I’m happy that John, the Blogger Formerly Known as ABL, and DougJ commented on the Todd Akin “legitimate rape” comment. I have to admit, that just left me speechless. I mean, literally, speechless. I mean, WTF?
Anyway, I’ve been intrigued by the recent war talk coming out of Israel. As you’ll recall, less than a week ago, outgoing Israeli civil defense minister Matan Vilnai made public statements about Israel’s preparedness for war:
In the Maariv interview, Vilnai said “the home front is ready as never before.” Nonetheless, he said the country must be braced for heavy casualties in the case of conflict with Iran.
Vilnai said the government has prepared for the possibility of hundreds of rockets and missiles falling on Israeli population centers each day, with the expectation of 500 deaths.
“It could be that there will be fewer fatalities, but it could be there will be more. That is the scenario that we are preparing for according to the best experts,” he said. “The assessments are for a war that will last 30 days on a number of fronts.”
There has been some debate in strategic studies circles about whether this represented a warning against war or whether it was an effort to diminish expectations of catastrophic consequences in order to justify an attack on Iran. It sounds bad — war on “multiple fronts,” “hundreds of rockets and missiles” — but when you get right down to it, a month of conflict and 500 deaths could easily be seen as a small price to pay to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The latter interpretation certainly gains plausibility given remarks by Vilnai’s replacement who today made news by arguing:
Israel faces an existential threat from Iran for the first time since the founding of the state, new Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter said Sunday, within hours of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once again dubbing Israel a “cancerous tumor.”
Dichter, sworn in to his new position on Thursday, made the comments at a changing of the guard ceremony at the ministry’s headquarters in Tel Aviv with his predecessor Matan Vilna’i.
At one level Dichter was responding to outbursts from Ahmadinejad and Khamenei over the past few days. But then again, the Iranian leaders are idiots. But they are long-standing idiots. Iranian idiocy is, in a sense, a constant in this situation.They are pretty consistently saying idiotic things about Israel.
What intrigues me is that the ebb and flow of rhetorical outbursts and tensions isn’t following any sort of clearly identifiable strategic calendar. Iran has not made any new breakthroughs in the past few months. On the other hand, anti-Iranian sanctions and efforts continue to coalesce, slowly but surely. So why do the Israelis insist upon responding in tit-for-tat fashion to rhetorical outbursts? And why the sudden increase of war talk that has even drawn comment from senior U.S. military leaders?
I don’t know the answer, but I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some effort going on to manipulate American domestic politics. Ratcheting up tensions clearly creates talking points on Fox about how Obama has not been a strong enough supporter of Israel, and plays into Romney campaign rhetoric. I may be seeing something here that isn’t there, but the timing of a sudden uptick in war talk seems to me to be motivated as much by political developments in the United States as by anything going on in the Middle East.
Now, I can predict that one response to this post will be folks calling me a naive idiot, that of course this is what Israel is doing. Okay, fine. But I’m more interested in trying to figure out what the smart response is to this, both in terms of policy and messaging. Let’s say you’re an adviser to Obama. You assess that Israel is trying manipulate the election by ratcheting up tensions. What do you do about it?