Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Will They or Won't They: Israel and Iran

Sifting through recent reports from Israel, I apprehend a foregone conclusion that the Israelis will attack Iran within the next 12 months.  A flurry of recent visits to Israel by senior U.S. diplomatic and defense officials seems to have failed to dissuade the Netanyahu government from its determination to do this. One commentator even wrote that "the rest of the world" now accepts this as inevitable.

This pot was stirred by Israeli officials, primarily Defense Minister Ehud Barak, through a series of leaks suggesting that President Obama had received a new national security estimate on Iran.  The Israeli leakers said the report disclosed "alarming" and "significant" progress by Iran toward the development of nuclear weapons. The American intelligence, the Israeli sources said, was now "closer" to Israel's long-held view that Iran is perilously close to becoming a nuclear military power.

An unnamed official (probably Barak) told the newspaper Haaretz: "If Israel forgoes the chance to act and it becomes clear that it no longer has the power to act, the likelihood of an American action will decrease. So we cannot wait a year to find out who was right: the one who said that the likelihood of an American action is high or the one who said the likelihood of an American action is low."

But after the attack-Iran stew had simmered a while, an unnamed official in the White House put the kibosh on it.  He told Reuters news service that the United States still believes that Iran is not on the verge of having a nuclear weapon and that Tehran has not made a decision to pursue one. This official said the U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran's nuclear activities had not changed since intelligence officials delivered testimony to Congress on the issue earlier this year.

He was referring to the January testimony by James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence,that "we assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons,(but) we do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons." Then as now, to be perfectly clear, there was absolutely no credible evidence that Iran was on the brink of becoming a nuclear threat to Israel or anyone else in the Middle East.

Whatever "the rest of the world" seems to believe at the moment, the reports out of Israel probably amount to saber-rattling, an effort to nudge both sides of the American presidential election debate closer to the Israeli government's hawkish position on Iran.

Even some Israeli cheerleaders in this country think that a unilateral series of air strikes on Iran by Israel would be a bad thing. 

The Athlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, who in 2002 saw WMDs under every fold of Saddam Hussein's thawb, and who two years ago was "better than 50 percent" certain that there would be an Israeli attack in 2010 on Iran's "nuclear facilities," now says that the probability of such an attack this year is no better than 38 per cent, and offers seven reasons why Israel should not do the dire deed.

Even in arguing against a unilateral strike, however, Goldberg clings to the belief that Iran is pursuing nuclear weaponry. "What I worry about, at bottom," he writes, "is that an Israeli attack would inadvertently create conditions for an acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program."

But the most telling of his seven points is the very first one: "Innocent people will die. It is quite possible that even a limited Israeli strike could kill innocent Iranians, and it is an almost-sure thing that Iranian retaliation will kill innocent Israels."

Until governments renounce policies that will lead to the killing of "innocent people," there is no real hope for peace in the Middle East, or any other international trouble spot.

If the United States really wants to be "the leader of the free world," it can begin by more forcefully insisting that its ally in Jerusalem refrain from acts of war against neighboring nations.  And then it can put its money where its mouth is and begin to reverse its own policy of endless war around the globe.

Fat chance.

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