When it comes to Iran, where is the strategy?

Israel's handling of the Iranian threat is a fiasco that serves to demonstrate Israel's lack of aptitude for long-term planning, prioritizing and carrying out a well-structured foreign policy

If there’s one thing that Israel’s cable provider, HOT, is good at, it’s airing reruns of hit shows from the mid-late 1990s. “Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “Everybody loves Raymond” are just a few examples of programs that can be viewed at any given time, day or night.

One can’t help but feel a certain degree of trepidation before reuniting with a beloved TV show from the past. Will Monica Geller still seem attractive? Was Kramer’s entrance to Jerry’s apartment really so hilarious? Are we in for a pleasant trip down memory lane or are we about to feel old, like relics of a popular culture long forgotten?

Last month, an additional show was added to HOT’s roster of reruns — “The West Wing.” The program, which originally aired on NBC from 1999-2006, chronicles the fictitious US presidency of Josiah “Jed” Bartlet. In its heyday, “The West Wing” was considered to be the finest political drama ever to appear on American television.

Despite certain misgivings, I immediately tuned in to the “West Wing” reruns. It was love at second sight. What surprised me most was that the issues addressed by the show are still relevant to today’s political climate, both in the United States and elsewhere.

One episode from 2002, titled “Enemies Foreign and Domestic,” especially caught my attention. In the episode, President Bartlet decides not to attend a summit with his newly elected Russian counterpart as he is presented with intelligence reports that reveal that the “Russians are giving Iran the Boom.”

If the topic of Iran’s nuclear ambitions was written into the plot of a TV show in 2002, it is fair to assume that intelligence data regarding a possible Iranian nuclear plan had surfaced much earlier, probably in the late 1990s. So Iran has been a long time coming, probably for more than a decade. This begs the question: Why wasn’t the Iranian threat dealt with long ago? Why are we on the verge of catastrophe once again?

Where is the strategy?

In the past week, three Israeli officials addressed the issue of Iran. The first was the IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz. In an interview with Haaretz, Gantz stated that he believed diplomatic sanctions would ultimately deter Iran from seeking nuclear weapons. “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rationale people,”he noted.

This comment is in direct contrast to those made by Gantz’s superiors, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, according to whom, the Iranian government is not rationale in the “Western” sense of the word.

The question of Iran’s rationality is of great importance, as its answer could lead to a preemptive Israeli strike on suspected nuclear sites.

Regimes aspire to survive; therein lies their logic. Thus, if Iran’s leadership is a rational one, it is most likely to choose a diplomatic solution rather then face an attack that could end the rule of the ayatollahs. However, should the Israeli leadership conclude that Iran is headed by fundamental zealots then an attack might actually be the most logical course of action.

Where have they been all these years? Netanyahu and Barak confer (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Where have they been all these years? Netanyahu and Barak confer (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

But why is this question being asked now? How is it that more than a decade after intelligence reports on Iran’s nuclear ambitions first surfaced, the Israeli defense establishment is still at odds?

Iran is a fiasco, pure and simple. It serves to demonstrate Israel’s lack of aptitude for long-term planning, prioritizing and carrying out a well-structured foreign policy. Of course in Israel one can never comment on such debacles since we are always “on the brink of annihilation.” If it isn’t Iran it’s Hamas, or Hezbollah, or Syria.

What’s fascinating is that the men who led us here, to the edge of the precipice, are still in office.

If there’s one thing that Israeli politics is good at, it’s airing reruns of politicians from the mid-late-1990s. Netanyahu and Barak both served as prime ministers, both were voted out of office, and both are back at the helm. These two men had ample time to tackle the Iranian bomb. Both failed. Luckily for them, the term “accountability” is not part of the local political vernacular.

About the Author
Dr. Ilan Manor (PhD Oxford University) is a diplomacy scholar at Tel Aviv University. Manor's recent book, The Digitalization of Diplomacy, explores how digital technologies have reshaped diplomatic practices. Manor has contributed to several publications including The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward. According to his Twitter bio, Manor is the inventor of the ashtray. He blogs at