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Inside Israel, Talk of Attack on Iran Grows Louder

Common Dreams staff

An Israeli woman tries on a gas mask at a distribution centre in Tel Aviv. (Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Saber-rattling against Iran among top Israeli officials has become something of a national sport in recent weeks.

Though much of the rhetoric is nothing new, many observers say the amount of public debate about an Israeli attack on Iran— driven by leaks "from unnamed officials" and prominently placed op-eds alike—is 'unprecedented' and has now 'reached a fevered pitch.'

As The Guardian reports:

In the past few days, the Israeli public has been hit by a blizzard of speculative articles suggesting a military strike against Iran's nuclear sites is imminent.

The talk is now of a timetable of weeks, rather than months and some observers believe that Israel will act in the runup to the US presidential election – at a time when it could be difficult and damaging for President Obama to withhold his backing in the face of a hawkish and vehemently pro-Israel opponent, Mitt Romney, who has already indicated his support for unilateral action by the Jewish state.

On Tuesday, an article in Ma'ariv suggested that Netanyahu and Barak have set a deadline of 25 September for Obama to clearly state that the US itself will take military action. [...]The implication is that, in the absence of a public declaration, Israel will press on with its own plans to strike at the Iranian nuclear programme.

Reuters notes that the selection by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Avraham Dichter as his new civil defense minister comes amid a "heightened public debate over a possible strike on Iran" but was inconclusive about what direct impact Dichter may have on such plans. Previously the head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence agency, Dichter has warned against attacking Iran without direct from the US.

Reuters continues:

In a sign of mounting Israeli concern, Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that most other threats to Israeli security were "dwarfed" by the prospect of Iran producing an atomic warhead.

Israel has been "investing billions in home-front defence," Netanyahu also said, adding to media speculation his cabinet might be mulling a possible attack.

The Israeli military has this week been testing a text message emergency notification service in about a dozen cities. A television station reported on Sunday that Israel expected to sustain as many as 50,000 missile strikes in the event of any conflict with Iran.

In remarks to reporters in February, Dichter said that Israel "is not a superpower" and should "not lead a world offensive against Iran" although it needed to prepare in case the world did not take action.

The Associated Press adds:

A poll released Sunday suggested the public, normally hawkish on security matters, has big qualms about a solo Israeli strike on Iran that does not have Washington's blessing. The survey, conducted by Israel's Dialog Institute, showed 46 percent oppose such an attack as opposed to 32 percent who support it and 22 percent who have no opinion. A total of 504 people took part in the survey, which had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

Ezrahi, the political scientist, applauds the public debate.

"Every democracy should discuss the issue of going to war with such potentially fateful results," he said.

But Nachman Shai, a lawmaker with the opposition Kadima Party and a former military spokesman, thinks drawing in the public was a "bad idea."

"It frightens people to live in a country that is talking about war all the time," he said. "What does it do to us as a country, a society? Even though we're a society that is familiar with this, it's a very heavy dose."

Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and frequent contributor to Common Dreams, analyzed the long push for war by Israel and the manner in which the Israeli establishment thinks it can apply pressure to the Obama administration in the midst of this year's campaign season. He writes this week:

Netanyahu gives every evidence of believing that — for the next 12 weeks — he is in the catbird seat and that, if he provokes hostilities with Iran, Obama will feel compelled to jump in with both feet, i. e., selecting from the vast array of forces already assembled in the area. 

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