A War That’s Hardly Phony


The war between Israel and Iran has already begun, if declarations of hostility and sabotage mean anything. The war is in a phase not unlike the Sitzkreig, or “phony war,” in late 1939 and early 1940, only insofar as there is, at least on the surface, more talking and jockeying for position than anything else, an almost eerie readying for an explosion that everyone was certain would happen, but had yet to ignite.

In these weeks of jockeying positions of greatest concern is the position of Israel’s singular ally, the United States. For all the ongoing public assurances that these two nations are on the same page — some Israeli analysts believe the security cooperation between the two countries on Iran is strikingly high — there was a disturbing speed bump this past week. It came when Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, gave an interview on CNN in which he couldn’t have done more to convince Israel, let alone Iran, that the U.S. and Israel are hardly on the same page at all.

According to the chairman, if Israel attacks Iran it would be without cause, a phony war indeed: “It’s not prudent” to attack Iran,” he said. They don’t have a nuclear bomb and might not be building one. An Israeli attack would only slow, not stop Iran; would invite fierce retaliation, destabilize the Middle East, and Israel’s military option simply won’t work, said the general, which means it’s not an option at all.

Iran can rest easy, the general seemed to be saying. Certainly Israel can’t, if as The Wall Street Journal suggests, the general’s message “was almost certainly guided by the White House.” Usually, the way to prevent war is to convince the enemy — it is Iran, isn’t it? — that threatening Israel is not just something for Israel to fear but for Iran itself to fear, for such is the confidence and willingness of the United States and Israel to do something about it.

Instead, what was heard in Israel, according to one Jerusalem Post writer, is that the Americans “seem to be trying to undermine Israel’s confidence…”

No Iranian bomb? Last week, Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran loaded its first domestically made fuel road into a nuclear reactor.

To take Dempsey at his word, without any reprimand or contradiction from the general’s commander in chief, is to make us wonder, not only about the general’s intentions in the event of war, but to wonder whether the administration’s frequent reassurances about Israel’s security have any heart and soul to back it up when this war turns real.