Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for the United States to declare “red lines” for Iran and its nuclear program makes it even harder for the Obama administration to walk the line between calming Israel and increasing the pressure on Iran. As Washington considers its responses — and anticipates how Iran would respond in turn — the risk of terrorism will loom large for both Israel and the United States.
Terrorism related to Iran’s nuclear program has already begun. Indeed, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the suspected Iranian-orchestrated terrorist attack in July that killed five Israelis and a local bus driver in Bulgaria is that it generated little surprise or reaction in Israel. Israel’s former national security advisor, Uzi Arad, pointed out that Iran was simply responding to Israel’s covert campaign against Tehran: “Anybody with eyes in their head can see we are in the middle of an escalation orchestrated by various elements, and where occasionally, we are the instigating side.”
This “shadow war” between Israel and Iran has created an escalatory dynamic as the Bulgaria attack indicates, with Iran feeling compelled to respond to what it sees as Israeli aggression. Although specifics are steeped in secrecy, Israel is blamed (or lauded, depending on where you stand) for killing Iranian nuclear scientists, sabotaging an Iranian missile facility, releasing a computer virus that crippled Iranian centrifuges, and killing noted terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah operations commander who worked closely with Tehran and who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans when Hezbollah bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and U.S. Marine Barracks in 1983.
At the end of the day, as we all know thorny national security issues don’t just involve the military; political-military considerations invariably bleed into them. If the senior military’s leadership views are going to be just constrained to military advice … who is thinking about issues from that broader perspective?