Israel’s “Sadat Option”: Could Israel Push the U.S. to Attack Iran? – Joint Forces Quarterly

Written by admin on September 5th, 2009

The  general consensus among military policy wonks is that an Israeli attack to halt Iran’s nuclear development would be difficult and largely ineffectual: the lengthy flightpath would have Israel’s warplanes transiting over possible hostile foreign airspace, it doesn’t have a sufficient number of aircraft to hit all of Iran’s widely dispersed nuclear installations, and the long fight probably would prohibit its bombers from carrying the heavy ordinance necessary to destroy Iran’s hardened sites. Only the United States has the capability to mount a sustained and widespread attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.  President Bush had rejected Israel’s request for a joint U.S.-Israeli attack and the Obama administration so far has shown no willingness to resort to the military option to force Iran to halt its nuclear development.

But Richard L. Russell, a professor at the National Defense University, points out that Israel could push the U.S. into a fight with Iran.  Writing in the Joint Forces Quarterly, a publication for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Russell shares Israel’s view that economic sanctions against Iran will have little meaningful effect and that Tehran will continue a clandestine nuclear weapons program under the cover of prolonged negotiations.  He posits that Israel could take a page from Anwar Sadat’s playbook:  the 1973 war was not launched to defeat Israel but to shake Washington and Tel Aviv into starting meaningful negotiations.  Russell suggests that Israel could become frustrated at the slow pace of negotiations and “strike out militarily with no illusion of severely damaging Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, but with every intention of shocking the international community via the Sada option into substantially greater diplomatic, political, economic, and military pressure on Iran.”

The drawback with this plan is that no one believes that in response to an assault, Iran simply would sit back and do nothing.  Russell recognizes that Iran and most of the Muslim world inevitably would blame Washington for an Israeli strike, resulting in retaliatory attacks against a broad range of U.S. interests worldwide. Iranian action against U.S. forces in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, attacks by the Revolutionary Guards on U.S. ships in the Gulf, or Iranian sponsored terrorist attacks would compel U.S. counter-attacks. Similarly, the Obama administration would be hard pressed not to come to Israel’s defense if Iran retaliated with missile strikes against Israel.

Russell hints that Israeli action against Iran could be precipitated by bellicose threats or reckless action by Iran or by strikes by Hizballah, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad against Israeli interests.  Any such incidents also could serve as a pretext for war, much like the incidents used to justify Israel’s 2006 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon.  But unlike Lebanon, exercizing the “Sadat option” by Israel most likely would push the United States into a war with Iran.  Russell tactfully sidesteps this conclusion; he simply suggests that U.S. military planner be ready for Iranian retalliation.

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