Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel-Iran conflict

Who Made the Case for Iran Attack? Obama

In his column at the Daily Beast today on the prospect of hostilities with Iran, Peter Beinart assumes his usual role: defender of Barack Obama against Israel and its supporters. In this case, it’s the chutzpah of Israel’s government to demand that the administration issue some clear red lines about how long it will wait before taking action against the Iranian nuclear threat that bothers him. Israel’s warning that it may have to act on its own is seen on the left as an attempt to force him to launch an unnecessary war. But Beinart’s complaint that we haven’t had a full-scale debate on stopping Iran is more than a bit disingenuous. Far from no one making a case for the use of force on Iran — which he compares unfavorably to the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the invasion of Iraq — the president has been doing that ever since he started running for president.

If there hasn’t been much contention about pressuring Iran it’s because it’s been one of those issues on which there’s been a clear consensus. Stopping an Islamist regime that hates the West and America and which routinely calls for Israel’s elimination while promoting anti-Semitism and subsidizing terrorism is not a controversial goal. Obama and the Democrats and Romney and the Republicans both agree on this. The only question is which of them is serious about it. Beinart’s call for debate before any promises are made to Israel is part of an effort to back the president’s desire to keep kicking the can down the road until after the November election. Rather than really wanting a debate about a feckless administration policy that has wasted four years on dead-end diplomacy and engagement with Iran and only belatedly enacted sanctions that it are being loosely enforced, what Obama cheerleaders like Beinart really want is to find a way to put on brake on the use of force. But his assertion that no one has made a case for stopping Iran being an “American interest” is simply untrue.

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In his column at the Daily Beast today on the prospect of hostilities with Iran, Peter Beinart assumes his usual role: defender of Barack Obama against Israel and its supporters. In this case, it’s the chutzpah of Israel’s government to demand that the administration issue some clear red lines about how long it will wait before taking action against the Iranian nuclear threat that bothers him. Israel’s warning that it may have to act on its own is seen on the left as an attempt to force him to launch an unnecessary war. But Beinart’s complaint that we haven’t had a full-scale debate on stopping Iran is more than a bit disingenuous. Far from no one making a case for the use of force on Iran — which he compares unfavorably to the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the invasion of Iraq — the president has been doing that ever since he started running for president.

If there hasn’t been much contention about pressuring Iran it’s because it’s been one of those issues on which there’s been a clear consensus. Stopping an Islamist regime that hates the West and America and which routinely calls for Israel’s elimination while promoting anti-Semitism and subsidizing terrorism is not a controversial goal. Obama and the Democrats and Romney and the Republicans both agree on this. The only question is which of them is serious about it. Beinart’s call for debate before any promises are made to Israel is part of an effort to back the president’s desire to keep kicking the can down the road until after the November election. Rather than really wanting a debate about a feckless administration policy that has wasted four years on dead-end diplomacy and engagement with Iran and only belatedly enacted sanctions that it are being loosely enforced, what Obama cheerleaders like Beinart really want is to find a way to put on brake on the use of force. But his assertion that no one has made a case for stopping Iran being an “American interest” is simply untrue.

Indeed, the comparison to Iraq, where intelligence about weapons of mass destruction turned out to be incorrect, is apt but not in the way that opponents of force think. Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Iranians haven’t been coy about their nuclear goals even if they claim they don’t want a bomb. There isn’t much of a dispute about whether they are refining uranium or that they are building underground bunkers for this material. Opponents of action don’t dispute that the Iranians have worked on military applications of their nuclear material. Nor is this belief limited to Americans. There happens to be an international consensus that there is solid proof that an Iranian bomb is a threat to world peace as well as the global economy. Why would diplomats like the European Union’s Catherine Ashton be involved in negotiations to halt the Iranian project if it were solely about Israel’s interests?

Nor is there any doubt about how dangerous Iran already has become. Via its allies Hezbollah and Hamas and the vicious Assad regime in Syria, Iran is a destabilizing force in the region and the main bulwark of terrorism. It’s recent Al Quds day festivities also serve as a reminder of the entrenched anti-Semitism that runs deep in the regime’s ideology. Even Tehran’s apologists have trouble justifying indifference toward a country that denies the Holocaust while constantly threatening a new one.

It is true that after Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are war weary. But no one is suggesting an invasion. The U.S. and Israel have the capability to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities without injecting land forces. That would mean casualties as well as possible retaliation but comparison with either of Bush’s wars is completely misleading. Beinart is right that neither candidate is talking much about Iran on the campaign trail. But both agree that Iran must be stopped. Any debate about the advisability of making good on the country’s pledge to halt Iran would take place with only the far left and extremist libertarians speaking up in favor of letting the ayatollahs get their finger on the button. Were the president to make clear his red lines, few in either major party would disagree just as his pledge not to contain Iran went virtually unopposed.

The real debate is not about whether we should stop Iran but whether President Obama meant it when he pledged to do so. Ever since President Obama began running for the White House, he has used the sternest rhetoric about the nature of the Iranian threat and how unacceptable it would be for them to go nuclear. Until now, he has tried diplomacy and failed. What Israel wants is some idea of how long he will wait before acknowledging that failure. Unfortunately, the more his supporters call for delay, and the more administration spokespersons make statements about still believing that diplomacy can work, the less credible the president’s pledges on Iran sound. And that is what makes Israelis nervous and Iranians confident.

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The Price of Dempsey’s Different Clocks

When General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters yesterday that Israel and the United States are on “different clocks” regarding Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, he was doing more than stating what has already become obvious. Dempsey’s purpose in saying so publicly was more evidence that Washington is determined to ward off pressure from Israel to abandon its complacent attitude toward the Iranian threat. But it is also just one more instance in which the Obama administration has sought to create more daylight between U.S. and Israeli positions on security matters. While the president and his advisors think they are trying to teach the Netanyahu government a lesson, the main effect of this public disagreement is to encourage the Iranians to think that they don’t have to worry that much about either Israel or the United States.

Washington is frustrated because the Israelis won’t shut up about the consequences of a Western policy that has allowed the Iranians to keep refining uranium and getting closer to their nuclear goal. Dead-end diplomacy and loosely enforced sanctions have merely played into Tehran’s hands and the Israelis have been vocal about the fact that they are not going to simply stand by and wait patiently until Iran accumulates so much nuclear material stored in hardened underground bunkers that it will be too late to do anything about it. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is said to believe that moment will pass within a few months rather than the years the Americans say it will take. But rather than work with the Israelis and give them some concrete assurance that the president meant it when he said he would not allow Iran to go nuclear, the main reaction from the White House has been pique at Netanyahu’s chutzpah and public signals indicating the Israelis are on their own. This strengthens the security of neither the U.S. nor Israel. All it does is illustrate Mitt Romney’s point about the foolishness of the administration’s Middle East policy.

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When General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters yesterday that Israel and the United States are on “different clocks” regarding Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, he was doing more than stating what has already become obvious. Dempsey’s purpose in saying so publicly was more evidence that Washington is determined to ward off pressure from Israel to abandon its complacent attitude toward the Iranian threat. But it is also just one more instance in which the Obama administration has sought to create more daylight between U.S. and Israeli positions on security matters. While the president and his advisors think they are trying to teach the Netanyahu government a lesson, the main effect of this public disagreement is to encourage the Iranians to think that they don’t have to worry that much about either Israel or the United States.

