As early as 2005, Israel determined that it could not deliver a knockout blow against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Ha’aretz reported over the weekend. Documents obtained through Wikileaks reveal that Israeli officials informed U.S. diplomats in December 2005 “that there is no chance of a military attack being carried out on Iran.” The story continues, based on a telegram sent in January 2006:
"[Dr. Ariel Levite, then-deputy chief of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission] said that most Israeli officials do not believe a military solution is possible,"…"They believe Iran has learned from Israel's attack on Iraq's Osirak reactor, and has dispersed the components of its nuclear program throughout Iran, with some elements in places that Israel does not know about."
Levite told the Americans that Iran could obtain nuclear weapons within two to three years, but admitted the estimate could be inaccurate as "Israel does not have a clear or precise understanding of Iran's clandestine program."
These revelations by themselves are not particularly newsworthy. Most knowledgeable observers concluded years ago that Israel lacked the firepower to definitively demolish the Iranian nuclear program, noting publicly the same arguments made privately by Levite above. Given the Iranian government’s wide dispersal of facilities around the country, including near population centers, and their skill in concealing sites from foreign intelligence services, even the most optimistic estimates anticipated that air strikes would only set back the Iranian program by a few years, time that would allow the country’s religious leaders—and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s thugs—to consolidate their hold on power. A bombing campaign by either Israel or the United States would rally the Iranian people to support an otherwise unpopular and incompetent regime, as even targeted strikes would have resulted in a large number of civilian casualties. It is for these reasons, among others, that Iranian pro-democracy advocates and regime opponents have consistently argued against a U.S. or Israeli military attack on Iran.
But while this weekend’s report might fall under the “common sense” category, it is useful to recall the tension and uncertainty swirling during the first part of George W. Bush’s second term. There was also a fair share of fearmongering. On August 8, 2006, Bernard Lewis noted ominously that August 22, 2006, coincided with a particularly important date in the Islamic calendar, and wrote that it would be “an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and, if necessary, of the world.” When August 22nd came and went, and Israel and the world were, indeed, still a going concern, Lewis reverted to claims that Iran’s leaders are impervious to the basic survival instincts that deterred mass-murderers such as Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao. He anticipated that Tehran would choose some other future date to bring about the end of days. AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht casually dismissed claims that the task would be difficult, arguing instead: “The issue isn’t feasibility, but the determination to strike whenever required since the assessment of risk does not allow any other course of action.” And, of course, John McCain is remembered for having said that the only thing worse than war with Iran was a nuclear Iran (and joked to the tune of the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann that we should “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran.”)