichter as new Home Front Minister, drew forth a raucous response from several of the anti-war groups.
Critics were interviewed hour by hour to play up the new minister’s perfidy in defecting from the opposition Kadima. Headlines hammered Dichter’s “opportunism” and acceptance of a cabinet post and role of tie-breaker in the inner security cabinet in favor of an Israeli unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.
But they could hardly fault his enviable record for getting things done in sensitive posts at critical moments for the nation, especially as a Syrian chemical missile attack began to loom large along with an Israel-Iranian war.
People remembered what the media forgot: Dichter as Director of the Shin Bet domestic security agency from 2000 to 2005 was remarkably successful in ringing down the dark days of the Palestinian war of suicide and terror plaguing every town and village.
A war scare boomerangs against its instigators
Among counterterrorism pros, Israel’s Dichter and America’s David Petraeus, the CIA Director who commanded the US army in Iraq, are widely acclaimed for developing tactics against suicide terror offensives.
Dichter’s crowning achievement was the defense barrier built along the “Green Line,” which physically shut the West Bank off from Israel and brought down to zero Palestinian terror against its heartland.
It also incidentally put in place an impromptu frontier between the West Bank and Israel which decades of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations failed to achieve.
He was just as effective as Internal Security Minister from 2006 to 2009, slapping the Israeli police into a professional force for maintaining law and order, building counterterrorism and crime-fighting units and creating Israel’s first witness protection program.
None of these accomplishments counted for him with a hostile Israeli media.
Indeed, the day he was appointed, someone threw a switch for whipping up war frenzy on Tel Aviv streets as a panicky vote of no-confidence in the government and the new Home Front Defense Minister.
New “figures” claimed that half the population had no bomb shelters or gas masks against chemical attack; long lines snaked outside the Interior Ministry of people rushing to renew their passports before fleeing the country.
The war scare boomeranged against its authors.
People decided to believe the government and accept the slogan: Better bomb than be bombed. Dichter’s appointment was preceded and boosted by broad civil defense measures, including a new system using text messages to alert the public to missile attacks and wider distribution of gas masks. Tel Aviv city hall announced that underground parking spaces in the city could act as bomb shelters to accommodate 850,000 people.
US officials: Israel is too weak to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity
But Black Tuesday was not over. That afternoon, a former Israeli Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak stated calmly that there is nothing urgent about striking Iran before the US presidential election, and anything that could be done now could be done equally early next year after the vote.
Flanked by President Shimon Peres, the ex-general declared: “I trust the Americans.”
As though on cue, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, then held a special press briefing at the Pentagon:
The defense secretary said he was sure Israel had not yet decided whether to attack Iran, while Gen. Dempsey said, “I may not know about all of their capabilities (the Israelis), but I think that it’s a fair characterization to say that they could delay but not destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities.”
While arguing that a unilateral Israel attack on Iran would be ineffective, they forgot to mention that an American military strike would not destroy Iranian nuclear capabilities either. It’s been left too late.
A US strike would do more damage, set the nuclear program back for longer and take more time for repairs (4-5 years) than an Israeli attack (up to 2 years). But the Iranians have been allowed to advance too far for either the US or Israel to kill their ability to build a nuclear bomb.
Tuesday, Aug. 14, may go down as the day on which a mighty psychological and political onslaught on Israeli opinion reached a crescendo in the space of just 16 hours – from seven a.m. to eleven p.m.
Ambassador Oren: A nuclear Iran must be delayed even for a few years
Thursday, Aug. 16, the Netanyahu government was in action again. Israel would be willing to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, even if doing so only delayed its ability to produce nuclear weapons for a few years, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said in a widely-reported statement at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington.
“One, two, three, four years are a long time in the Middle East — look what’s happened in the last year.” He went on to say, “In our neighborhood, those are the rules of the game.”
“Diplomacy hasn’t succeeded,” Ambassador Oren said. “We’ve come to a very critical juncture where important decisions do have to be made.”
Israeli leaders’ insistence that diplomacy and sanctions have failed utterly to deflect Iran in the slightest degree from its advance on a nuclear bomb has miffed President Barack Obama more than anything.
America and Israel have stopped talking to each other about Iran; they are talking, or rather shouting, at each other across a great distance. Intent on putting a stop to the cacophony, President Barak Obama has invited the Israeli prime minister to meet him at the UN General Assembly session opening in New York Sept. 18.