Washington is frustrated because the Israelis won’t shut up about the consequences of a Western policy that has allowed the Iranians to keep refining uranium and getting closer to their nuclear goal. Dead-end diplomacy and loosely enforced sanctions have merely played into Tehran’s hands and the Israelis have been vocal about the fact that they are not going to simply stand by and wait patiently until Iran accumulates so much nuclear material stored in hardened underground bunkers that it will be too late to do anything about it. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is said to believe that moment will pass within a few months rather than the years the Americans say it will take. But rather than work with the Israelis and give them some concrete assurance that the president meant it when he said he would not allow Iran to go nuclear, the main reaction from the White House has been pique at Netanyahu’s chutzpah and public signals indicating the Israelis are on their own. This strengthens the security of neither the U.S. nor Israel. All it does is illustrate Mitt Romney’s point about the foolishness of the administration’s Middle East policy.

As the Times of Israel reports, General Dempsey spoke about the issue while on a flight to Afghanistan and acknowledged that Israelis view the issue differently from the Americans:

“They are living with an existential concern that we are not living with,” he said, according to AFP.

Dempsey added that he and Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz spoke on a bi-weekly basis to coordinate intelligence, despite gaps in understanding how close Iran is to the point of no return.

“We compare intelligence, we discuss regional implications. And we’ve admitted to each other that our clocks are turning at different rates,” he said.

This is a critical problem for which the Israelis are being blamed in the world press since they are viewed as troublemakers or provocateurs because they refuse to allow the Obama administration to go on pretending that diplomacy and sanctions have a chance to change the minds of the ayatollahs. But the problem with this view of the situation is that no one in Washington is prepared to seriously argue that the current Western policy has a chance of success. Washington is continuing to act as if the failed P5+1 talks can be revived or that sanctions will miraculously bring Tehran to its knees. But the only purpose of this pretense is to stall the discussion about Iran until after the November election when presumably the president will have the “flexibility” to propose an even more generous deal to the Islamist regime.

But even if we were to assume the president is sincere about his desire to stop Iran, his decision to allow administration officials to publicly express their disagreement with Israel is undermining any chance that diplomacy could ever succeed. So long as the Iranians are convinced the Americans are focused more on squelching Israeli self-defense than on halting their nuclear program, they are the ones who will show patience. They don’t think Obama is serious when he pledges that he will neither accept nor seek to merely contain a nuclear Iran. Nor do they think he will ever use force against them.

As in its past gaffes on the Israel-Palestinian diplomatic process, the daylight that Obama has opened between Washington and Jerusalem is merely serving to sink any hope that the goals he claims to support can be accomplished. The more American officials talk about Israel and the U.S. having “different clocks,” the more certain it is that the Iranian leadership thinks they can run out the clock on Western diplomacy and achieve their nuclear ambition unscathed.

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Beware of Conventional Wisdom About Iran

As Israelis and their government continue to debate the merits of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the contempt for American foreign policy realists for the idea the Jewish state might decide to act in its own defense is considerable. Contempt for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seems to be the primary motivation for the latest missive for James Traub, one of the realists leading writers, that appeared in Foreign Policy on Friday. Rather the focus on the “zone of immunity” that many Israelis and others worried about the nuclear threat believe Iran may be entering as its stockpiles get larger and are stored in invulnerable bunkers, Traub is more interested in what he calls, as the title of the piece puts it, the “zone of insanity.” As far as he is concerned Netanyahu and Barak are nuts to even think about acting without the permission of the United States.

But the answer to Traub’s points comes in his own column. Even the Obama administration now understands diplomacy and sanctions have failed. The only possible diplomatic solution is to agree to a compromise lauded by Traub that would leave Iran’s nuclear project intact. Under these circumstances, it is fair to ask who’s insane: The foreign policy realists who have been wrong about just about everything about the Middle East for decades and who now expect Israel to wait patiently for Iran to go nuclear or Netanyahu, who understands all too well that the Israel-hating ayatollahs mean what they say about eliminating Israel. If these purveyors of conventional wisdom are now counseling further inaction or more feckless diplomacy, that’s good reason for Israelis to think hard and long about attacking Iran soon.

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As Israelis and their government continue to debate the merits of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the contempt for American foreign policy realists for the idea the Jewish state might decide to act in its own defense is considerable. Contempt for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak seems to be the primary motivation for the latest missive for James Traub, one of the realists leading writers, that appeared in Foreign Policy on Friday. Rather the focus on the “zone of immunity” that many Israelis and others worried about the nuclear threat believe Iran may be entering as its stockpiles get larger and are stored in invulnerable bunkers, Traub is more interested in what he calls, as the title of the piece puts it, the “zone of insanity.” As far as he is concerned Netanyahu and Barak are nuts to even think about acting without the permission of the United States.

But the answer to Traub’s points comes in his own column. Even the Obama administration now understands diplomacy and sanctions have failed. The only possible diplomatic solution is to agree to a compromise lauded by Traub that would leave Iran’s nuclear project intact. Under these circumstances, it is fair to ask who’s insane: The foreign policy realists who have been wrong about just about everything about the Middle East for decades and who now expect Israel to wait patiently for Iran to go nuclear or Netanyahu, who understands all too well that the Israel-hating ayatollahs mean what they say about eliminating Israel. If these purveyors of conventional wisdom are now counseling further inaction or more feckless diplomacy, that’s good reason for Israelis to think hard and long about attacking Iran soon.

Traub believes, not without reason, that the recent flurry of leaks and open talk of an Israeli attack are motivated by a desire in Jerusalem to force the hand of the Obama administration. The president’s current strategy about Iran is to kick the can down the road until after the November election. If re-elected, he may then have the “flexibility” to back down from his pledges not to accept or “contain” a nuclear Iran. Netanyahu may hope the threat of an Israeli attack may motivate the president to obligate the United States to use force sooner rather than later as attempts to talk Iran off the ledge continue to fail.

Realists oppose such red lines. They also dispute the veracity of recent reports of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate revising previous erroneous rulings about Iran giving up the quest for nuclear weapons. But if they claim supporters of a tougher policy on Iran endorse such a conclusion because they want to raise the pressure on Tehran, those who oppose action are arguing the new NIE is non-existent because that suits their pre-existing notions about what should be done. But even Jeffrey Lewis, another realist, wrote in Foreign Policy two days earlier specifically to cast doubt about the intelligence about Iran, concedes that there is no doubt the Iranians have already done work towards nuclear weaponization but claims it’s merely old news and nothing to get excited about.

Traub, almost in passing, also mocks those who have written about the depth of the anti-Semitism of the Iranian regime and chortles about Netanyahu’s endorsement of such columns. But the day Traub’s piece was published, Iran held its annual Al Quds day in which millions were turned out to chant “death to Israel” and the country’s leaders competed with each other as to who would make the most extreme statements about the elimination of the Jewish state. Iran’s government, media and religious institutions (all of which are under the thrall of the ayatollahs) are drenched in Jew-hatred and routinely spew hateful rhetoric. Iran also is the major sponsor of terror groups that kill Jews and Israelis whenever they can. Yet realists seem to think talk about such topics is irrelevant to the question of allowing Iran to go nuclear or the urgency of acting before it is too late.

The dangers that an attack on Iran would present to Israel and the world are real. But having been as wrong about the Palestinians’ desire for peace as they are about Iran’s willingness to back away from the nuclear abyss, the realists have no credibility to bring into this argument. Israelis do well to worry about the implications of acting on their own but Traub’s efforts to minimize the risks of doing nothing ring hollow in the ears of those tasked with defending the existence of the Jewish state.

If they are serious about persuading Israel to stand down, realists like Traub would do better to pressure President Obama to start acting like he means business about Iran rather than obviously signaling that he doesn’t. Neither the Iranians nor the Israelis believe the president wants to do anything but avoid making a decision on this most dangerous foreign policy dilemma.  But until their minds are changed, Traub’s jibes at Netanyahu will continue to ring hollow.

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Is Bibi Bluffing on Iran Strike?

