The Netanyahu government is already intensifying its analytic efforts not just on Iran, but on a subject many Israelis have difficulty understanding: President Obama. The Israelis are struggling to answer what is for them the most pressing question: are there any circumstances under which President Obama would deploy force to stop Iran from going nuclear? Everything depends on the answer. – Jeffrey Goldberg
The whole premise begins on the foundation that PM Netanyahu believes Iran’s nuclear capabilities is the world’s problem. The weakness of this is that while that is so, there is not a consensus that Iran poses an existential threat to world peace. It’s over that divide the Israeli government and the U.S. stand, which makes Ehud Barak’s battle plan plausible. But Jeffrey Goldberg’s article should be seen as nothing less than Israel’s warning to the world, though I’ll leave you to decide how much stenography versus baiting versus fearmonger is involved in Mr. Goldberg’s intense rhetorical napalm*. “If (Pres. Obama) is a J Street Jew, we are in trouble,” doesn’t exactly fold into my brain as something simply added for color.
Israel won’t need or ask for our permission nor should they, besides, after Goldberg’s article it’s not like the possibilities haven’t been publicized. PM Netanyahu knows that no matter what Pres. Obama says he will not strike Iran. “All options on the table” means squat as things stand today for the U.S. in the region, as not only are our hands overflowing, but cramping from too much juggling.
But none of these things-least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran-seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran-possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)
In these conversations, which will be fraught, the Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.
Steve Clemons has dissected Goldberg’s piece, but it comes with the background of Steve’s latest writing that focuses solely on explaining why Obama will not choose to go to war with Iran, which I don’t think is in question and is not the issue at all. That said…
Several Arab leaders have suggested that America’s standing in the Middle East depends on its willingness to confront Iran. They argue self-interestedly that an aerial attack on a handful of Iranian facilities would not be as complicated or as messy as, say, invading Iraq. “This is not a discussion about the invasion of Iran,” one Arab foreign minister told me. “We are hoping for the pinpoint striking of several dangerous facilities. America could do this very easily.” (Jeffrey Goldberg)
The cold reality is that Israel’s national security issues have never been further apart than the U.S. It’s not about our friendship, which is not in doubt, but about strategic and practical benefits and risks considering our own role in the greater region today, but especially looking at our gargantuan commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will not end in the near future. But of course that doesn’t mean we won’t be drawn in.
But more importantly, Israel feels that Iran is a mortal threat to their sovereignty and very existence. The U.S. does not have the same fears and foreboding. It’s that simple a line, with nothing more important for PM Netanyahu than protecting Israel, which is the only job that matters.
Jordan’s King Abdullah warned of in 2009, that if there wasn’t a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians war would be the outcome. For the record, there isn’t anyone who can convince me Iran cares one whit about the Palestinians, no matter what is being pantomimed.
Goldberg outlines possible worldwide ramifications of an Israeli strike:
When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel-regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program-they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.
A couple of things. There is nothing that can “rupture relations” between Jerusalem and Washington considering domestic politics as Pres. Obama begins to run for re-election. Hate to be crass, but wake up and smell the coalition counters. American Jews, no matter what their ambivalence towards Israel, are very unlikely to stand on the side of the “bomber-boys.”
Additionally, say good-bye to the two-state solution forever, with Israel’s very existence put at peril. The “Zionist experiment” and Pres. Harry Truman’s risks finally proved a bridge too far in a hostile region where Israel stands alone. Think Humpty Dumpty and spilled yoke everywhere.
Mr. Netanyahu didn’t pick Avigdor Lieberman and his war council mistakenly. Israeli neoconservatives like PM Netanyahu think Israel stands at a crossroad anyway, so if Ehud Barak orders a strike against Iran it will be because Israel feels she has run out of options and has no choice. Whether that’s true or not, there will be very few political leaders in the U.S. who have the courage to argue it and PM Netanyahu knows it.
“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” he said. “When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the world should start worrying, and that’s what is happening in Iran.” Israel, Netanyahu told me, is worried about an entire complex of problems, not only that Iran, or one of its proxies, would destroy Tel Aviv; like most Israeli leaders, he believes that if Iran gains possession of a nuclear weapon, it will use its new leverage to buttress its terrorist proxies in their attempts to make life difficult and dangerous; and he fears that Israel’s status as a haven for Jews would be forever undermined, and with it, the entire raison d’Ãªtre of the 100-year-old Zionist experiment.
PM Netanyahu feels like he’s got nothing left to lose. If you hear Janis Joplin singing you’re not alone.
“In Israel, we heard this as nine months from June-in other words, March of 2011,” one Israeli policy maker told me. “If we assume that nothing changes in these estimates, this means that we will have to begin thinking about our next step beginning at the turn of the year.”
I just wish everyone would quit equating John F. Kennedy with this situation, in whatever manner it’s being done to draw out the drama. There is no equivalency here and the drama is very clear. Israel’s position with Iran is not close to Kennedy’s with Cuba, and Ben-Gurion talking to Kennedy on qui pro quos is irrelevant to the situation, as is Jeffrey Goldberg ending his piece with the falsely ringing finale about what Pres. Obama does in this situation will or will not make him a “great president” in Israel’s eyes, which is not only a condescending coupling, but the mother of all traps for the United States.
TM Note: The term “rhetorical napalm” was written somewhere recently and I immediately thought of it in context with the Middle East. I’ve borrowed it here and will again, though I can’t remember who wrote it first, so this is the best I can do to give credit for the brilliant word coupling.