Last night I read Jeffrey Goldberg‘s Atlantic piece about the apparent likelihood that if Barack Obama doesn’t man up and do something about Iran’s nuclear-bomb capability (aside from economic sanctions, which aren’t likely to influence anything), Israel will probably bomb Iran’s nuclear sites sometime next year. Which will bring hard rain down upon everyone and everything, to put it mildly.
“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells Goldberg. “When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the world should start worrying, and that’s what is happening in Iran.”
Israel, Goldberg explains, “is worried about an entire complex of problems, not only that Iran, or one of its proxies, would destroy Tel Aviv; like most Israeli leaders, he believes that if Iran gains possession of a nuclear weapon, it will use its new leverage to buttress its terrorist proxies in their attempts to make life difficult and dangerous; and he fears that Israel’s status as a haven for Jews would be forever undermined, and with it, the entire raison d’etre of the 100-year-old Zionist experiment.
“Robert Gates, the American defense secretary, said in June at a meeting of NATO defense ministers that most intelligence estimates predict that Iran is one to three years away from building a nuclear weapon. ‘In Israel, we heard this as nine months from June — in other words, March of 2011,’ one Israeli policy maker told me. “If we assume that nothing changes in these estimates, this means that we will have to begin thinking about our next step beginning at the turn of the year.”
“The Netanyahu government is already intensifying its analytic efforts not just on Iran, but on a subject many Israelis have difficulty understanding: President Obama. The Israelis are struggling to answer what is for them the most pressing question: are there any circumstances under which President Obama would deploy force to stop Iran from going nuclear? Everything depends on the answer.”
The article begins as follows:
“It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is also possible that Iran’s reform-minded Green Movement will somehow replace the mullah-led regime, or at least discover the means to temper the regime’s ideological extremism. It is possible, as well, that ‘foiling operations‘ conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers — programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists — will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way. It is also possible that President Obama, who has said on more than a few occasions that he finds the prospect of a nuclear Iran ‘unacceptable,’ will order a military strike against the country’s main weapons and uranium-enrichment facilities.
“But none of these things — least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran — seems, at this moment, terribly likely. 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 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.”