In Israel this week, people are lining up for gas masks, a new Homeland Defense has been set to work to deal with the task of readying the country for the possibility of attacks from Iran, Lebanon and Gaza, and pundits are working overtime trying to figure out whether the nation’s political leadership is serious about launching a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities sometime this fall. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, is doing his best to convince Americans that the saber-rattling coming out Jerusalem is not a bluff aimed at forcing the West to toughen sanctions on Iran or start making their own credible threats about using force. In interviews with journalists and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, Oren has made a powerful case about the existential threat that a nuclear Iran presents to Israel, but Washington may be listening more closely to those figures inside the Jewish state who are claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are begging to be talked out of an attack.

As the New York Times reported yesterday, Uzi Dayan, a former general who was asked to serve as Homeland Defense Minister, says his conversations with both Netanyahu and Barak led him to believe that the window of diplomacy with Iran that the Obama administration keeps talking about is still open. There are good reasons to believe the Israeli government would like nothing better than to have the war talk do what an earlier wave of speculation about a strike accomplished when Washington belatedly adopted a tougher sanctions policy. Jerusalem understands that even a successful strike on Iran will exact a terrible price in casualties and damage from counter-attacks from the Islamist regime and its terrorist allies. But those who assert that Netanyahu is just bluffing forget that Israeli anxiety is rooted as much in its lack of confidence in Washington as it is in knowledge of Iran’s genocidal ambitions.

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In Israel this week, people are lining up for gas masks, a new Homeland Defense has been set to work to deal with the task of readying the country for the possibility of attacks from Iran, Lebanon and Gaza, and pundits are working overtime trying to figure out whether the nation’s political leadership is serious about launching a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities sometime this fall. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, is doing his best to convince Americans that the saber-rattling coming out Jerusalem is not a bluff aimed at forcing the West to toughen sanctions on Iran or start making their own credible threats about using force. In interviews with journalists and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, Oren has made a powerful case about the existential threat that a nuclear Iran presents to Israel, but Washington may be listening more closely to those figures inside the Jewish state who are claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are begging to be talked out of an attack.

As the New York Times reported yesterday, Uzi Dayan, a former general who was asked to serve as Homeland Defense Minister, says his conversations with both Netanyahu and Barak led him to believe that the window of diplomacy with Iran that the Obama administration keeps talking about is still open. There are good reasons to believe the Israeli government would like nothing better than to have the war talk do what an earlier wave of speculation about a strike accomplished when Washington belatedly adopted a tougher sanctions policy. Jerusalem understands that even a successful strike on Iran will exact a terrible price in casualties and damage from counter-attacks from the Islamist regime and its terrorist allies. But those who assert that Netanyahu is just bluffing forget that Israeli anxiety is rooted as much in its lack of confidence in Washington as it is in knowledge of Iran’s genocidal ambitions.

With even the Americans now finally willing to agree in the form of a new National Intelligence Estimate that Iran is building a bomb, the feeling in Jerusalem is that they cannot sit back, wait and hope for the best as their allies seem to be telling them. The latest round of threats from Tehran as they prepare to celebrate al Quds (Jerusalem) Day started with a comment from an Iranian general “that there is no other way but to stand firm and resist until Israel is destroyed.” That was followed by a prediction in a speech by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, that Israel would disappear.

But Israel’s problem isn’t so much their certainty that if Iran is allowed to keep on refining uranium that they will have a bomb before long. It is their utter lack of faith in the Obama administration’s willingness to do something about the problem.

Netanyahu’s domestic critics are not off base when they chide his government for painting the Iranian threat as being primarily a problem for Israel rather than the region or the West. It is also obviously true that if Israel acted on its own, the impact of such a strike would not be nearly as devastating or conclusive as one led by the United States armed forces. But who can blame Netanyahu and Barak for having come to the conclusion that President Obama will continue pretending that his policy of ineffective diplomacy and loosely enforced sanctions can deal with the situation until it really is too late.

It could be that fear of an Israeli strike in the middle of a presidential election will prompt Obama to improve upon his current feckless stand. But in the absence of any sign of such a switch and with the prospect that a re-elected Obama will find the “flexibility” to abandon his promise to stop Iran, Netanyahu may have no choice but to contemplate a unilateral strike. Rather than worrying about Israel bluffing, the administration needs to recognize that if they wish to avert a war this fall, the president must start acting like he means what he says about stopping Iran.

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Can Obama Admit Iran Diplomacy Failed?

Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.

The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.

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Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.

The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.

Israelis are understandably divided on the wisdom of acting on their own since they, and not the United States, would pay the highest price in terms of casualties and terror attacks that would likely follow a strike on Iran. Everyone, including Netanyahu’s critics and opponents of a unilateral strike, seem to agree that a U.S.-led action would be ideal. But the lack of confidence in the willingness of President Obama to act may leave Netanyahu and his cabinet no choice. Even after the issuing of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that is more realistic about the Iranian threat, the Americans are still acting as if they have all the time in the world to decide to do something about this peril. By contrast, the Israelis know that by next year, the Iranians may have refined more uranium and stored it in underground bunkers that may be impervious to Israel’s attack capabilities.

While reports about Israel telling the U.S. it needs to know by September 25 whether the U.S. will take action are unconfirmed, Netanyahu’s decision must be influenced by his confidence level in Obama’s willingness to take action. Should he wait until after November, it may turn out to be too late to make a difference. Even more worrisome is the notion that a re-elected Obama cannot be relied upon to make good on his promise to stop Iran.

Those who are calling on Israel to lower the temperature on the war talk are addressing their entreaties to the wrong capital. The only way to calm down Israel is for Barack Obama to start speaking the truth about Iran. Since there seems little chance of that happening, expect to hear even more talk of war emanating from Israel in the coming weeks and months.

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Computer Viruses Won’t Stop Iran

Iran’s confirmation that the computers of a number of their officials have been attacked by a new virus will give further ammunition to those who argue that the nuclear threat from the Islamist regime can be neutered by intelligence coups and technology. Like the Stuxnet virus which supposedly flummoxed Iran’s scientists last year, the new Flame worm may cause some havoc in Tehran and the nuclear facilities scattered around the country. And it will give Western and Israeli intelligence agencies and government officials a chance to crow about their capabilities, much as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon did today.

But even if this is Israel’s handiwork and the damage it does is greater than then the mere temporary inconvenience wrought by Stuxnet, no one should be fooled into thinking a virus will ultimately stop Iran’s nuclear program if the regime is determined to persist in its goal. Any technological attack will spawn a defense and a counter-attack. Though Flame may give Israel and/or the West a temporary advantage in the cyber war being conducted with Iran, it cannot by itself or even in combination with other covert activities such as assassinations, solve the problem. That is only possible by diplomacy or force.

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Iran’s confirmation that the computers of a number of their officials have been attacked by a new virus will give further ammunition to those who argue that the nuclear threat from the Islamist regime can be neutered by intelligence coups and technology. Like the Stuxnet virus which supposedly flummoxed Iran’s scientists last year, the new Flame worm may cause some havoc in Tehran and the nuclear facilities scattered around the country. And it will give Western and Israeli intelligence agencies and government officials a chance to crow about their capabilities, much as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon did today.

But even if this is Israel’s handiwork and the damage it does is greater than then the mere temporary inconvenience wrought by Stuxnet, no one should be fooled into thinking a virus will ultimately stop Iran’s nuclear program if the regime is determined to persist in its goal. Any technological attack will spawn a defense and a counter-attack. Though Flame may give Israel and/or the West a temporary advantage in the cyber war being conducted with Iran, it cannot by itself or even in combination with other covert activities such as assassinations, solve the problem. That is only possible by diplomacy or force.

