No Shock and Awe: Israel should consider the Arab response to a military strike on Iran

Originally published in +972blog

On 7June 1981, Israel attacked and destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak. That was the day the Arabs lost their nuclear ambition.

The code name was, Operation Opera, but the opera wasn’t Nabucco and its chorus of Hebrew slaves, but rather Aida and its triumphal march. The Israelis had managed to catch everyone by surprise, and the result was a perfect example of Sun Tzu’s philosophy and Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous slogan “shock and awe.”

As Israel seeks to reaffirm its long-term strategy of deterrence and pre-emption 30 years later, we are facing a similar scenario; but this time it is the Iranians’ turn. The world is pre-occupied with the possible military strike against Iran and its potential risks and benefits. However, very few have considered the implications for the Arab world and how the Arab street would respond to such an attack.

There is no doubt that predictions in such crises are unwise and even foolish, though there are some realities in the Arab world that would be unlikely to change regardless of the outcome of any military scenario, even if this outcome were decisive, successful and without any retaliation.

First, forget the shock: in contrast to 1981, when many Arabs didn’t know about Saddam’s nuclear reactor and those who knew didn’t expect it to be destroyed easily, the endless debate and the tough rhetoric from various Israeli leaders have eliminated any element of surprise this time round.  Even my taxi driver in Cairo, during my last visit, asked when –not if —  Israel would bomb Iran.

Second, forget the awe: The young Arab men and women who defied teargas, live ammunition, bombing and ruthless murderers are very different from earlier Arab generations. They were not deterred by dictators; and they won’t be frightened by an Israeli strike on Iran. Deterrence, a policy that has been ingrained in the psyche of Israel since its establishment, is detested by these fearless youth who view it as demeaning and counter-productive.

Third, the Islamic awakening: Islamists in many Arab countries are the new emerging power. They have fewer links with Iran, but share its hostility to Israel. Their sponsors in the Gulf States would probably be relieved if Iran lost its nuclear capabilities but would not be grateful to the Israelis and won’t change their ideology accordingly.

Fourth, old players won’t disappear. A defeated Iran would certainly weaken its allies in the region, but would not make them vanish from the scene. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has established itself firmly with a robust financial, economical and social network. The Party of Godmight abandon the Almighty, but would not disarm and can cause Israel an incurable migraine.

Any successful attack on Iran would be just like the one on Osirak- a Pyrrhic victory.  Following the initial “we did it again” celebration, Israel would soon realize that it had replaced a loud, reckless, distant enemy with one located geographically closer, equally hostile, but not as reckless. Islamic groups in the Arab world acknowledge their inability to fight Israel in the near future, but they haven’t dropped the idea from their long-term agenda- yet!

The era of easy territorial conquest is past. Any future war would be urban, with many potential non-conventional players involved. Sooner or later, Israel would be forced to revise its long–standing strategy.

For years, Arabs and Jews have been locked in a bitter conflict. Rather than focusing on a viable solution, both sides have invested so much in a meaningless cycle of deterrence versus resistance; neither concept is decisive, but both are hollow. Therefore, the conflict is likely to continue until someone is brave enough to break the futile cycle and invent a different wheel, hopefully a peaceful one this time.

About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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4 Responses to No Shock and Awe: Israel should consider the Arab response to a military strike on Iran

  1. Aharon Meytahl says:

    General questions right or wrong, don’t have much to do with the present state of affairs. In the mind of leaders of Israel and most Israelis and Americans, Iran with nuke is a threat to Israel’s existence, and such weapon threat must be eliminated, preferably without war. Most Arabs and Muslims hate and will continue to hate Israel, whether it attacks Iran or not. Judging from history, victory by Israel reduces hate. Jews in the British Mandate Palestine were most hated in the 30’s and 40′ when el Husseini, the Palestinian and Muslim Brotherhood leader was an ally of Hitler in Berlin. It was least hated in 1967.

    Whether Iran is stopped for a year or for eternity is, considering the alternative, irrelevant. If the world doesn’t stop Iran, Israel will, without too much regard to experts, journalists, bloggers and “world opinion.”

    As to “peace” with the Arab world, Israel, in my mind, cannot do anything about it. For peace the Arab world has to change, not because of Israel, but because of its own self interest. Antisemitic rantings of idioslamists show nothing except weakness, as do the killings in Syria, “democracy” in Egypt, corruption in Iraq, persecution of tens of millions of gays, women rights etc. Israel has nothing to do with all that. Islam in Middle East is caricature of great texts, culture, science, philosophy, conquests and politics of the past. Middle East has to find its own voice and achievement. When it does peace will be come easily.


  2. Excellent points about the unavoidable. I very much appreciate this post, Nervana.


  3. nervana111 says:

    Thank you so much for replying. I appreciate your feedback. Thanks Don and Thanks Ahron, but as far as your views, it needs two to tango. there are problems on both sides which prohibit reaching a viable solution. pointing fingers doesn’t help. both sides need to work hard to reach peace, simply because it is worth it !


  4. Marcus Shapiro says:

    OK – I clicked through on the highlighted word “Deterrence” here and on the 972 blog and the link seems broken. Don’t understand the reference to Shamir (is that the erstwhile, long gone Prime Minister?). Not meaning to be critical but you tell us how the Arab Street would not react (ie wouldn’t be deterred, cowed, meek etc) but it would be more interesting to know how it would react. Sounds from the Cairo taxi driver that an attack is expected, and that which is expected is often largely discounted. Does the Arab street (insofar as it thinks and has a single voice) believe a strike on Iran is aimed at them – the only reason to do so to my mind would be if they thought the Persian enemy had suddenly become their ally, championing the anti-Israel cause, or out of a sense of cross Shia-Sunni Muslim brotherhood (not so evident in rivalries and blowing up each other’s mosques)


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