JERUSALEM—The story of Passover is the story of God supernaturally rescuing the children of Israel from a cruel and heartless Middle East dictator in Egypt.
Some 3,000 years later, the big question is whether the Israeli military will soon be called upon to rescue the nation from a cruel and heartless Middle East dictator in Iran.
Very few Israeli officials believe the diplomatic track that the Biden administration is pursuing is going to truly stop the Iranian regime from its bid for The Bomb.
To the contrary, many officials that I speak to believe the new nuclear deal that is begin negotiated in Vienna – if it is finalized, which is by no means clear at the moment – will actually make things worse, not better.
Publicly, Israeli officials insist that they are fully prepared to take military action to neutralize Iran’s nuclear facilities if they have no other option.
Privately, Israeli military leaders note they are in a better position to hit Iran if they have to than ever before. After all, Israel now has state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighter jets, submarines lurking near Iranian shores, intelligence sharing and overflight cooperation from numerous Arab countries.
But a former CIA operative in the Middle East tells ALL ISRAEL NEWS that he believes the “moment has passed” for Israel to use military force.
IF DIPLOMACY FAILS TO STOP THE PERSIAN BOMB, THEN WHAT?
Reuel Gerecht is a former Iranian-targets officer in the Central Intelligence Agency.
He is now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, based in Washington, D.C.
In February, Gerecht and FDD executive director Cliff May interviewed me about my book, “Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East,” for their podcast.
On March 31, I read a column that Gerecht co-wrote for National Review with Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, assessing the growing danger posed by a nuclear armed Iran, and their growing concern that the Biden administration has no serious plan to stop Tehran.
Joe Biden came into office pledging to “pivot toward Asia,” an empty slogan that surely meant — still means — retreating from the Middle East more than it means confronting Beijing. The mullahs aren’t blind and deaf: This administration rather desperately seeks to revive a nuclear deal, with its quickly sunsetting limitations, with a regime that U.S. officials, unlike their predecessors in the Obama administration, don’t even pretend to see evolving toward moderation.
“Longer, stronger, and broader” was the White House’s initial mantra, meaning that once America returned to the [2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA] agreement, it would seek to make its provisions stronger and its reach wider to include the clerical regime’s missiles and nefarious regional activities. All that talk is gone now.
Tehran is set to receive billions in sanctions relief while moving ahead with its atomic ambitions. Terrorism, imperialism, ballistic missiles, and internal repression are effectively off the table. President Biden is now just transactional: very short-term nuclear therapy at a very high cost.
So far, I agreed with their analysis.
HAS THE MOMENT FOR ISRAELI MILITARY ACTION PASSED?
Then came this paragraph, in which Gerecht and Takeyh argued that the Biden deal would make Iran even more dangerous.
By 2025, if a new, hawkish Republican president is in the White House, the clerical regime will have even more money, and its nuclear advances would place it inches from The Bomb. Iran’s progress with centrifuges and uranium enrichment is irreversibly significant. And now the Israelis are signaling clearly that they are unwilling to roll the dice with preventive air raids. The Israeli moment has probably passed. Some Republicans have surely been hoping that the Jewish state would do what America has declined to do.
I agree that a new Biden deal would flood Tehran’s coffers with tens of billions of dollars in new oil money that they could use to build nuclear weapons in secret, as well as fund terrorist organizations throughout the region.
But were Gerecht and Takeyh correct that Israel’s “moment” to take out Iran’s nuclear program with military force “has probably passed”?
I got in touch with Gerecht immediately, and pressed him on this assertion that “the Israelis are signaling clearly that they are unwilling to roll dice with preventive air raids” on Iranian nuclear facilities.
“I’ve not seen such signals,” I told him. “What am I missing?”
Gerecht told me that he and his colleague were basing their assessment on “several factors, including conversations with Americans and Israelis.”
HOW DOES 2012 COMPARE TO THE PRESENT?
In 2012, he argues, the Israeli Defense Forces pushed back hard against then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak when they both believed it was time to attack Iran.
Gerecht believes the IDF and Israeli intelligence services are still pushing back ten years later.
“The IDF likes to pride itself on its willingness to do pre-emption, and that the Israeli political class and the military don’t do the Western democratic dodge, and postpone and postpone and postpone,” he noted. “And yet, so far, nada.”
