The Buzz

Who Sold Rothkopf a Two-Hour Iran Raid?

David Rothkopf, CEO and editor-at-large of Foreign Policy magazine and website, touched off some controversy shrouded in intrigue with an October 8 article entitled, “A Truly Credible Military Threat to Iran.” He suggested the United States and Israel were collaborating on a plan for a surgical attack Iran’s nuclear-enrichment facilities. 

The controversy lay in Rothkopf’s suggestion, based on “a source close to the discussions,” that the United States actually had crossed the threshold into working with Israel on a specific attack plan. As Rothkopf explained, “The strike might take only 'a couple of hours’ in the best case and only would involve a ‘day or two’ overall, the source said, and would be conducted by air, using primarily bombers and drone support. Advocates for this approach argue that not only is it likely to be more politically palatable in the United States but, were it to be successful—meaning knocking out enrichment facilities, setting the Iranian nuclear program back many years, and doing so without civilian casualties—it would have regionwide benefits.” 

Those benefits included “saving Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, reanimating the peace process, securing the Gulf, sending an unequivocal message to Russia and China, and assuring American ascendancy in the region for a decade to come.”

That’s a lot of regionwide benefit for a couple of hours of bombing, particularly given that the cited benefits extend as far from the actual region as Russia and China. What’s remarkable about this fanciful flight of tough-guy talk is that it actually was taken seriously in Washington and Israel for a day or two, but then it fizzled as official denials ensued. 

But where did it come from? Presumably, Rothkopf didn’t make it up. Did it perhaps come from Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, who was Rothkopf’s roommate at Columbia in the nineteen-seventies and remains on friendly terms with the Foreign Policy editor? 

Philip Weiss thinks so. He’s a self-styled anti-Zionist who co-edits a blog, “Mondoweiss,” that covers the Middle East “chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective.” Weiss writes that the Rothkopf article actually led to Oren’s deputy in the Israeli embassy, Baruch Bina, getting fired and shuffled off to a posting in Denmark. It seems (per Weiss) that Bina criticized Oren’s contribution to the article, whereupon Oren complained to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Bina’s transfer was announced shortly thereafter.

It’s difficult to know what to make of Weiss’s claim of inside information on tensions and events inside the Israeli government. But, as for the article itself, it’s difficult to see how anyone could have taken it seriously, just as it is difficult to see how Rothkopf could have taken seriously whatever he was told by whoever his source was. 

How could a two-hour raid transform America’s place in the world? Reanimate the peace process? Secure the Gulf (probably the most ridiculous concept in the entire piece)? And how could it be executed “without civilian casualties,” given that nuclear facilities all have plenty of civilian employees? And how could one small raid set the Iranian nuclear program back “many years”? Maybe a couple at most, but in the meantime the entire region would erupt in ominous ways obviously unforeseen by Rothkopf and his mystery source. 

It would be interesting to know just who planted this farce and what was the motivation.