Israel’s public skepticism about the P5+1 talks being conducted by the West with Iran about its nuclear ambitions is well-founded. Even though the United States and its European, Russian and Chinese allies deserve credit for not folding completely during the second round of talks last week in Baghdad, the Iranians continue to refine uranium and to get closer to a stockpile that could create a bomb. Iran has every expectation that if it hangs tough, either President Obama or the European Union will crack sometime this summer and abandon plans for an oil embargo in exchange for an inadequate deal that would preserve Tehran’s nuclear program.

Unlike the West’s faltering diplomacy, a course of action that accomplishes nothing except to prevent Israel from attacking Iran, it must be conceded that computer viruses at least have the virtue of slowing the regime’s nuclear progress, though how much, we don’t know. But we do know that for all of the hoopla about Stuxnet, such delays were temporary and strategically insignificant. We can hope for better from Flame, but the odds are it will be just a pinprick, not a decisive stroke. As much as such schemes allow us hope for a solution short of armed conflict, unless a miracle happens and diplomacy succeeds, sooner or later the West and Israel will be faced with a choice between force and living with a nuclear Iran. Like Stuxnet, Flame may put off that day, but it cannot prevent it from happening.

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Netanyahu’s Overwhelming Mandate

With the approval of the outgoing Knesset, Israel is moving toward early elections that will send its people to the polls on September 4. The decision will allow a new government to be in place in advance of the U.S. presidential contest that will take place two months later. If Israeli opinion polls are correct that will mean even if President Obama is re-elected, he still will be faced with his old antagonist Benjamin Netanyahu as his counterpart in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Since Obama spent much of his first term seeking to undermine if not oust Netanyahu from office, the timing of the elections may be no coincidence. Past American presidents such as the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton sought to intervene in Israeli elections to procure a more pliant Israeli negotiating partner. But with Obama fighting hard to hold onto Jewish votes by assuming the pose of Israel’s best friend, he dare not take a swipe at Netanyahu before the September vote. Given the lopsided result that pollsters expect, it might not make a difference even if he did try it.

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With the approval of the outgoing Knesset, Israel is moving toward early elections that will send its people to the polls on September 4. The decision will allow a new government to be in place in advance of the U.S. presidential contest that will take place two months later. If Israeli opinion polls are correct that will mean even if President Obama is re-elected, he still will be faced with his old antagonist Benjamin Netanyahu as his counterpart in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Since Obama spent much of his first term seeking to undermine if not oust Netanyahu from office, the timing of the elections may be no coincidence. Past American presidents such as the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton sought to intervene in Israeli elections to procure a more pliant Israeli negotiating partner. But with Obama fighting hard to hold onto Jewish votes by assuming the pose of Israel’s best friend, he dare not take a swipe at Netanyahu before the September vote. Given the lopsided result that pollsters expect, it might not make a difference even if he did try it.

Some kibbitzers have asserted that Israeli polls that show Netanyahu’s coalition gaining seats should not be misinterpreted as a personal mandate for the prime minister, as his Likud Party is likely to get only 30 or 31 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. That’s a foolish argument. If that is how the voting goes, such a result would still place Likud as the largest party by far and in position to command an easy majority with its normal coalition partners. Due to its proportional voting system, no party has ever won a majority on its own. But a new poll sponsored by the left-wing Haaretz newspaper shows Netanyahu is also the overwhelming choice of Israelis to be their prime minister.

In the poll, Israeli voters were asked which of the several party leaders they wanted to see become prime minister. Despite the multiple choices available, nearly a majority — 48 percent — chose Netanyahu. His closest competitor was Labor Party head Shelly Yacimovich at 15 percent. The only others to register anything beyond minimal support were Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Lieberman (who serves as Netanyahu’s foreign minister) at 9 percent and Kadima’s new leader Shaul Mofaz, who got only 6 percent despite his claim to be the only viable alternative to the incumbent.

The survey also asked Israelis what they thought of the criticisms of former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak were “messianics” who aren’t fit to lead the country. That result will also give no comfort to Netanyahu’s foreign and domestic critics who have hyped the story about Diskin as it noted Israelis disagree with the assertion by a 51-25 percent margin.

While four months can be a lifetime in politics, given the utter lack of support for Netanyahu’s putative rivals, his re-election is close to a lock. This has to frustrate Obama, who has made his distaste for Netanyahu no secret. It also sets up a possible timetable for the confrontation with Iran that may not conform to the president’s plans.

As some of Netanyahu’s Israeli critics have noted, the timing of the Israeli election probably takes an attack on Iran off the table until after September. But that was the case anyway. An Israeli strike while the P5+1 talks with Iran were ongoing was always unthinkable. But that does leave a window of two months between the two elections that might allow an Israeli offensive against Iranian nuclear targets in advance of the U.S. elections, a juxtaposition that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Obama to oppose or punish Israel for such a decision.

Count me among the skeptics that Israel would choose to act unilaterally under those seemingly favorable circumstances. But Iran notwithstanding, by securing his re-election in advance of 2013, Netanyahu is ensuring that a U.S. president will not be able to use his clout to try and get him defeated the way Clinton did in both 1996 and 1999. Netanyahu’s overwhelming democratic mandate will largely insulate him against U.S. pressure even if Obama is also re-elected.

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Israeli Spook Revolt is Politics as Usual

The international press is doing its best to hype critical remarks about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu uttered by Yuval Diskin, the retired head of the Shin Bet security service, into a sign the government is in trouble. Diskin, a respected figure who retired last year, is the latest veteran spook to express his disdain for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their stance on the nuclear threat from Iran. That there is a debate in the highest intelligence circles about the best strategy for dealing with Iran has never been a secret. But what Diskin’s comments and other attacks on Netanyahu from former Mossad chief Meir Dagan reflect is not so much a revolt of the experts against the politicians but a standard trope of Israeli politics in which those who are frustrated about the fact that their ideas have not won the support of the Israeli public seek to overturn the verdict of democracy by appealing to the press and international opinion. It is no more likely to succeed now than in the past.

Though foreign news outlets treated Diskin’s remarks as a huge story that can be spun as part of a negative trend for Netanyahu, even the left-wing press in Israel is skeptical about that. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter noted that the personal nature of Diskin’s rant against Netanyahu and Barak at what he termed a “gathering of defense establishment pensioners” undermined their credibility. Unlike the foreign press, most Israelis are aware that Dagan’s animus against Netanyahu and Barak stems from the fact that he was fired from his post. That Diskin was passed over to replace Dagan may also explain his hard feelings. Moreover, the utter lack of public support for alternatives to Netanyahu or his policies makes farcical the claim in today’s New York Times that there is an “avalanche” of criticism about his stand on Iran.

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The international press is doing its best to hype critical remarks about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu uttered by Yuval Diskin, the retired head of the Shin Bet security service, into a sign the government is in trouble. Diskin, a respected figure who retired last year, is the latest veteran spook to express his disdain for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their stance on the nuclear threat from Iran. That there is a debate in the highest intelligence circles about the best strategy for dealing with Iran has never been a secret. But what Diskin’s comments and other attacks on Netanyahu from former Mossad chief Meir Dagan reflect is not so much a revolt of the experts against the politicians but a standard trope of Israeli politics in which those who are frustrated about the fact that their ideas have not won the support of the Israeli public seek to overturn the verdict of democracy by appealing to the press and international opinion. It is no more likely to succeed now than in the past.

Though foreign news outlets treated Diskin’s remarks as a huge story that can be spun as part of a negative trend for Netanyahu, even the left-wing press in Israel is skeptical about that. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter noted that the personal nature of Diskin’s rant against Netanyahu and Barak at what he termed a “gathering of defense establishment pensioners” undermined their credibility. Unlike the foreign press, most Israelis are aware that Dagan’s animus against Netanyahu and Barak stems from the fact that he was fired from his post. That Diskin was passed over to replace Dagan may also explain his hard feelings. Moreover, the utter lack of public support for alternatives to Netanyahu or his policies makes farcical the claim in today’s New York Times that there is an “avalanche” of criticism about his stand on Iran.

