Jeffrey Goldberg started a firestorm more than a year ago with an article in the Atlantic that raised the possibility Israel was seriously considering a strike on Iran. While the Jewish state has held its fire since then, doubts about Tehran’s intention to develop a nuclear weapon have diminished, especially with the imminent release of a damning report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the subject. Diplomacy has failed to deal with this threat for years, and there is little chance it will succeed now. That leaves the Israelis with two unpalatable choices: learn to live with a bomb in the hands of an Islamist and terrorist-supporting regime bent on their destruction or act on their own.
Israelis know the cost of a pre-emptive strike on Iran will be high, and the outcome of the struggle would be uncertain. But Goldberg believes there is hope. In a piece he wrote for Bloomberg News, he puts forward the astonishing thesis that President Obama is likely to order the use of force against Iran in order to save Israel. While the arguments that point to the need for the United States to take action are entirely sound, his confidence in Obama’s willingness to launch another military conflict as well as his eagerness to do so in order to remove an existential threat to Israel’s existence seems a trifle over-optimistic.
Goldberg’s right when he notes a nuclear Iran is not just an Israeli problem. The prospect of the ayatollahs extending a nuclear umbrella over their Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist allies is a danger to the entire region and the world. A nuclear Iran poses a challenge to U.S. influence that cannot be tolerated.
Obama knows this, but the notion his belief in a nuclear free world would motivate him to launch a military strike to take out the Iranian program contradicts everything we have learned about him in the past three years. Obama’s commitment to appeasing Iran and desire to avoid another war in the region would seem to trump other factors.
Goldberg’s belief that Obama’s “deep understanding of Jewish history” would motivate him to act seems to reflect the wishes of liberal Jews like Goldberg more than it does the reality of the president. His deep antagonism for Israel’s government and lack of passion for the U.S.-Israel alliance is not a secret. He entered office determined to distance the U.S. from Israel and after three years of endless squabbles, it’s a little difficult to claim the president is worried about whether history will condemn him for not acting to ensure the Jewish state’s security.
Goldberg’s faith in Obama’s willingness to use force on Iran is touching but seems rooted in a liberal Jewish fantasy more than anything else. While we would hope that Goldberg is right about Obama’s instincts, it is unlikely Israel’s leaders will bet their country’s future on this.
But the problem here is more than just Goldberg’s belief in Obama. If Iran actually believed they had something to fear from Obama, we might not be in this untenable position. They have taken his measure and decided he is weak and poses no threat to their nuclear ambitions. It is unfortunate that their estimation of the president’s mettle may be closer to the truth than Goldberg’s.