Jacob Heilbrunn

Middle East Ructions

Don't mess with Lee Siegel. Siegel, who writes regularly for the New York Observer, is a scorching polemicist who mauls Reuel Marc Gerecht for a recent post in the New Republic's Entanglements blog that warns about the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York. Referring to Gerecht as a "funster," Siegel wittily promises to open an account for Gerecht once the New York Times erects its threatened paywall so that he can become acquainted with a few, basic facts about Islam. It makes for entertaining reading, even if Siegel himself dismisses Gerechts effusions as themselves constituting no more than mere entertainment.

At the same time, that dynamic, don't-touch-Iran duo, the Leveretts, have returned to denounce another neocon idea--bombing Iran. Writing in Foreign Policy, the Leveretts, Flynt and Hillary Mann, pay due respect to the assiduity with which Jeffrey Goldberg researches the probability of Israel going solo. The Leveretts go a little far in pooh-poohing the more atrabilious statements of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about wiping Israel off the face of the Middle East.

But the most interesting part of their missive comes when they discuss Israel's desire to retain freedom of action in the Middle East. The Leveretts don't mention it, but to me Lebanon is the big question. If Iran has nukes, then, presumably, Israel would have to tread more warily before launching a new war against Hezbollah, or, if Hezbollah triggered one, in going all the way to Beirut, which didn't work out that well last time, to try and defang the movement.

How would President Obama respond to a war in Lebanon? I say a war there is far more likely than a military strike on Tehran. The Israelis might even want to strike before they think Iran has a bomb. The problem, of course, is that preventive wars don't have such a great record--Germany tried it in World War I, convinced that time was running out on it.

Either way, the Middle East remains a powder keg, good for stirring up trouble in America as well.