Is Israel really likely to attack Iran next summer?
That's the argument in an Atlantic Monthly cover story out this week. Others say Israel is striking a tough pose on Iran to push the Obama administration toward taking action on its own.
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On the basis of that theory, the Obama administration would push for tougher sanctions on Iran to forestall such Israeli action and, perhaps, strike itself if convinced Israel couldn’t be deterred. The logic is that since the US military is far more capable than Israel's, and America will take the blame no matter what, it might as well do the job right.Skip to next paragraph
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While acknowledging the possibility that Israel is exaggerating, Goldberg says it's unlikely he's being spun, because he spoke to "multiple sources both in and out of government, and of different political parties. Citing the extraordinary sensitivity of the subject, most spoke only reluctantly, and on condition of anonymity. They were not part of some public-relations campaign."
Still, the view of Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish state is near universal in Israel and is held by leaders of all the main parties. Recent polling shows that a majority of Israelis would support an attack on Iran. And in the journalism business, sources are if anything more likely to be deceptive when granted the shield of anonymity.
After discounting the likelihood that President Obama would drag a weary American public into another foreign war, Goldberg imagines Israel's response: "What is more likely, 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."
This imagines an air campaign, involving flying without permission through some combination of either Saudi Arabian and Iraqi or Turkish airspace, hundreds of miles into Iran itself and hitting many of Iran's 17 known, widely dispersed nuclear sites.
Iran has been preparing for such an attack almost as long as it's had a nuclear program; its facilities are not single, above ground, and unprotected as were Iraq's Osirak reactor that Israel destroyed in 1981 and the unfinished nuclear reactor in Syria that Israel attacked in 2007.
Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom (ret.), former head of strategic planning for the Israeli military's general staff and now a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told this paper late last year that an attack on Iran would be dangerous and complex. He also agrees that a successful operation would set back Iran's nuclear program by a maximum of five years.
Goldberg has written alarming articles in the past. In a 2002 article for The New Yorker called “The Great Terror,” Goldberg wrote that it was likely that Saddam Hussein still possessed chemical weapons and that he would use them on foreign population centers, and he listed a number of anonymous allegations that, if true, “would mean that the relationship between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda is far closer than previously thought.”
After the invasion of Iraq, it was discovered that there were no more weapons of mass destruction in the country’s arsenal and that the former regime's ties to Al Qaeda, if any, were tenuous and limited (Al Qaeda did make major inroads in Iraq during the US occupation). Most of Goldberg’s sources for the article were Kurdish politicians and guerrilla fighters, who were eager for a US invasion to depose Saddam.