Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jeffery Goldberg: Expect Israel to Attack Iran

This is the conclusion reached by commentator (and former IDF soldier) Jeffrey Goldberg (in The Atlantic, but whose work often appears in the usuallyvery pro-Israel The New Republic).  The Daily Beast's summary:

Well this doesn't sound good: In an upcoming article, national correspondent for The Atlantic Jeffrey Goldberg argues that the odds of a unilateral strike by Israel on Iran are greater than 50-50 in the next year. Goldberg bases his estimate on dozens of conversations with senior members of Israel's national security team and members of the Obama administration. Goldberg writes, "[O]ne 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 100 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."
Not good, indeed.  I also recommend the critiques from Steve Clemons at Huffington Post and Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett at Foreign Policy.  Clemons is hopeful that saner, cooler heads than those calling the shots in Jerusalem will find an alternative to war:
Goldberg's piece makes it clear that Israel's national leadership - while not in complete consensus on a strike - is nonetheless dominated by those who believe that the Israeli narrative as a nation, as a "safe haven" and refuge of first resort for Jews from around the world, will be undermined if Iran's nuclear program is not confronted and rolled back. There is widespread consensus in Israel that Iran having a nuclear weapon comes as close to repeating the conditions of a shoah, or Holocaust, as Nazi Germany.

But Israel is less and less, if at all, a refuge of first resort today -- even without a war with Iran. Russian Jews are increasingly trying to go to Germany instead of Israel, and the ongoing tensions over the unresolved situation with Palestine and the fear of rockets or terrorism keep the nation on edge.
Reading his essay a second, and then a third time, I sense that Israel's and America's leadership won't be "bombing boys" but rather will act like them until a "third option" to bombing or appeasement appears. That third option could be provided by Iran's Supreme Leader himself, or could be normalization between Israel and the Arab Middle East, or something else.

But it seems to me just as likely, if not more so, that real leadership in this showdown will be exhibited by those who demonstrate strategic restraint and generate possibilities not seen at the moment.

When Eisenhower reined in John Foster Dulles and Curtis LeMay and forged a containment strategy of the USSR, he used their flamboyant desire to engage in war as part of his tool kit.

Both Obama and Netanyahu would be wise to do the same and to think through ways to halt the dysfunctional, paranoiac escalation between Iran and Israel.

What Jeffrey Goldberg has put out for us is an early treatment of what may be Barack Obama's "Cuban Missile Crisis" moment -- in which tensions are high, in which many in the room on all sides are engaged in extreme brinkmanship, and in which disaster looms for all parties.


The Leveretts note:
In other words, Israeli elites want the United States to attack Iran's nuclear program -- with the potentially negative repercussions that Goldberg acknowledges -- so that Israel will not experience "a dilution of quality" or "an accelerated brain drain." Sneh argues that "if Israel is no longer understood by its 6 million Jewish citizens, and by the roughly 7 million Jews who live outside of Israel, to be a ‘natural safe haven', then its raison d'ĂȘtre will have been subverted."

To be sure, the United States has an abiding commitment to Israel's security. But, just as surely, preventing "dilution of quality" or bolstering Israelis' perceptions regarding their country's raison d'ĂȘtre can never give an American president a just or strategically sound cause for initiating war. And make no mistake: Bombing Iran's nuclear facilities would mean war.
. . .
Israeli elites want to preserve a regional balance of power strongly tilted in Israel's favor and what an Israeli general described to Goldberg as "freedom of action" --the freedom to use force unilaterally, anytime, for whatever purpose Israel wants. The problem with Iranian nuclear capability -- not just weapons, but capability  -- is that it might begin constraining Israel's currently unconstrained "freedom of action." In May, retired Israeli military officers, diplomats, and intelligence officials conducted a war game that assumed Iran had acquired "nuclear weapons capability." Participants subsequently told Reuters that such capability does not pose an "existential threat" to Israel -- but "would blunt Israel's military autonomy."

One may appreciate Israel's desire to maximize its military autonomy. But, in an already conflicted region, Israel's assertion of military hegemony is itself a significant contributor to instability and the risk of conflict. Certainly, maximizing Israel's freedom of unilateral military initiative is not a valid rationale for the United States to start a war with Iran. Just imagine how Obama would explain such reasoning to the American people.

So, what should Obama do? Goldberg concludes with a story told by Israeli President Shimon Peres about Israel's founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. When Ben-Gurion met U.S. president-elect John F. Kennedy in late 1960, Kennedy asked what he could do for Israel. Ben-Gurion replied, "What you can do is be a great president of the United States."

Regarding Iran, what constitutes "greatness" for Obama? Clearly, Obama will not achieve greatness by acquiescing to another fraudulently advocated and strategically damaging war in the Middle East. He could, however, achieve greatness by doing with Iran what Richard Nixon did with Egypt and China -- realigning previously antagonistic relations with important countries in ways that continue serving the interests of America and its allies more than three decades later.












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