It’s important to reiterate that the disagreements in Israel about Iran policy are not about the nature of the threat or even whether anything should be done about it as is often claimed by those seeking to downplay the issue. The question is about the timing of an attack, with Netanyahu’s critics claiming he is wrong to push for one now.

But this is an entirely false issue. It is highly unlikely that Israel would attack Iran while the U.S. is negotiating with it even if Netanyahu rightly suspects the current P5+1 talks are an Iranian ruse. The attacks on Netanyahu are merely a way for disgruntled former employees to vent their spleen at the prime minister’s political success and to try and hurt his standing abroad.

The animus against Netanyahu and his center-right government from the defense establishment and the government bureaucracy as well as most of the country’s traditional media outlets is well-known. Their frustration about his survival in power is compounded by the fact that he appears to be set for a cakewalk in the next elections which, incredibly, some opposition parties are pushing to be advanced from their scheduled date next year. As journalist Amir Mizroch writes, Dagan and Diskin — two men with axes to grind against the prime minister – may be “smelling elections in the air.”

Although the Dagan and Diskin affairs are in a sense unprecedented, because until now Israeli defense and security officials have not misbehaved in this manner, what is going on is just Israeli politics as usual. If these men and those Israeli and foreign journalists who are trying to make this into a major story are frustrated and angry now, just imagine how they’ll feel after Netanyahu is re-elected.

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Persona Non Grass

German writer Gunter Grass is making the most of his recent disgraceful poem in which he sought to demonize Israel while portraying Iran as an innocent victim of aggression. In response to Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s declaration that the author of The Tin Drum was now persona non grata, Grass made a gratuitous comparison of the Jewish state to the former Soviet satellite state in East Germany and the current regime in Myanmar.

This exchange illustrates that paying too much attention to someone like Grass can be a big mistake. While the writer’s poem was worthy of condemnation, raising him to the status of a special case for exclusion as Yishai did merely allowed him to drag out the controversy and play the martyr. However, it bears mentioning that Israel actually has a valid reason to consider Grass ineligible for entry that has nothing to do with his views about the Iranian or Israeli nuclear programs because he is a veteran of the Waffen SS.

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German writer Gunter Grass is making the most of his recent disgraceful poem in which he sought to demonize Israel while portraying Iran as an innocent victim of aggression. In response to Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s declaration that the author of The Tin Drum was now persona non grata, Grass made a gratuitous comparison of the Jewish state to the former Soviet satellite state in East Germany and the current regime in Myanmar.

This exchange illustrates that paying too much attention to someone like Grass can be a big mistake. While the writer’s poem was worthy of condemnation, raising him to the status of a special case for exclusion as Yishai did merely allowed him to drag out the controversy and play the martyr. However, it bears mentioning that Israel actually has a valid reason to consider Grass ineligible for entry that has nothing to do with his views about the Iranian or Israeli nuclear programs because he is a veteran of the Waffen SS.

Indeed, were Grass merely an ordinary person rather than a Novel Laureate for Literature — a bauble he received for his work critical of Nazi Germany before the world discovered that he was in fact a member of one of the organizations responsible for carrying out the Holocaust — such an entry in his biography might put him on a watch list that would prevent his entry into the United States and some other Western countries.

Grass’ attempt to compare Israel to East Germany and Myanmar may make sense to European anti-Semites who are convinced that the Jewish state is the font of all the evil in the world. But has it escaped even the octogenarian writer that while all three may have wanted to exclude him, the other two are police states that terrorized their own people while Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East?

Though Grass has sought to clarify his poem and said that he should have merely aimed his criticism at Israel’s current government, his attempt to demonize the country while ignoring the vile anti-Semitism and threats against the Jewish state from Iran are not merely wrongheaded. They are an expression of a new anti-Semitism that seeks to delegitimize Israel and to deny it the right of self-defense against a regime that seeks the mantle of Hitler. The boundary between what Grass has said and written and Jew-hatred is a distinction without a difference.

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Gunter Grass, Iran and Anti-Semitism

One aspect of the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe that is particularly perplexing for onlookers is the way hatred of Israel and Jews has been taken up by leading intellectuals. Perhaps the most egregious example of this trend is that of Gunter Grass. Grass, a Nobel laureate for literature and perhaps one of the leading figures of German letters of the postwar era, is a veteran leftist known for his hatred for the United States as well as his background as a member of the Hitler Youth and the Waffen SS under the Nazi regime. But yesterday, the author of The Tin Drum was back in the news for writing a poem defending Iran and attacking Israel.

Grass not only denied that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon but also denounced German support for Israel and called on the German government to halt the sale of submarines that are key to the Jewish state’s deterrence against aggression. Though Iran’s leaders have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel as well as denying the Holocaust, Grass promotes a new blood libel when he claims it is Israel that is plotting to wipe out Iran and is the primary threat to world peace.

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One aspect of the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe that is particularly perplexing for onlookers is the way hatred of Israel and Jews has been taken up by leading intellectuals. Perhaps the most egregious example of this trend is that of Gunter Grass. Grass, a Nobel laureate for literature and perhaps one of the leading figures of German letters of the postwar era, is a veteran leftist known for his hatred for the United States as well as his background as a member of the Hitler Youth and the Waffen SS under the Nazi regime. But yesterday, the author of The Tin Drum was back in the news for writing a poem defending Iran and attacking Israel.

Grass not only denied that Iran is working on a nuclear weapon but also denounced German support for Israel and called on the German government to halt the sale of submarines that are key to the Jewish state’s deterrence against aggression. Though Iran’s leaders have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel as well as denying the Holocaust, Grass promotes a new blood libel when he claims it is Israel that is plotting to wipe out Iran and is the primary threat to world peace.

It is telling that even as hard-core an Israeli leftist as author Tom Segev was willing to denounce Grass’ latest effort in Haaretz. Though he put the poem down as being “more pathetic than anti-Semitic,” Segev made it clear the German’s attempt to paint Israel as the villain and Iran as the victim was absurd:

Grass’ comparison of Israel and Iran is unfair, because unlike Iran, Israel has never threatened to wipe another country off the map. And contrary to Grass’ sanctimonious verses, under no circumstances would a military action against Iran lead to the extermination of the Iranian people, because as far as we know, it would exclusively target the country’s nuclear facilities.

Few could dispute that the world will be a better place without an Iranian nuclear weapon. And not only in Israel – also the northern German town of Lubeck, the capital of marzipan, where Grass writes, paints and sculpts, will be a better place if Iran doesn’t get the bomb. Grass basks in hypocritical moralism and agonizes over not having condemned Israel’s nuclear capacity earlier. … One gets the impression Grass’ act of “breaking the silence” is more a self-contained personal experience than anything else. Neither can one escape the notion that he seeks to recreate the shock waves of his confession six years ago about his service in the Waffen SS during World War II.

Segev was right to note that Israelis are having a debate about whether an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is necessary or wise. But he is wrong to acquit Grass of anti-Semitism. His work is indicative of a desire to demonize the one Jewish state in the world while whitewashing the record of an Islamist regime awash in Jew-hatred and dedicated to annihilating Israel. Like many other European intellectuals, Grass adopts a pose in which he claims to be innocent of anti-Semitism. His vitriol aimed at Israel and his assistance to the campaign to strip it of its right to self-defense betrays his motives and ideology.

