My, oh my, where would we be without a free press in Israel?
Haaretz’s Aluf Benn today reinforces the case I made earlier for Obama to keep Netanyahu on a tight leash concerning Iran. First, he reports, Netanyahu continues to talk up a frenzy of public expectation in Israel that leads only to military action. “These are not regular times. The danger is hurtling toward us. The real danger in underestimating the threat,” Netanyahu said on Iran. “My job is first and foremost to ensure the future of the state of Israel … the leadership’s job is to eliminate the danger. Who will eliminate it? It is us or no one.”
In other words, Israel cannot rely on the Obama Administration to bomb Iran (true), so Israel will have to do the job itself. As I noted in my last piece, Benn has previously pointed out that Netanyahu is creating a massive tide of public hysteria that will demand action in the face of this grave and gathering “threat” — bogus as it is. And he also makes clear, in a second piece, that it’s not just Netanyahu; Defense Minister Ehud Barak is with him every step of the way — despite the fact that Barak has made clear he believes that Iran does not pose an existential threat to Israel. (Then again, as Barak showed over the Camp David debacle in 2000, his cynicism knows no boundaries…)
But the real gem in Benn’s comment is his explanation of how Israel will go about launching an attack — and suggests that it won’t look anything like the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor, when the public wakes up one morning to hear that the job’s been done. Instead, writes Benn, Israel might instead seek to provoke a conflict in Lebanon that draws in Iran, perhaps by making “a strike against a valuable target for the Iranian regime which leads Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to take action against ‘the Zionist regime.’ If Iran attacks Israel first, the element of surprise will be lost, but then Israel’s strike against the nuclear installations will be considered self-defense.”
So, if we wake up one morning and read, for example, that Israel has assassinated Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, we’ll understand just how that particular provocation fits into Israel’s game plan.
Seems like if the Obama Administration wants to avoid a war, it may have to send Leon Panetta back, this time with a warning to refrain from trying to assassinate Nasrallah. (Somehow, I can’t see that happening…)
On these shores, however, Netanyahu’s efforts to churn up cataclysmic hysteria are not passing without challenge. In October 2007, I saluted Fareed Zakaria for courageously challenging the media’s hysterical (although largely unconscious) stampede to war with Iran. Back then, I wrote:
Fareed Zakaria deserves a medal for breaking with the mainstream media pack to slap down, with the requisite rudeness, the hysteria over Iran being manufactured by the neocons, opportunist Israeli politicians and the Bush Administration. Perhaps stung by having participated in a secret Bush Administration policy discussion to help shape the Iraq war policy before the invasion, Zakaria is acting with honor now to prevent another disaster. This while much of the rest of the media is futzing around asking the wrong questions on Iran and getting the answers that only the wrong questions can produce.
So, I’m pleased to see Zakaria is at it again. In his latest Newsweek column, he makes a cool, reasoned case that:
1. Iran isn’t seeking a bomb; it’s seeking a civilian nuclear program with the “breakout capacity” to build nuclear weapons, which gives it considerable leverage without actually weaponizing nuclear materiel;
2. Iran is not an apocalyptic regime; on the contrary, it has behaved in a very rational, national-interests based manner, even aligning with the U.S. where that suited its interests (Afghanistan and Iraq). Its leaders clearly don’t believe the world is about to end, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll act on that basis.
3. Serious negotiations that seek to accomodate both sides basic interests have yet to be tried, and they’re a jolly good idea.
Indeed, as Flynt Leverett and Hilary Mann Leverett argue, the Obama Administration’s diplomatic efforts appear to Iran as if they’re designed to fail — indeed, they make clear, failure of diplomacy is written into the script of Obama’s State Department Iran policy director, Dennis Ross. They write:
Mr. Ross has long been an advocate of what he describes as an “engagement with pressure” strategy toward Tehran, meaning that the United States should project a willingness to negotiate with Iran largely to elicit broader regional and international support for intensifying economic pressure on the Islamic Republic.
In conversations with Mr. Ross before Mr. Obama’s election, we asked him if he really believed that engage-with-pressure would bring concessions from Iran. He forthrightly acknowledged that this was unlikely. Why, then, was he advocating a diplomatic course that, in his judgment, would probably fail? Because, he told us, if Iran continued to expand its nuclear fuel program, at some point in the next couple of years President Bush’s successor would need to order military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets. Citing past “diplomacy” would be necessary for that president to claim any military action was legitimate.
Iranian officials are fully aware of Mr. Ross’s views — and are increasingly suspicious that he is determined that the Obama administration make, as one senior Iranian diplomat said to us, “an offer we can’t accept,” simply to gain international support for coercive action.
They make clear that many in the Obama Administration are serious about rapprochement with Iran as the path to resolving the nuclear standoff. But Israel, and its most hawkish ally in the Administration (Ross), may be on course towards a different outcome.