Will the IDF Attack Iran Following an Order from Netanyahu?
"Seruv" means "refusal"
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During the press conference that he gave after the attack, Netanyahu said “Israel will demand a heavy price from those who dispatched the terrorists. Israel will not be defeated.” “We’ll fight Iranian terror, we’ll fight it with great force,” he added. In order to make clear that this position was shared by the government, Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Iran is the world’s largest state sponsoring terror and that Israel would respond “with force and precision against those who plan and execute such attacks.” “We have no intention to forgive and forget,” he said and included Hezbollah in the threat by adding: “Hezbollah knows that we don’t make empty threats.” In fact, this is a quite legal declaration of war on Iran by Israel.
There are several ways of declaring a war, a topic that is regulated by the Hague Convention (III) of 1907 on the Opening of Hostilities. The most obvious one is by a speech or the issuance of a formal document. However, that seldom happens; most ongoing wars have never been formally declared. A well-known example is the German invasion of Belgium during WWI, which violated the abovementioned convention since it states that hostilities must not commence without explicit warning. This is relevant here because what Netanyahu did in his speech was to deliver such a war warning, though justifying it on unproven claims. He had put Iran in a position to legitimately claim that Israel declared war on it and thus enabled it to take defensive measures. Self-defense from an external attack is a type of war allowed by the UN Charter. In other words, we already have a formal war. Netanyahu may decide on its first battle.
Does the IDF Support the War?
On April 25, 2012, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz gave a rare interview to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. As it invariably happens in recent years when Israeli leaders are interviewed, a possible war between Israel and Iran was at the center of the interview. Oddly enough, the general admitted that Israel is bluffing Iran; this interview sums up to several others given recently by Israeli leaders into a very disturbing picture. I made the complete analysis in previous articles, thus I’ll skip it here. However, the situation is simple. Leading Israeli politicians support war with Iran. Leading Israeli security services personnel oppose it. This is very odd. In the Israeli (and Western) reality, one expects the opposite: generals want war, politicians want industrial silence. Is this additional incongruence a sign of Jewish wisdom, or something else? The hint to the truth is in the deed itself. General Gantz cannot give a free interview. IDF officers must get an approval for such an event; in the case of the IDF’s chief general, the approval must be given by the Minister of Defense himself. It is unlikely that Ehud Barak would have given such an approval without asking what General Gantz was planning to say on the issue of a war with Iran. Similarly, it is unlikely that General Gantz would utter an opinion contrary to the one of his boss without getting previous approval from Barak.
In other words, we are not witnessing inner wars in the Israeli leadership, but a conscious effort to create disinformation on the plans of the State of Israel. The sharp inversion of the typical roles (warring generals, cautious politicians) is a further attempt to create confusion.
All the generals speaking on the issue were highly questionable. “The military option is the last chronologically, but the first in terms of its credibility. If it’s not credible it has no meaning. We are preparing for it in a credible manner. That’s my job, as a military man,” said General Gantz in that interview. This is a remarkably vague statement, especially by his inexplicable need to incessantly repeat the word “credible.” Judging his words from the point of view of a Hebrew speaker, such a statement is highly dubious. I wouldn’t buy anything from this man; he probably means Israel will not attack Iran, but wants Iran to believe it will. This may explain the flood of war articles published in the Hebrew media since then.
One of them analyzed possible strategies for conducting the initial attack on Iran. It claimed the attack would be made by air, oddly omitting the missile war option, which is more probable. “One hundred reserve pilots will be recruited and trained,” the article said with confidence. “They will not know what their targets are until the last moment,” it kept scaring the Hebrew-speaking audience. The scenario makes sense. The IDF prefers to send reserve forces first, while keeping back its regular units—which are better equipped—prepared to deal with emergencies. Moreover, in The Cross of Bethlehem I described the techniques used by senior IDF officers to mislead junior ones regarding war plans; this article referred to the same methods. Then, the article ended with a vague reference regarding the possibility that most pilots will die in action. This is what triggered my alarms; the article was attempting a very unusual manipulation of public opinion. Suddenly, General Gantz' unreliable words got a new significance. What if…
Some generals may not like Netanyahu’s game. They also want a marble pedestal! What can be done? Relatively far from the headlines, there is a refusal movement in Israel. “Yesh Gvul” is Hebrew for “there is a limit,” (in colloquial English one would say “enough is enough”) and the name chosen by a movement founded during the 1982 Lebanon War. It began by calling to refuse IDF service in Lebanon and expanded afterwards to service in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. “Seruv” is Hebrew for “refusal;” thus soldiers refusing military tasks are known as “seruvnikim,” the parallel to “refuseniks.” Their selective refusal is a form of “civil disobedience” and is open to military and civil charges. The best known document issued by this informal movement is known as “The Officers Letter.” Issued in 2003, it calls to refuse service beyond the Green Line and “to refuse to control, expel, hunger, and humiliate an entire people” (referring to the Palestinians). One of the reasons this movement is allowed to operate from within Israel is its tiny size. Nine years after the letter was issued, less than a thousand soldiers signed it. Few are tried and jailed for refusal; when this happens, they are sent to the comfy Military Jail 4, just next to Tel Aviv. If possible, confrontation is avoided by sending these reserve soldiers to backline tasks. Thus, they support the state, while opposing its actions.
This type of behavior may provide a new twist in the thickening plot. Netanyahu may sign an order to attack Iran. Then, a small group of senior officers—those holding relevant powers—will refuse the order, claiming loyalty to the State of Israel, but not to Mr. Netanyahu. In a dramatic television broadcast—Israeli army can take over Hebrew media in emergency situations—they will tell the people that they won’t be part of the absolute destruction of the state. Such an insurrection is unlikely to happen en masse. There is no way the entire IDF General Headquarters (the body comprising all the major generals, and the lieutenant general running the army) will be able to plan such an event without information being leaked to the government. However, such a level of cooperation is not necessary. What counts here is the reputation of the refusing generals, their charisma to lead people into their new and brave camp, and their capability to stop critical paths used for the attack. Such a limited action may stop a brutal war. Yet, it won’t stop Netanyahu from getting his marble pedestal, though only for being the first Israeli Prime Minister to be thrown out of office by means of military insurrection.
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