The spectacle of a former Nazi penning a rationalization of a regime that promotes a similar style of hate for Jews may well be pathetic. But that such a person is treated as the conscience of his nation speaks volumes about the debased nature of intellectual discourse in contemporary Europe. Thanks to figures like Grass and other leading lights of the arts such as Britain’s Emma Thompson, anti-Semitism is having its best days in Europe since the author was saluting Hitler in the SS.

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Is Obama Blaming Israel for Gas Prices?

The campaign of administration leaks aimed at undermining Israel’s position on Iran has been widely noted. But according to Robert Satloff, the respected head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the White House isn’t satisfied with blaming Israel for the chance that Americans might be killed in the event force is used against Iran. Satloff says the Israelis see President Obama as blaming them for rising oil prices as well.

In comments quoted in the WorldTribune.com:

Satloff, who met “virtually everybody in the Iran debate,” said the Israeli leadership also saw the administration as blaming Israel for the sharp rise in U.S. gasoline prices. He said Washington attributed the higher prices to “Israel’s posturing” on Iran. “They [the Israelis] think the Iranians should be held responsible for the higher gasoline prices,” Satloff said.

The possibility that Washington would seek to scapegoat Israel for higher oil prices is an ominous development. While there have been, as yet, no public statements to that effect, or, as is generally the case with this administration, front page features in the New York Times claiming this is what anonymous senior officials are thinking, Israeli may believe this is something they expect to happen. Perhaps by making their fears on this score public, they hope to head off what they believe is an obvious next step from an administration that is friendly to Israel in public but oozing with hostility off the record.
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The campaign of administration leaks aimed at undermining Israel’s position on Iran has been widely noted. But according to Robert Satloff, the respected head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the White House isn’t satisfied with blaming Israel for the chance that Americans might be killed in the event force is used against Iran. Satloff says the Israelis see President Obama as blaming them for rising oil prices as well.

In comments quoted in the WorldTribune.com:

Satloff, who met “virtually everybody in the Iran debate,” said the Israeli leadership also saw the administration as blaming Israel for the sharp rise in U.S. gasoline prices. He said Washington attributed the higher prices to “Israel’s posturing” on Iran. “They [the Israelis] think the Iranians should be held responsible for the higher gasoline prices,” Satloff said.

The possibility that Washington would seek to scapegoat Israel for higher oil prices is an ominous development. While there have been, as yet, no public statements to that effect, or, as is generally the case with this administration, front page features in the New York Times claiming this is what anonymous senior officials are thinking, Israeli may believe this is something they expect to happen. Perhaps by making their fears on this score public, they hope to head off what they believe is an obvious next step from an administration that is friendly to Israel in public but oozing with hostility off the record.

Rising gas prices are a direct threat to the president’s re-election and, as some administration officials made clear in a leaked story in the Times last week, they think Obama’s desire to sound tough on Iran in order to win votes in November is heightening tension with Tehran. As that leak made clear, the president has boxed himself in with his public declaration that he was not willing to “contain” a nuclear Iran. That means the U.S. and its European allies are going to have to make good on their threat of an oil embargo this summer, just when gas prices normally go up anyway. If Obama and the Euros blink on Iran and pass on the embargo, they will rightly be accused of appeasing the ayatollahs. In the event that they keep their word and choke off Iran’s oil export business, the consequent dislocation of petroleum supplies will cause a politically expensive hike in the price of gas.

The Israelis are right to complain that if anyone should be blamed, it is Iran. It should also be pointed out that if Obama hadn’t wasted much of his first three years in office trying to “engage” Iran rather than enforcing sanctions on the regime, he might not be in this bind now. Blame should also go to those countries that may well continue to buy Iranian oil, such as China, India and Obama’s special friend, Turkey.

But while U.S. officials may grouse about Israeli pressure to act on Iran and leak damaging stories about them to the press, any comments that could be traced back to the White House about Israel and oil prices would boomerang on the president. Scapegoating the Jews on oil is exactly the sort of strategic mistake rooted in the administration’s true sentiments that could have a highly negative impact on the voters in November.

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Why Did the Administration Leak the Israel-Azerbaijan Story?

Veteran Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari has written in the Times of Israel claiming last week’s bombshell from Foreign Policy magazine about Azerbaijan’s willingness to allow Israel to use its air bases to strike Iran was pure fiction. Yaari excoriates the editors of Foreign Policy, the Israeli press (including, presumably, the Times of Israel, which prominently reported it) and anyone else (including, presumably, me) for taking it seriously. But though Yaari presents some good arguments why it might not be true, unlike magazine author Mark Perry, he offers no sources or reporting to back up his assertion.

But even if we assume Yaari is right and Perry’s piece is wrong, there are some interesting questions to be posed about the piece. Unless you are willing to believe, as perhaps Yaari and others disputing its authenticity do, that Perry is lying about the fact that senior officials in the Obama administration leaked the story to him, it’s still important to ask why they did so. What possible motive could they have had?

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Veteran Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari has written in the Times of Israel claiming last week’s bombshell from Foreign Policy magazine about Azerbaijan’s willingness to allow Israel to use its air bases to strike Iran was pure fiction. Yaari excoriates the editors of Foreign Policy, the Israeli press (including, presumably, the Times of Israel, which prominently reported it) and anyone else (including, presumably, me) for taking it seriously. But though Yaari presents some good arguments why it might not be true, unlike magazine author Mark Perry, he offers no sources or reporting to back up his assertion.

But even if we assume Yaari is right and Perry’s piece is wrong, there are some interesting questions to be posed about the piece. Unless you are willing to believe, as perhaps Yaari and others disputing its authenticity do, that Perry is lying about the fact that senior officials in the Obama administration leaked the story to him, it’s still important to ask why they did so. What possible motive could they have had?

The answer is simple. Whether the air base angle was true or not, publicizing the ongoing close cooperation between Israel and Azerbaijan (something Yaari actually concedes is factual) can only make it more difficult for that relationship to continue. Because, as Yaari rightly notes, Perry is no friend of Israel, the willingness of Obama’s minions to circulate the tale speaks volumes about the off-the-record malevolence that lurks beneath the surface of the president’s current charm offensive aimed at Jewish voters.

As to the facts of the piece, Yaari has a fair point when he asks how Israeli planes could fly to Azerbaijan to launch strikes against Iran. As he notes, Iran’s friend Turkey is not likely to permit the Israeli Air Force to fly over its territory to get to the Azeri bases. But Perry’s story seems to indicate that the use of the bases would be used to land the planes after an attack on Iran, not necessarily as the source of possible attacks. Because Yaari knows Israel is currently able to fly in arms it is supplying to the Azeris, the notion that it has the ability to send personnel needed for refueling, rescue or other services that the IAF might need in the event of an attack on Iran does not seem to be such a flight of fancy.

Yaari also has a cogent criticism when he ponders how exactly the authoritarian government of Azerbaijan could hope to get away with defying Iran as Tehran has been so helpful to the Azeris in their conflict with Armenia. He also might have asked whether Russia would tolerate such behavior. But to ask such questions is not the same thing as having proof that the Azeris are not contemplating life after Iran’s regional ambitions are cut down to size by an Israeli attack. Moreover, as Yaari himself readily concedes, the fact that Azerbaijan “maintains close relations with Israel including big arms and oil deals,” it is also not unreasonable to assume that the conflict with Iran is now part of that equation.

Yaari seems to infer that because Perry has no love for Israel, his effort to publicize the Israel-Azeri alliance is to undermine it. Yaari also appears to believe that any story whose premise is based on the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran is similarly ill-intentioned. But that brings us back to what I have always thought was just as important as the idea of the air bases themselves: why the Obama administration leaked it in the first place.

