Feature

Israel vs. Iran: Is an attack imminent?

According to an article in The Atlantic, there is a “better than 50 percent chance” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon order an airstrike on Iranian nuclear-enrichment facilities.

“Will Israel bomb Iran?” asked Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. That provocative question was thrust to the top of the foreign-policy agenda after The Atlantic this month published a deeply reported article by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that concludes there’s a “better than 50 percent chance” that Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon order an airstrike on Iranian nuclear-enrichment facilities. Israelis are aware of the possible catastrophic consequences, including “a full-blown regional war,” Goldberg reports, but that’s a risk Israel appears willing to take to stave off the “existential threat” of an Iranian nuclear bomb. The Obama administration “is getting nervous,” said Jennifer Rubin in Commentary. Unnamed officials quoted in The New York Times last week insisted they had “persuaded Israel” that Iran was having trouble enriching uranium—perhaps because the U.S. had secretly sabotaged centrifuge parts the Iranians bought. As a result, the Obama administration contends, Iran is still at least a year away from producing a nuclear weapon. But that story sure sounds like White House “spin” aimed at pressuring Israel to step back.

Who’s spinning whom? asked Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com. The Atlantic piece was presented as “objective journalism,” but Goldberg’s true purpose was “to mainstream the debate over an Israeli or American attack on Iran”—to make it seem like a reasonable option, instead of a reckless act of aggression. It certainly seems as if Goldberg’s sources want to “pave the way for an attack,” said Marc Lynch in TheAtlantic.com. But the consequences would be catastrophic—a regional war, soaring oil and gas prices, the destruction of Iran’s struggling democracy movement, and even a more complicated U.S. drawdown in Iraq. 

The consequences of not acting would be worse, said Michael Rubin in the New York Daily News. Once Iran’s nuclear bomb is finally built, it inevitably will be controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the most radical and ruthless element in the regime. These “true believers” are not rational actors, and they could well use the threat of a strike on Tel Aviv to blackmail the West, or could even launch such a strike even though a devastating Israeli counter-strike would be inevitable. President Obama calls the prospect of Iranian nukes “unacceptable,” yet his administration has signaled openness to a policy of “containment.” You can’t contain fanatics hellbent on striking a historic blow against “Zionists” and infidels.

Don’t be so sure of that, said former Republican Rep. Bob Barr in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Despite their long intransigence, the Iranians now have incentive to seek a peaceful way out of confrontation. “The United Nations’ tightening embargo” is choking Iran’s economy, and the Iranian population—already unhappy with the government—is increasingly restless. Some Arab regimes have let on in recent weeks that a military strike against Iran is “something they can live with,” which, along with warnings from Israel, has to cause real alarm in Tehran. That’s why the smartest, and most responsible, next step is to seek face-to-face talks between Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even if Iran does not negotiate in good faith, said Art Keller in Foreign Policy, a policy of continued diplomatic pressure, sanctions, and containment can work. That same combination, let us not forget, prevented Saddam Hussein from rebuilding his stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. Containment would require years of patience, but given the likely consequences of war, it’s the wisest way “to thwart the Islamic Republic’s plans.”

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