You Mean We Don't Have To Bomb Iran After All?

It is now about six months since the world was dramatically warned, in an Atlantic cover story, and by a reporter who claimed unprecedented access to the Israeli intelligence community, that while the Obama administration would not strike Iran militarily, Israel very well might within the year--and who could blame them? That perhaps America should do the job itself, since it would be drawn into war anyway and could do the job better:

More likely [than an American strike], 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...

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.

The article's author, Jeffrey Goldberg, was so widely quoted, his warning so widely debated, and his scoop (based on interviews with " roughly 40 current and past Israeli decision makers") so widely admired, that he was soon making the rounds from Stephen Colbert to Fidel Castro. Oh, he was not actually calling for a strike, or so he said. His position, he wrote on his blog, "involves deep, paralyzing ambivalence." It's just that an Iranian bomb would provide a “nuclear umbrella” for Hezbollah missiles and Hamas terrorism. It would force the Gulf states to ally with Iran against the United States and its cornered ally.

Israel’s only option was a pre-emptive strike, like the ones it carried out against nuclear reactors in Iraq and Syria. It is only a matter of time.  Anyway, a good reporter, so his colleagues at The Atlantic defended him, ferrets out the facts, whatever their implications. I mean, how many of us know the difference between an F-15 and an F15E. As the judicious (and obviously perplexed) James Fallows implored, "please take his reporting for the achievement and contribution that it is."

OKAY, LET'S DO that. Last week, the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, gave a series of exit interviews to the press; he'll be leaving his post shortly. His key point: The Iranian nuclear threat is far from ripe. Israel and the international community still have plenty to do to undermine it. A military assault is not the right solution.
The Mossad's Meir Dagan
For "it would make the Iranian people rally around the regime, would make Israeli-American relations extremely difficult and could result in a war, in which the Israeli home front will be bombed by thousands of rockets and missiles from Iran, Lebanon and Gaza. The IDF would find it very difficult to achieve a decisive victory in such a war." Disinformation? Perhaps, but not a great way to prepare a population for a shower of missiles. And Dagan has been publicly joined in this position by outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin.

And now we know, from today's New York Times, what Dagan was implying by "plenty to do" short of a military attack. (We can also see what good reporting actually looks like, though early reports if the Stuxnet virus appeared as early as November, as a consequence of the Wikileaks dump.) It turns out that Israel and the US have been working closely all along to undermine the Iranian program through covert operations, attacking Iranian software controlling centrifuges--this in addition to international sanctions--not by bombing nuclear facilities in which hundreds, if not thousands, would die, and regional war would almost certainly ensue. Maybe I am being petty, but should not our retrospective view of Goldberg's sensational article "involve" a certain anger and dismay?

Goldberg's friend, Christopher Hitchens, once shrewdly remarked that America is the only country in the world where people tell you "Your history!" and they're insulting you. But even Americans ought to be able to remember how they were misled and hyped a mere six months ago. Many argued then, notably Ken Silverstein at Harper's, and Glen Greenwald at Salon, that readers should beware the work of a reporter who had campaigned so actively for the Iraq war and had got so many things wrong then; someone so close to the Netanyahu circle. Some of us who live in ground zero despised the war-mongering, which helps keep the Netanyahu government in power.

For his part, Goldberg has been saying that the Stuxnet virus means "Israelis are looking at extending their time line on a possible armed response to the Iranian program, but the prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, is still sounding hyper-vigilant..." Translation: Sorry for being right too soon. Still, I wonder if Fidel will now ask The Atlantic to upgrade it fact-checking department, at least for some of its correspondents.