Two Takes on Attacking Iran

The current issue of The Atlantic magazine has an article by Jeffrey Goldberg which argues that an Israeli military strike against Iran is the most likely outcome of the current standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program. The article describes a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat that Israel cannot allow to come into existence. While Iran’s rantings lend credence to that viewpoint, I found a retort by Iranian exile Trita Parsi also to have value. As is often the case in complex international disputes, each viewpoint has some valid points and a synthesis of the two provides a better perspective than either one alone. I encourage you to read both articles and include key excerpts from each one as motivation. First from Goldberg:

I have been exploring the possibility that such a strike will eventually occur for more than seven years, since my first visit to Tehran, where I attempted to understand both the Iranian desire for nuclear weapons and the regime’s theologically motivated desire to see the Jewish state purged from the Middle East … The Iranian regime, by its own statements and actions, has made itself Israel’s most zealous foe …

“You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs,” he [Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin “Bibi” Netanyahu] said. “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.” …

A few weeks ago, in uncommonly direct remarks, the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, told me—in a public forum at the Aspen Ideas Festival—that his country would support a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. He also said that if America allowed Iran to cross the nuclear threshold, the small Arab countries of the Gulf would have no choice but to leave the American orbit and ally themselves with Iran, out of self-protection. …

“The only reason Bibi would place Israel’s relationship with America in total jeopardy [by attacking Iran without Washington’s blessing] is if he thinks that Iran represents a threat like the Shoah [Holocaust],” an Israeli official who spends considerable time with the prime minister told me. “In World War II, the Jews had no power to stop Hitler from annihilating us. Six million were slaughtered. Today, 6 million Jews live in Israel, and someone is threatening them with annihilation. But now we have the power to stop them. Bibi knows that this is the choice.”

And now from Parsi’s article:

In fact, several senior Israeli officials have rejected that claim [that Iran is an existential threat] and pointed out the risks it puts Israel under. For instance, [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in September 2009 that “I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel.”  A few years earlier, Haaretz [a major Israeli newspaper] revealed that in internal discussions, then-Foreign Minister Livni argued against the idea that a nuclear Iran would constitute an existential threat to Israel. This past summer in Israel, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevi told me the same thing and pointed out that speaking of Iran as an existential threat exaggerates Iran’s power and leaves the false — and dangerous — impression that Israel is helpless and vulnerable.

This echoed what Halevi told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius in 2007. “[Iran] is not an existential threat. It is not within the power of Iran to destroy the state of Israel — at best it can cause Israel grievous damage. Israel is indestructible.” …

It is important to note that the aim of this unfolding campaign may not be to pressure Obama into military action. It could just as much serve to portray Obama as weak and indecisive on national security issues that are of grave concern to the U.S. and that are of existential nature to Israel. This portrayal will give the Republicans valuable ammunition for the November congressional elections as well as for the 2012 presidential race.

Indeed, the likely political motivation for this unfolding campaign should not be underestimated. Just as much that the building blocks of the Iraq war were put into place under the Clinton years — most importantly with the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 — serious preparation for selling an Iran war to the American public under a Republican president (Palin?) in 2013 must be undertaken now, both to establish the narrative for that sell and to use the narrative to remove any obstacles in the White House along the way.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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1 Response to Two Takes on Attacking Iran

  1. Danny Colligan says:

    I would be careful of taking Goldberg’s analysis seriously. He has a history of war cheer-leading and lying; it’s a shame that he’s mistaken in the mainstream for a credible pundit. Glenn Greenwald has had some good coverage of this.

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