People in foreign policy circles can’t stop talking about a war with Iran, as if there’s sense in such hostilities. Benjamin Netanyahu has been pumping for such a war for years and in his political predicament come very close to unleashing it. Now Trump’s absence of relish for Middle East conflict has upped Israeli fears that Israel is on its own– so Israel should attack Iran. “We’re not talking about a major war, but some clashes,” Jonathan Regev said on i24 News today.
This is the greatest pleasure of a thriller published this summer, in which a former intelligence analyst imagines what happens when Israel attacks Iran with well-laid plans, and a global humanitarian and environmental nightmare, and near-world-war, ensue. The book puts the lie to such cheerleading.
Gil Maguire is a friend– and an advertiser on our site — but despite that conflict I thought it worth reviewing the scenario he lays out in “The Exodus Betrayal: A President Confronts Israel.” Because Maguire’s understanding of hubris and folly and military overreach, even if a bit overblown for dramatic purposes, provides a cautionary tale that has surely also occured to the U.S. security establishment, and ought to be more regular fare in our media.
Here’s the story. It’s weeks away from a presidential election in the U.S. in the present day, a neophyte president Hailey Hannagan is fighting for her life. Israeli PM Ari Ben-David decides to attack Iran because Iran is getting close to having enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon and Ben-David thinks he can force the president’s hand to “provide at least defensive support for Israel.”
Israeli security chiefs argue with the political leaders that Iran is a rational actor that won’t attack Israel even if it has a nuke. They warn that the operation is way too risky. Iran is too far away from Israel.
But the prime minister and defense minister are filled with hubris and paranoia, convinced that Iran will dare to attack Israel if it has a nuclear weapon. And the Defense Minister says, “General, do not take counsel of your fears.”
As for the distance problem, Israel has solved it. It has bribed Iran’s northern neighbor, Azerbaijan, to let it fill a southern base with military assets; Lankoran is close to the Iranian border and a mere 200 miles from Tehran! The Israelis sneak three cargo planes loaded with Israeli special forces and bunker-buster bombs to Lankoran. They ready 25 F15I attack bombers, state of the art.
The Israelis decide to use the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha to launch the attack, ten days before the presidential election. “The Iranians are in for a big surprise.”
But the Russians discover the Israeli presence in Azerbaijan and an Israeli listening post in Georgia and decide it’s time to stop the Israeli meddling in the Caucuses. They inform the Iranians of the Israeli plans, and the Iranians ready forces near the Azeri border to attack the Israeli base. Iran gets permission from Iraq to move fighter planes there to attack Israeli aerial refueling tankers when they are in Iraqi air space.
“The Israelis are in for a big surprise,” says an Iranian commander.
The Israeli attack is massive, and very quickly a disaster. Thirty Israeli bombers, a fifth of the air force, are shot down by long range missiles that Russians supplied Iran that Israel did not know about. The Israeli air force commander wants to turn other bombers back. Prime Minister Ben-David says, “the attack must proceed.”
The Israeli bombers take out nuclear sites at Arak, Isfahan and Natanz, but the bomber headed for Fordow is crippled and when its pilot, a messianic Jew, sees the sunlight glaring off a mosque dome in Qom, he decides this is his chance to kill the biblical Amalekites and start an apocalyptic battle. He destroys the mosque, killing thousands of worshipers, a more gruesome attack than 9/11.
“Everyone in the Muslim world, as well as the rest of the world, is glued to their TV sets…”
Meantime, Israeli bombers attacking the Bushehr nuclear plant make the mistake of hitting the nuclear reactor itself, blowing up the containment dome and releasing radiation.
“Good god, there will be hell to pay for this,” says a pilot.
President Hannagan, who was vice president till the president suddenly died earlier that year, is awakened before dawn as the Israeli attack stumbles. “Wake up, the world is going to hell.” Prices of oil have tripled. Rioting has begun in Pakistan, Indonesia, and India. In days to come, dozens of U.S. embassies in Africa and Asia will be attacked.
Israel is in way over its head. And meantime Iran attacks the Israeli refueling tankers over Iraq, downing six of eight of them. And the Iranians cross into Azerbaijan, storm Lankoran and destroy nearly 100 Israeli aircraft and capture the Israeli force there.
The Russians invade Georgia to destroy the Israeli listening post. The Iranians blow up an oil pipeline in Canada to warn the U.S. about its global reach.
The Israelis attack Lebanon and are surprised by the missiles that Hezbollah unleashes on northern Israel.
And with Israeli missile defenses decimated, the Iranians strike many targets in Israel with long-range missiles.
“The Israelis began to get a taste of what it felt like to be a Gazan, boxed in from all directions and subjected to a merciless bombing campaign,” Maguire writes.
Hannagan rises to the occasion. Her political advisers urge her to help Israel out. She refuses. “We’re heading downhill with no brakes.” Further hostilities are not in the American interest. They will turn the Persian Gulf into a “total war zone,” Iran will attack Saudi Arabia and close down shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, and put the U.S. in a hostile stance toward Russia and China.
When the Israeli Prime Minister calls the president, Hannagan refuses to take the call, passing him to a desk officer at the State Department. “[He] is about to learn who the superpower is in this relationship,” she says.
The president then makes a speech denouncing the attack and saying that “dire predictions” by the U.S. have proved accurate. She is working for a ceasefire but comes under enormous pressure from the hawkish pro-Israel lobby. Why don’t you support our ally? she is asked. Because the U.S. has many allies, and Israel’s “irrational and immoral” actions have put many of them in serious “jeopardy,” she responds.
The coverage of the Israeli attacks shifts public opinion in the U.S. A Jewish group that opposes the occupation becomes the center of campus protests against Israel’s actions. Usually docile congresspeople turn on Israel!
There are more unexpected consequences. A rogue Iranian commander attacks the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Gulf of Oman and kills 6000 Americans. The Iranians apologize immediately and say they will make reparations. President Hannagan then gives a speech blaming Israel and its lobby for overriding serious American misgivings about an attack.
“This war, as we predicted, has been a disaster for Israel… as well as for our country and the rest of the world.”
It doesn’t seem that the war can get any worse. But it does. Israel attacks the U.S., and the two countries are in a state of war. The president is determined to show who has the stronger military! And meantime she begins rounding up Israel lobbyists as spies….
I won’t give away more of the plot than that, but you get the feeling. The war is an unmitigated disaster for Israel. Its willful destruction of Hamas and Hezbollah forces over the last 20 years have ill-prepared it for an encounter with a major rival.
Iran is of course a highly-educated and prosperous society of 80 million. It has fiercely guarded its interests in the region and it would respond aggressively to any threat. Iranian leaders have warned us about that, though insisting that they will not be the aggressors.
Maguire’s nightmare scenario strikes me as a good antidote to all the warmongerers still active in the U.S. and Israeli political establishments. They should heed this warning.