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Can Israel Surprise Iran? Maybe Not, But Could Still Strike

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cancellation of a security cabinet session on Iran following a media leak last week laid bare a conundrum long troubling Israeli strategists: could they count on any element of surprise in a war on their arch-foe?

Possibly not. Years of public speculation, much of it stoked by official statements in Israel and abroad, about the likelihood and timing of such a conflict have afforded the Iranians plenty of notice to fortify their threatened nuclear facilities and prepare retaliation. Yet experts are not rushing to rule that out. Some believe Israel is still capable of achieving a modicum of surprise, and that in any case it might hope a combination of stealth, blunt force and, perhaps, hitherto untested innovations can deliver victory – even if Iran is on high alert. Israel, whose technologically advanced military has a history of successful derring-do, might place less importance on catching Iran completely off-guard and instead strike openly and with combined forces, causing disarray among the defenders in hope of delivering enough damage to a select number of targets. “The probability of achieving surprise is low, but I think the Israelis will count on their technical competence in defense suppression to allow them in,” said Walter Boyne, a former U.S. air force officer and a writer on aviation history.

If they do indeed contemplate a solo surprise attack, they may also be concerned that the United States, loath to see a war on the eve of a presidential election and while it still favors a diplomatic solution, could also be tipped off about a strike early enough to insist its Israeli ally stand down. There were no such problems in 1981, when a squadron of Israeli fighter-bombers took off from the then-occupied Sinai desert to destroy Iraq’s atomic reactor, nor in 2007, when Israel launched a similar sortie against Syria out of the blue. Nonetheless, some other measures could limit exposure, such as choice of timing. The war on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip was launched on December 27, 2008, deep in the Western holiday season and on a Saturday morning, the Jewish sabbath, when Israel’s own media pare coverage to a minimum and newsrooms are barely staffed.

Israel is also trying to restrict the circle of those in the know. The number of those privy to the details of Iran planning in the military and government has been kept very small, a depth of secrecy akin to that surrounding Israel’s own nuclear program, which is assumed to include the region’s only atomic weapons.

“The more you brace to defend yourself, the more tired you get – or you make the mistake of writing off the threat as a bluff,” he said. “Perhaps that’s the case with Iran.”

Israel’s and Iran’s situation could be somewhat simplified into a basic game theory. They are in a stalemate as to whether they will attack or not, while the other side defends or not. The longer Israel and Iran anticipate the other, the worse their payoff. There are several more factors that would be put into the probability but nonetheless, it can be seen as a possible mixed strategy game. There isn’t any pure strategy either, because Israel has shown previously that it will definitely seize the moment to attack, if provided. Thus Iran always has to worry about an oncoming attack. Such an event would  trigger global troubles especially during a time so close to presidential elections. Israel’s network with the US would put Obama at stake, amongst many other connections around the world.





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