Why, he asked, hasn’t the IDF launched airstrikes over the past decade when clearly Iran is getting closer and closer to The Bomb?
“I strongly suspect that the Mossad shares, more or less, the American assessment on how long it would take Iran to regroup from a bombing run, and the Israelis know that their bombing run will be much less damaging than an American attack,” Gerecht told me, “unless Israel uses tactical nukes.”
“Now, personally I don’t think much of that assessment,” he added. “But those assessments throw a sufficient amount of doubt [into the Israeli equation] and it paralyzes [Israeli political leaders] because a lot of folks find those assessments credible.”
“Given Israel’s limited military capacity, it should have struck numerous earlier times,” Gerecht continued. “The longer you wait, the less damage you can do to their program, the quicker they can recover…the more people are also trained [in making nuclear weapons], making it less likely you can take out key personnel.”
Gerecht said he was surprised that the Israelis didn’t strike when Donald Trump was in office, since the U.S.-Israeli relationship was so close.
However, he said he suspects Trump would have gotten angry at Israel if they’d launched a preemptive strike on Iran, because Trump was trying so hard to pacify the region and withdraw U.S. forces and not get pulled into a new Middle East war.
Is Israel capable of launching an effective attack on Iranian facilities?
“Sure,” Gerecht says. “Israel can surprise. But the odds are pretty poor given all the variables. And getting poorer.”
“And it is striking how the Biden people utterly dismiss Israel now, which was emphatically not the case under Obama,” he adds. “Now, maybe that’s just a reflection of Bibi being a big blowhard and Obama’s people’s discomfort with Netanyahu, and Israel in general. Maybe that’s a reflection of [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett and [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid being more friendly towards Biden and his team. Maybe the Israelis are deceiving the Americans — and deceiving the Biden folks neither seems hard nor sinful. But I doubt it.”
“I don’t give much credence to any Israeli training exercises that supposedly have an Iranian application,” he adds. “They have been doing these for a long time. Hell, the U.S. Air Force and Navy may still be doing these exercises. Doesn’t mean much. It’s ultimately about political will married with military capacity. Both now militate against Israel.”
Are Gerecht and Takeyh right that Israel’s moment for military action passed?
It’s a critical question, especially when Israel celebrates the Passover holiday this week, contemplating our long history of our enemies hating us and wanting either to annihilate us (Purim) or enslave us (Passover).
Let’s pray that serious, shrewd, firm diplomacy can work.
No one wants another major war in the Middle East, certainly not the Israeli public.
But while Gerecht and Takeyh could be right, I’m not convinced – not yet, least – by the argument they are making.
Israel’s lack of taking military action so far is not a signal that it won’t take such action in the future.
And consider other signals:
What about the announcement in January 2021 by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, that he and his colleagues are drawing up fresh military plans to neutralize the Iran threat?
What about Kochavi’s statement in September 2021 that he had “greatly accelerated” the IDF’s planning for military operations against Iran?
What about the fact that in October 2021 in Israel’s new state budget, the IDF received $1.5 billion to prepare for a war with Iran?
What about the report last December that “Israel is on an extensive multi-billion dollar shopping spree to expand its arsenal of “smart” bunker buster bombs (JDam precision munitions and others) and is beefing up its stock of Tamir Iron Dome missile defense interceptors. The shopping list indicates clearly that Israel is preparing for war, not only vis-a-vis Iran but also with Hezbollah.”
What about Bennett’s speech in February that Israel will soon deploy a new missile defense system that uses high-tech lasers? “In about a year, the IDF will launch a laser interception system. At first experimentally and later it will become operational. First in the south and then elsewhere. This will allow us, in the medium to long term, to surround Israel with a laser wall that protects us from missiles, rockets, UAVs and other threats. In fact, it will take away the strongest card the enemy has against us.”
What about the report in February that Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with senior U.S. officials in Washington and told them point blank that he has ordered the IDF to be ready to strike Iran if the nuclear talks in Vienna fail?
No one in Jerusalem wants a war with Iran.
But there may not be any choice.
I don’t see the signals that Gerecht and Takeyh claim to see that Israel’s “moment has passed.”
I see Israel preparing for just such a moment.
Meanwhile, everyone who loves Israel needs to be faithfully praying for the “peace of Jerusalem,” as we are commanded in Psalm 122:6.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.