Rather than breaking our heads on the question of just how far the Azeris are prepared to go in defying Iran for the sake of their friendship with Israel (the answer to which is as much a mystery to Yaari as it is to me), we would all do better to consider why it was so important for the State Department and the White House that this friendship be placed in jeopardy. Those pondering what a second term for President Obama would mean to Israel need to think more about the leakers’ motives than those of Perry or the editors at Foreign Policy.

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Israel’s “Worst Case” Scenario After Iran

You could argue that this leak – which has the Israelis gaming out an Iranian-led assault on Israel and capping Israeli casualties at below 300 – is a ruse designed to make the world think they’re not bluffing about a kinetic operation against Iranian nuclear facilities. Alternatively, it could be that the report is absolutely true, and that having already concluded that an attack would reap significant benefits, the Israelis are now confirming that its costs have been exaggerated. The math would then work itself out:

In the event of an Iranian attack on Israel, less than 300 people would be killed during three weeks of non-stop fighting on multiple fronts, according to estimates delivered to the security cabinet in a briefing, Channel 10 reported on Monday. According to the estimates, described as a worst-case scenario, thousands of missiles would be launched toward Israel from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza as part of the Iranian attack. The scenario took into account Israel’s defenses as of 2012, with the Iron Dome rocket-defense system not yet at its full deployment.

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You could argue that this leak – which has the Israelis gaming out an Iranian-led assault on Israel and capping Israeli casualties at below 300 – is a ruse designed to make the world think they’re not bluffing about a kinetic operation against Iranian nuclear facilities. Alternatively, it could be that the report is absolutely true, and that having already concluded that an attack would reap significant benefits, the Israelis are now confirming that its costs have been exaggerated. The math would then work itself out:

In the event of an Iranian attack on Israel, less than 300 people would be killed during three weeks of non-stop fighting on multiple fronts, according to estimates delivered to the security cabinet in a briefing, Channel 10 reported on Monday. According to the estimates, described as a worst-case scenario, thousands of missiles would be launched toward Israel from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza as part of the Iranian attack. The scenario took into account Israel’s defenses as of 2012, with the Iron Dome rocket-defense system not yet at its full deployment.

These assessments are in line with statements by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to the effect that scenarios describing unending cataclysmic war are overblown.

It’s apparently taken as a given that Iran and its proxies would have leeway to target Israeli civilians in the aftermath of Israeli pin-point strikes. Rockets and missiles fired at Israeli civilian centers would be shrugged off by the international community with something in between “well, what did you expect would happen” and “if you think about it, the Israelis kind of have it coming.” Even pro-forma condemnations about limiting the violence and calls to think about the morning after would be slow in arriving, except in the immediate aftermath of Israeli strikes against attacks from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and perhaps even Egypt and Syria.

The double standards, indifference, and rationalizations with which atrocities against Israeli civilians are greeted, of course, is exactly why Jerusalem is committed to holding its genocidal enemies to conventional means. Given that Iranian leaders are again exhorting the religiously-driven annihilation of Israel, it’s no wonder that solid majorities of Israelis are supporting last-ditch military strikes on Iran.

On one side they see 300 deaths. On the other side they see the events depicted in this harrowing video, which you shouldn’t watch if you’re easily shaken:

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Iran Justifies Israel’s Annihilation in Islamic Law

If Iran became a nuclear power, would it risk its own regime survival to strike at Israel? Such questions remain at the heart of the current debate. Those who argue either President Obama should try diplomacy again or that containment can work argue that Iran would not launch their weapons in a first strike against Israel, never mind what Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said during his term as president.

A recent article in the Iranian press written by Ali Reza Forqani, an ally of the Supreme Leader,  however, should re-inject concern about what Iran’s true intentions are. Entitled, “The Fiqh [Islamic Jurisprudence]-Based Reasons for the Need for Israel’s Annihilation,” the Open Source Center recently provided a full translation. The article begins by recalling Ayatollah Khomeini’s views:

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If Iran became a nuclear power, would it risk its own regime survival to strike at Israel? Such questions remain at the heart of the current debate. Those who argue either President Obama should try diplomacy again or that containment can work argue that Iran would not launch their weapons in a first strike against Israel, never mind what Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said during his term as president.

A recent article in the Iranian press written by Ali Reza Forqani, an ally of the Supreme Leader,  however, should re-inject concern about what Iran’s true intentions are. Entitled, “The Fiqh [Islamic Jurisprudence]-Based Reasons for the Need for Israel’s Annihilation,” the Open Source Center recently provided a full translation. The article begins by recalling Ayatollah Khomeini’s views:

The first Qibla of Muslims has today fallen into the hands of Israel, this cancerous tumor in the Middle East. Today, Israel is using all satanic means cause divisions. Every Muslim has the obligation to equip himself against Israel. I have been warning about the dangers of international Zionism for about 20 years and now do not consider that danger for all the liberation movements in the world and for Iran’s recent Islamic revolution to be any less than what it was in the past. I have already warned that the usurping government of Israel, with the designs and ideas that it has for Islam and Muslim countries, presents a great danger and the fear is that should the Muslims grant them the opportunity time would be lost and then it no longer would be possible to stop them. Since the very foundation of Islam is facing a potential danger, it is necessary for all the Muslims in general and the Islamic governments in particular to act to remove this corrupting material by any means possible. All our troubles are due to Israel!

The article continues to cite two Quranic verses to justify an Iranian military strike on Israel:

“And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight against you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not favor those who exceed the limits” [Qur. 2:190]. “And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter; and do not fight with them at the sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them for such is the recompense of the unbelievers” [Qur. 2:191].

And then it embarks on a discourse about jihad. While U.S. diplomats and academics preach that jihad is misunderstood and is not violent, no one told the Islamic Republic that. “The philosophy behind primary jihad is to fight those who fight against the dissemination of Islam and the goal of this jihad is to liberate the people from mental and social captivity and slavery and to lead them to Islam,” Forqani explains. He cites Imam Ali: “I said fight them before they fight against you. I swear to God, no people were attacked in their own house unless they became meek first,” and concludes, “Iran’s military attack on Israel would fit the definition of defensive jihad and as such would not be an example of primary jihad. However, even if we consider such attack as primary jihad… it still would be permissible to wage such jihad with the permission and order of a competent vali-ye faqih (Guardian Jurist) in the age of absence of infallible Imam.” He elaborates:

Defensive jihad is a religiously mandated obligation and all Muslims must participate in it. Addressing this subject, the late Imam Khomeini (may peace be upon him) indicated in his collection of fatwas…that ‘if the enemy attacks the lands of Muslims, it is mandatory for all Muslims to defend their lands by any means possible and not to refrain from giving their lives or assets in the process and they need not obtain permission from the religious ruler in this affair…’ Now, considering the aggression that the fabricated government of Israel has committed against the land of Palestine as a part of Islamic lands and the land that houses the first Qiblah of Muslims, all Muslims are obligated to defend the Muslim people of Palestine and defend this sacred part of Islamic lands by any means possible and to do so they need not obtain permission from the religious ruler either.

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Iran Lists War Aims Against Israel

Last year, I visited Mlitta, a town in southern Lebanon which Hezbollah has turned into its version of an evil Disneyworld. One of the displays featured huge poster boards sporting Google Earth images of “the next targets.”

In his Alef article, Ali Reza Forqani, an ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader, goes further. After justifying a war against Israel, Ali Reza Forqani delves into how Iran should conduct its war:

Israel must come under heavy military strikes from the first blows until the last. The first step of the first stage of Iran’s military attack on Israel must lead to the annihilation of ground zero points in Israel. Iran can use its long-range missiles to accomplish this task. The distance from Iran’s eastern most point to western most point of Israel is about 2,600 kilometers. The Israeli targets deep inside Israeli territory are well within the reach of Iran’s conventional missiles.

