Jacob Heilbrunn

The Wildest Dream: Bombing Iran

"Another question Israeli planners struggle with: how will they know if their attacks have actually destroyed a significant number of centrifuges and other hard-to-replace parts of the clandestine Iranian program? Two strategists told me that Israel will have to dispatch commandos to finish the job, if necessary, and bring back proof of the destruction. The commandos—who, according to intelligence sources, may be launched from the autonomous Kurdish territory in northern Iraq— would be facing a treacherous challenge, but one military planner I spoke with said the army would have no choice but to send them."

Yikes!

(c) CorbisThis comes from a sprawling, informative, must-read piece by Jeffrey Goldberg that appears in the Atlantic. Goldberg says he's been on the trail for seven years now. He provides a conspectus of the reasons that Israel might try to go solo in taking out Iran's nuclear capabilities. He deftly discusses the Israeli mindset (Auschwitz) and interviews Obama administration officials who emphasize that nothing is off the table. (Why would they say otherwise?)

The most intriguing part of Goldberg's article comes in his discussion of the influence of Ben-Zion Netanyahu, a scholar of the Spanish inquisition, upon his son. Goldberg describes the 100th birthday party for the old man who, we are told, announces:

"Our party this evening compels me to speak of recent comments made about the continued existence of the nation of Israel and the new threats by its enemies depicting its upcoming destruction,” Ben-Zion began. "From the Iranian side, we hear pledges that soon—in a matter of days, even—the Zionist movement will be put to an end and there will be no more Zionists in the world. One is supposed to conclude from this that the Jews of the Land of Israel will be annihilated, while the Jews of America, whose leaders refuse to pressure Iran, are being told in a hinted fashion that the annihilation of the Jews will not include them."

This is rather sinister stuff. Iran would have no compunctions about wiping out the Jewish state, if it could do so without endangering itself, which it cannot. But Netanyahu's lucubrations appear to suggest, if I'm not mistaken, that America's Jews are, at best, cowards, at worst, quislings, not applying sufficient pressure upon its leaders to attack Iran because they can obtain a dispensation from the Iranian threat. Meanwhile,Israel, alone, friendless, reliant upon itself, must act, whether or not the rest of the world objects.

It's always a mistake to suppose that leaders are driven solely by rational calculations. Goldberg is right to highlight the influence of Netanyahu pere upon Netanyahu fils. Obviously, Obama does not suffer from similar complexes. For Obama, trying to extricate himself from Iraq, mired in Afghanistan, and intent on trimming the defense budget, it might seem like a no-brainer to avoid a further conflict. But maybe not. Goldberg reveals that George W. Bush dismissed the neoconservatives as the "bomber boys." But Obama is really the only president who could sanction an attack on Iran. Even if he doesn't, Israel might try anyway. Goldberg figures that Israel could buy three to five years if it carried off successful strike.

A big if. Given the recent flotilla fiasco, it might seem that a little circumspection might be in order. Sending in commandos to Iran might well be a suicide mission. And the reasons for not acting have been outlined ad nauseam, prime among them the danger of shoring up rather than undermining the nasty rule of the mullahs in Tehran. Which is why the Obama administration appears to be aiming for a new containment strategy of Iran, even as Hillary Clinton talks tough.

The most extensive case against containment and for military action was recently made by the Wall Street Journal's Brett Stephens in Commentary. According to Stephens the problem is that the consequences might actually be worse than standing pat. As it happens, the threat of a nuclear Iran is forcing Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries that fear the mullahs to court America. An assault on Iran would be welcomed by Saudia Arabia, for sure. But would it trigger a wider war in the Middle East? Already Lebanon is a tinderbox. And if you think the world economy is in bad shape now, wait until the Strait of Hormuz is violently shut down and oil soars to $500 a barrel.

Brooding upon such possible developments is Steve Clemons, who offers a lengthy exegesis of Goldberg's essay. My take: the Atlantic piece itself could indeed be part of a campaign of intimidation against Iran. Lips seem to be awfully loose when it comes to discussing the possiblity of attacking Iran. At a minimum, the Atlantic article is sure to cross the Atlantic, where it will make many waves, in both European and Middle Eastern capitals.