Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Goldberg on Israel’s Coming Confrontation with Iran

It’s been a while since I’ve read anything quite as sobering as Jeffrey Goldberg’s terrific piece about Israel, Iran and the Obama Administration, ominously entitled “The Point of No Return.” We heard various neo-conservatives try to light a fire under the Obama administration by insinuating that an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is imminent. But this is the first time I’ve heard something like that coming from a journalist like Goldberg, who isn’t known for grinding ideological axes and enjoys such impressive access to Israeli decision-makers. I can’t think of anyone who’s better positioned to tell us how things look from the Israeli standpoint.

Most of Goldberg's high-ranking Israeli sources are telling him that Israel will probably use Saudi airspace to strike Iranian nuclear facilities as early as next July with the aim of setting Iran’s nuclear program back three-to-five years. If so, Iran will almost certainly retaliate by ordering a barrage of Hezbollah missiles aimed at Israeli population centers, and may retaliate against us by targeting our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and against the world at large by obstructing maritime traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. It’s anybody’s guess what happens after that.

The most significant unknown variable, of course, is what Obama thinks about all of this. Goldberg’s sources in the Obama administration aren’t bad either. Some of them, including Rahm Emanuel and Dennis Ross are making surprisingly hawkish noises for the record. Here’s Goldberg taking the administration’s temperature:
“Based on months of interviews, I have come to believe that the administration knows it is a near-certainty that Israel will act against Iran soon if nothing or no one else stops the nuclear program; and Obama knows—as his aides, and others in the State and Defense departments made clear to me—that a nuclear-armed Iran is a serious threat to the interests of the United States, which include his dream of a world without nuclear weapons. Earlier this year, I agreed with those, including many Israelis, Arabs—and Iranians—who believe there is no chance that Obama would ever resort to force to stop Iran; I still don’t believe there is a great chance he will take military action in the near future—for one thing, the Pentagon is notably unenthusiastic about the idea. But Obama is clearly seized by the issue. And understanding that perhaps the best way to obviate a military strike on Iran is to make the threat of a strike by the Americans seem real, the Obama administration seems to be purposefully raising the stakes.”
If that’s Obama’s game, he’s playing against type.  So he's going to have to do something pretty soon to make the Israelis, the Iranians and the allies he needs to tighten the screws on the Iranians think that he’s serious. The months after the mid-term, when he's retooling after a stinging electoral defeat, would be the obvious time to do it.

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