On April 16, 2001, almost exactly 10 years ago, the first Qassam missile was fired from Gaza at Sderot. Now Iron Dome is live, after years of development, trial and error. Last summer, after it intercepted a Grad in a trial run, top IDF officers celebrated tensely; in the following months, it intercepted 120-millimeter mortar shells. These tests went smoothly, but the system’s operational cost is still a problem. Moreover, in the future, Hamas will obtain shells and missiles that can evade Iron Dome, and the game will continue.
Up until Iron Dome, the public felt completely helpless in the face of reports that hostile groups had accumulated thousands of rockets along Israel’s northern and southern borders. The anti-missile missile has now intercepted eight out of nine rockets, indicating that the interception rate for missiles, including Scuds and Shahabs, will be 90 percent to 100 percent. The public can live with the small uncertainty this leaves.
If Iran is attacked by the U.S., Saudi Arabia or Israel, Israel will be blamed; conversely, Iran will take the blame for any long-range surface-to-surface missile fired at Israel. Israel must weigh the utility of a military strike on Iran versus the cost of a reprisal. If Shahab missiles (loaded with conventional warheads ) can be intercepted, this tips the scales somewhat in favor of those who support attacking Iran.
In the meantime, the argument about Iran’s nuclear program crosses party lines and security force branches. Neither the Defense Ministry, the IDF nor the Mossad has a consistent stance. Different people have different views. Neither Netanyahu nor Barak appear to hold consistent positions. Those who favored a shock-and-awe attack on Iraq’s supposed nuclear program are likely to oppose a similar campaign against neighboring countries in the Persian Gulf.
Last year, two camps seemed to evolve: a hawkish alliance of Netanyahu and Barak, and a moderate camp consisting of President Shimon Peres and former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan was considered to be aligned with Peres and Ashkenazi, while his successor, Tamir Pardo, is not known to have a strong opinion on the question. Should he veer conspicuously from his predecessor’s relatively moderate position, he will surprise many. Top IDF officers also endorse Dagan’s stance. This is not acquiescent appeasement; nor does it categorically obviate a move to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, it asks “how” and “when,” and considers establishing a regional Middle East defense network.
Netanyahu took an aggressive stance 20 years ago, as a low-ranking deputy minister, when he tried to persuade Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to send the IDF to attack Iraq after it bombarded Israel with Scud missiles.
In January 2008, U.S. President George Bush came to Jerusalem to meet Ehud Olmert and Barak, in response to what The New York Times and other news outlets called an Israeli attempt to obtain American consent for an attack on Iran. Publicly, Bush projected a tough veneer; privately he vetoed proposed attacks. “That fellow really frightens me,” he said, referring to Barak.
Then in June, Barak met Barack Obama, then a U.S. presidential candidate. Barak proposed that Obama play it cool, ignore the pressure, find an experienced adviser and learn from him about where Iran’s nuclear program stands. Then, Barak counseled, Obama could ask this adviser for a professional assessment of a strike on Iran’s nuclear program.
Since then, almost three years have passed. Obama continues to equivocate. This is the year before a U.S. presidential election. So was 2007, when the Syrian reactor was bombed; at that time, Bush was facing the end of his second term (whereas Obama currently is seeking a second term ). Obama has also been part of the Western campaign in Libya, an affair that has yet to end. This summer, after Egypt holds elections, Cairo is likely to form a government less friendly to Israel than the current military administration. Cairo could then signal to Washington that it opposes any use of force against Iran, and it might also launch its own public effort to go nuclear.