JERUSALEM, PALESTINE — According to a story in Haaretz, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said recently that “the United States will respond with military force if its interests are attacked by Iran.” However, there are several reasons why Israel and the U.S. will not attack Iran, at least not directly.
Al Jazeera reports that Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, said that the idea of war is “far-fetched” because Washington and its allies know they would pay a heavy price. Nasrallah is most likely right.
Drums of war
Notwithstanding the rhetoric coming from Washington, where the national security advisor and secretary of state have been busy pushing for war, the U.S. is not prepared to pay the consequences for attacking Iran. While it is hard to dispute that the U.S. has superior military strength and, should it decide to do so, can destroy Tehran, there is more to war than just sheer military power.
The same can be said for Israel. While politicians and commanders in Tel-Aviv tend to flex their muscles in public, it is unlikely they could stomach an all-out war with a well trained and motivated army.
According to a piece in the New York Times, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should a war with Iran take place. There is most likely another report somewhere that says how many of them will return in body bags, and that is the report they are not likely to make public.
The cost of war
Neither Israel nor the U.S. could possibly be prepared for the cost of such a war. The cost in dollars is one thing, but then there is the cost in human life, which includes the heavy toll that will be paid for the day and days after an initial attack takes place. Maintaining an ongoing war against what will surely be a dedicated and relentless ground resistance to any foreign presence on Iranian soil is something Israel and the U.S. are likely to avoid at all costs. Israel faced a dedicated resistance during its occupation of South Lebanon and eventually left, licking its wounds, in 2000. When in 2006 it attempted to invade with ground forces, the Lebanese fighters proved too much for Israel’s elite forces and they once again escaped in humiliation.
The U.S. does not have the stomach to face a motivated, patriotic resistance the likes of which it saw in Vietnam, and to a large degree still faces in Iraq and Afghanistan. While some voters in Israel and the U.S. may see attacking Iran favorably today, once the cost becomes clear and once the bodies start coming back, it would be a completely different story.
While attacking Iran would prove to be fruitless, threatening an attack on Iran and not attacking is far more useful. Both Israel and the U.S. need Iran: they need to be able to point to Iran as a threat, as a menace, as the source of terrorism and evil in the world. That threat is also an important part of any election campaign for politicians in both countries. The fact that Iran is none of those things is beside the point.
Iran supports forces of resistance like Hamas and Hezbollah that would never have existed had it not been for Israeli violence and occupation of Palestine and southern Lebanon. Israel needs an enemy it can point to as a threat to its existence. While it still claims that the Palestinians are an existential threat, at least militarily that has never been true and fewer people are buying it. Iran, on the other hand, is persuasively painted as evil and menacing thanks to a dedicated and vociferous campaign in Israel and the U.S. that has worked to demonize it for many years. Never mind the fact that Iran’s resistance to Israel and its support of the Palestinian struggle is politically and morally right.
Israel has not fought a war against an organized army since 1973. The Israeli air force pilots, who operate state-of-the-art warplanes, have not faced any serious force that possesses effective anti-aircraft capabilities in decades. Judging by Israel’s confrontations with Hamas and Hezbollah fighters, it is quite clear that Israeli ground forces are not capable of standing up to, never mind defeating, a well trained, motivated fighting force, even when it possesses inferior weapons.
U.S. forces have not successfully fought an actual regular army since World War II. The wars in which it has been engaged since then, with the exception perhaps of the Korean War, were largely against guerilla forces and the U.S. paid a heavy toll in its attempts to fight them. So it is not at all clear whether it can succeed in defeating the Iranian army.
Both Israeli and U.S. leaders are given reports that estimate the body count in case of a war. It is not unlikely that the leaders of both countries have seen these reports and fear the consequences of an all-out war with Iran.
Feature photo | President Donald Trump and visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk towards the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. Manuel Balce Ceneta | AP
Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”