Jeffrey LewisBoogie Oogie Oogie

Friend of Wonk Haninah Levine takes a turn as special correspondent, attending the Hudson Institute’s Stopping the Iranian Nuclear Program: Is There an Israeli Option? with Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, Former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces. It isn’t quite sneaking past the velvet rope into Studio 54 and Yaalon isn’t Andy Warhol, but …

Boogie does a one-step

Haninah Levine

There’s a standard template to events at which an Israeli ex-security official speaks at a Washington think tank. It goes something like this:

Think Tanker #1: Could you please talk about what America can learn about the way in which Israel has dealt with [insert security issue here]?

Israeli Ex-Security Official: The Western world must present a united front against the threat of Islamic terror, which hopes to destroy Israel only as a first step towards destroying the West.

Think Tanker #2: Thank you for that candid answer. Could you please tell us a little more about just how Israel intends to confront [insert International Bad Actor here]?

Israeli Ex-Security Official: The Western world must present a united front against the threat of Islamic terror, which hopes to destroy Israel only as a first step towards destroying the West.

And so on. On this occasion (Tuesday), the Israeli ex-security official in question was Lt. Gen. Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon (for reasons unknown, all Israeli security officials are required to have an infantile, two-syllable nickname from their army days by which the Israeli media and public know them), Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces from 2001 until his controversial replacement in 2005. The think tank was the Hudson Institute. The nominal topic of discussion was “Stopping the Iranian Nuclear Program: Is There an Israeli Option?”

Lest any members of the audience find the suspense unbearable, Boogie got to the point immediately: “Many articles have said there is no military option; well, the bottom line is, there is a military option.”

Having thus addressed fully the question posed in the title of the talk – can’t blame him if they made the mistake of phrasing it as a yes-or-no question, I guess – Boogie took advantage of his remaining hour and fifty-nine minutes to explaining why the whole world should be really really afraid of Iran, nukes or no nukes. But, he was careful to insist, military force must be considered “as a contingency plan.”

Several times, Boogie echoed Sen. John McCain’s assessment that “there’s only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option; that is a nuclear-armed Iran.” (In fact, a couple more mentions of McCain and Boogie would have triggered speculation that he was angling for a spot on an ’08 ticket.)

Really, beyond his insistence that “the US Air Force, European air forces and the Israel Air Force” all possess the indisputable capability to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities, either all together or each on their own (just imagine the potential for slapstick there…), Boogie had little to say about the military option. Miles Pomper from Arms Control Today was there, and perhaps he will find some pearls of wisdom to extract from the rhetoric. [Editor’s note: Miles published his thoughts in The Morningside Post, a community blog for Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.] The erstwhile general did have several intriguing observations to offer on other subjects:

  • In spite of the obvious sectarian differences (which he duly noted), Iran offers shelter and support on its territory to al-Qaeda.
  • A series of strikes on Iran’s “several dozen” nuclear facilities “may well postpone Iran’s nuclear program for [as much as a decade]” – as, according to Boogie, was also the result of the Osirak strike (“Osirak did not ‘stop’ Iraq’s nuclear program”).
  • If a strike takes place, Israel can expect in response: direct attacks by Shihab-3s, Katyushas and “Iranian UAVs” launched by Hezbollah from Lebanon, Qassams launched from Gaza, terrorist attacks from southern Lebanon and Gaza, and “terror attacks on Western, Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide.” Fun, i’n’it?
  • But, the good news is that Israel’s “three level” missile defense system of Arrow missiles, Patriot missiles, and “all other systems” is 100% operational and can deal with the Shihabs. As for Katyushas and terrorists, “that can be absorbed.” (Funny, I don’t think I ever heard him put it that way on the nightly news in Israel.)
  • The best way for the international community to put pressure on Iran is by supporting Israel’s demands in its negotiations with the Palestinians, thus denying Iran’s Hamas proxies a “sense of victory.” (No, really.)
  • Knocking out Iran’s nuclear program will take a “sustainable” offensive, involving “more than one strike.” What exactly does that mean? Your guess is as good as anyone’s. But as for Israeli efforts at regime change in Iran, “if you don’t know about anything, either we’re not doing anything, or we’re so well-prepared you haven’t heard anything.” Ladies and gentleman, he’ll be here all night.
  • A strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would involve “no collateral and environmental damage.” Well, phew, if you say so…
  • After years of dealing with terrorists, who pose “very low-profile targets,” the Israeli military should have no problem much higher-profile targets such as WMD installations. A subtle dig at the US? We can only wonder, and wish.
  • And, finally, regarding the “how much longer can we wait” question: here, Boogie took the trouble to make it very clear that the “6-18 month timeline” was not till Iran has a bomb, but till they have all the “indigenous know-how” they will need. The good news, for those worried about an impending Israeli strike? Boogie thinks that even after that point has been passed been passed it’s still “not too late” for the military option. As for having the bomb – there he went with the 3-5 years number, recognizing that technical problems leave the upper limit unbounded.

More Boogie: Yaalon’s comments have touched off a minor fracas in Israel, including claims that he revealed sensitive national security information. Haninah passes along this postscript: “On Friday, Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz criticized Boogie for revealing too much about Israel’s military capability at the Hudson Institute event, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Boogie insisted in response that ‘I did not reveal any military secrets.’ This reporter will be more than happy to testify in his defense, if that’s the question.”

Comments

  1. dan (History)

    ”(for reasons unknown, all Israeli security officials are required to have an infantile, two-syllable nickname from their army days by which the Israeli media and public know them)”

    I asked one once. It’s because the Western world must present a united front against the threat of Islamic terror, which hopes to destroy Israel only as a first step towards destroying the West.

  2. Akash (History)

    Ease up on the Israelis will you? Yes, the Israelis may appear to have a one track mind, but given the threat they live under and the non stop attacks- its no suprise their views are what they are. Other countries across the world, with similar problems have similar views- only that the Israelis are more direct in stating it.

  3. Haninah

    I did not mean to give Israelis a hard time (as you may have guessed, I am an Israeli myself) so much as to offer a dispatch from the rhetorical limbo where wonks and security officials come together. And while I was at it to try to mine a smidgen of data from the rhetoric-stream. Certainly didn’t mean to go “A Few Good Men” on Boogie’s Jack Nicholson.

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