A fascinating piece by Jeffrey Goldberg on Bloomberg about Israeli expectations of war with Iran.
Especially of note is this paragraph:
A widely held assumption about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is that it would spur Iranian citizens — many of whom appear to despise their rulers — to rally around the regime. But Netanyahu, I’m told, believes a successful raid could unclothe the emperor, emboldening Iran’s citizens to overthrow the regime (as they tried to do, unsuccessfully, in 2009).
Perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu has been reading some Giulio Douhet. The Italian airman was one of the first real theorists when it came to air power, and his The Command of the Air dominated thinking on air power in the inter-war years.
One of Douhet’s central theories was that the strategic bombing of civilian targets would essentially make land war obsolete. Command of the air would, post World War One, now be the only thing worth focusing on. Civilian populations would be unable to withstand a dedicated bombing campaign as part of a “total war” strategy and would force their own governments to surrender or capitulate. Douhet would expand on this idea in one of his later books, The War of 19–, where he imagined a war between Germany and a western European alliance being over in a matter of days once the Germans had gained mastery of the air.
A lot of people bought into Douhet’s ideas, including major air power commanders of the Second World War, most notably Arthur “Bomber” Harris, who took one of Douhet’s central arguments – that the air battlespace was so vast as to preclude an effect defence – and turned it into one of the 20th century’s most chilling sentences: ”The bomber will always get through”. Harris and the other Allied air commanders tried to prove Douhet right in the Second World War, against the cities of Germany and Japan.
They weren’t the first to try either. Franco bombed Madrid in 1936, the first large scale urban bombing. Germany, of course, did plenty of it in the opening years of World War two.
And it didn’t work. Time and again, from Franco, to Hitler, to Harris, strategic bombing, with the intention of destroying the morale of the civilian population, fails. It failed in the Spanish Civil War, it failed in the Second World War, it failed in Korea, Vietnam, the list goes on and on.
(The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are traditionally placed on a different level to strategic bombing, due to the warping of the time/destruction axis that they cause.)
Bombing cities doesn’t make the targets turn on their own government; it makes them hate the bombers. If anything, it increases morale. “Blitz spirit” and all that. Douhet was wrong, and it has taken a long time for that lesson to get through.
But perhaps it hasn’t gotten through to Israeli leadership, who are deluding themselves if they think that any attack by their nation on Iran will result in anything resembling a popular revolution. If anything, it will quell dissent, reunite divisive elements on a recognisable foreign foe, and shore up the strength of the current Iranian regime. Israel and Iran will always be enemies, barring a massive political/religious shift in the Middle-East.
On any potential attack on Iran, I suppose I can see where some of the hawkish Israeli’s are coming from, but I would still hold to the belief that attacking Iran will have few long term benefits. Because:
-It will further solidify anti-Israel feelings in the Middle East and surrounding nations.
-It is highly unlikely that Iranian nuclear development will be set back by more than a few years, so the problem won’t go away.
-The situation smells a little “Malvinas”-like, in that Israeli issues in Gaza are likely to lose international attention if that nation goes to war with Iran.
-I’m not convinced that America will back Israel up to the degree that the tiny nation is used to.
If Israel does go ahead and launch strikes on Iran, which I have no doubt that it has the capability to do, the consequences will hopefully be small in scale and will not lead to a wider war. Iran will retaliate, but perhaps that will consist of nothing more than some reciprocal missile strikes at Tel Aviv or more support for militant elements in Gaza. Iran certainly doesn’t have the punch to go toe to toe with Israel is a full scale missile fight.
Such a scenario would see the entry of the US into the conflict, but the nature of that intervention would be up in the air. They won’t be invading Iran any time soon. The US armed forces are seeing their budget and manpower slashed, resources moved to the Pacific theatre, and are beholden to a population that has lived with over 10 years of tiring Middle-Eastern war, occupations and death. They can’t keep that up.
Air strikes and naval action are more likely, but Obama will surely be of a mind to limit any such flashpoints. All out war with the country is not an optimum outcome. What American and Israel want is to get in, destroy nuclear capabilities, get out, and limit whatever happens afterward as much as possible. Israel can take a few missiles thrown at them (gives them a chance to test out that Iron Shield again) and even increased Iranian support for Gaza militias. It can take the Middle East not liking it, because that has always been the case.
What it might not be able to take is being sucked into a lengthened confrontation with Iran, which could soon have the entire Middle-East not just glaring at Israel, but firing at it too. American support in such a scenario is not something that they can rely on to the same extent as they once did.