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Last year, I visited Mlitta, a town in southern Lebanon which Hezbollah has turned into its version of an evil Disneyworld. One of the displays featured huge poster boards sporting Google Earth images of “the next targets.”

In his Alef article, Ali Reza Forqani, an ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader, goes further. After justifying a war against Israel, Ali Reza Forqani delves into how Iran should conduct its war:

Israel must come under heavy military strikes from the first blows until the last. The first step of the first stage of Iran’s military attack on Israel must lead to the annihilation of ground zero points in Israel. Iran can use its long-range missiles to accomplish this task. The distance from Iran’s eastern most point to western most point of Israel is about 2,600 kilometers. The Israeli targets deep inside Israeli territory are well within the reach of Iran’s conventional missiles.

Lest anyone misread Iran’s intent, in a section subtitled “People of Israel must be Annihilated,” Forqani outlines how to conduct genocide:

The residents of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa can be targeted even by Shahab-3 missiles. These three areas which are located very close to each other are very densely populated and the population there accounts for about 60 percent of Israel’s entire population. Therefore, it is possible to use Sajjil missiles to target the infrastructures in this area including power plants, fuel and energy installations, water and sewage treatment facilities, transportation and communication infrastructures; and in the next stage Shahab-3, Ghadr and Ashura missiles can be used to target and strike residential areas in the cities until the final annihilation of the people of Israel.

He then outlines Iran’s missile capability, explaining how Iran could best exploit each missile in its arsenal and bragging that used properly, “Iran Could Destroy Israel in Less Than Nine Minutes.” That the Iranians might soon be able to fit the Sajjil with nuclear warheads should only heighten concern.

Iran may be lots of things; deterrable does not appear to be one of them.

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Azeris Strengthen Israel’s Hand on Iran

The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

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The potential for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be a lot greater than skeptics may have thought. That’s the upshot of a story published yesterday in Foreign Policy that alleges Azerbaijan has granted the Israelis access to airbases in that country. If true, Israel’s ability to launch a strike from bases on Iran’s northern border would make the Jewish state’s military challenge in seeking to knock out Iran’s nuclear plants a lot simpler. The assistance of the Azeris would enable the Israelis to make repeated attacks and would eliminate the need to refuel their planes in midair in order to make the long flight from Israel to Iran.

Yet at the same time, a report in Ha’aretz insists that Tuesday’s announcement by the U.S. Defense Department that it would ask Congress for more money for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ensures there will be no attack on Iran before the presidential election this year. While that assumption may be unfounded, along with similar speculation that followed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama earlier this month, it leaves open the possibility that Israel is heeding U.S. requests to hold off an attack. The question for Iran is, which of these stories do you believe?

On that score, there’s no question that Iran must regard the decision of the Azeris to assist an Israeli strike as being a mortal threat to their ability to defend themselves. Prior to this, all discussion of a possible Israeli strike had been tempered by the knowledge that their ability to attack Iran was severely limited by the vast distance between the two countries. When compared to the ability of the United States to project airpower from carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf as well as other bases in the Middle East, it made an Israeli attack on Iran look like a poor substitute for U.S. action. But bases in Azerbaijan completely transform the military equation between Israel and Iran. They remove the need for the Israeli Air Force to refuel planes in midair in order to secure their safe return. Support staff stationed along Iran’s northern border would also make it easier for IAF to execute repeated sorties on nuclear targets and facilitate the rescue of downed planes and pilots. The bases would vastly increase the likelihood that an Israeli air campaign against Iran would achieve a high degree of success and lower the potential for losses.

From Iran’s point of view, this is a total disaster. While they have always known they stood no chance of mounting an effective defense against a massive U.S. air campaign on their nuclear plants, an Israeli attack from 2,200 miles away did not seem as formidable a challenge. The Azeri factor does not quite put the Israeli military on a par with that of the United States but it does act as a multiplying factor with regard to Israel’s ability to launch repeated strikes.

Though the Haaretz report that spoke of Israel’s plans to attack Iran as being put on hold until next spring may encourage Tehran, the fact that the sources for the Azeri story in Foreign Policy appear to be senior U.S. military and diplomatic figures shows the Obama administration is by no means certain Netanyahu can be counted on to hold his fire until after the president is safely re-elected. The American motive for leaking the story is clear. By making public the fact that the Azeris have more or less been bribed by Israel to give them access to bases that will enable them to easily attack Iran, the United States may be hoping to accomplish two things.

One is to scare the Iranians into finally waving the white flag on its nuclear project. The story ought to make it clear to the ayatollahs there is no way they can protect themselves from either Israel or the United States if push comes to shove. The odds of the Iranians coming to their senses in this manner are slim, but the administration is determined to do whatever it can to keep the window for diplomacy on the nuclear question open for as long as it can.

The second motive is to forestall any Israeli attack. Making public the Azeri role in the military plan might force the Jewish state’s Asian ally to back away from any involvement in the project.

Whether the revelation will actually deter Israel from acting should Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak determine it is in their country’s interest to strike prior to November is still to be determined. The belief that the extra money for Iron Dome guarantees Israel won’t attack Iran this year is based on the assumption that Obama and Netanyahu came to some agreement on the issue when they met in early March. The Iranians must certainly hope this is the case. But the one thing we know today that we didn’t a few weeks ago is that Israel’s hand in this game of nuclear poker is far stronger than most people thought.

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Love for Iran Takes Ayatollahs Off the Hook

A peculiar phenomenon has been dominating Israeli social media. As tensions between Israel and Iran reach fever pitch, a young Israeli couple has launched a campaign showing pictures of couples kissing under the heading “Iran, we love you, we will never bomb your country.” Some Iranians have reciprocated with rosy memes of their own carrying a similar message to their Israeli courtiers. Cute. Last Saturday, the campaign hit the streets of Tel Aviv. Hundreds waved banners and shouted into megaphones their disapproval of what they perceive to be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “needless” warmongering. Calls for Netanyahu’s resignation were heard over chants for “social justice instead of war.”

Most pundits would agree that Iran’s nuclear program has little, if anything, to do with Israel, even though a nuclear Iran would certainly make the region more unstable and dangerous for the Jewish state. The demonstrators’ claims aren’t likely to be taken seriously by Israeli decision makers who are focused more on intelligence evaluations of the Iranian challenge than social media.

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A peculiar phenomenon has been dominating Israeli social media. As tensions between Israel and Iran reach fever pitch, a young Israeli couple has launched a campaign showing pictures of couples kissing under the heading “Iran, we love you, we will never bomb your country.” Some Iranians have reciprocated with rosy memes of their own carrying a similar message to their Israeli courtiers. Cute. Last Saturday, the campaign hit the streets of Tel Aviv. Hundreds waved banners and shouted into megaphones their disapproval of what they perceive to be Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “needless” warmongering. Calls for Netanyahu’s resignation were heard over chants for “social justice instead of war.”

Most pundits would agree that Iran’s nuclear program has little, if anything, to do with Israel, even though a nuclear Iran would certainly make the region more unstable and dangerous for the Jewish state. The demonstrators’ claims aren’t likely to be taken seriously by Israeli decision makers who are focused more on intelligence evaluations of the Iranian challenge than social media.

Saturday’s demonstration is most remarkable for its curious intellectual undercurrent. The protesters seemed to have expressed a remarkable sense of inflated self-importance that stems from the fallacy that all of the Middle East’s problems are the result of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Contrary to this myth, Israel doesn’t hold the key to regional stability and peace. The blind faith that a little less bellicosity from Israel will solve everything is based on a premise that treats Iranian domestic politics, American interests in Iraq, the destabilization of Syria, the rise of Sunni neo-Ottomanism on Iran’s western front, and Iran’s paranoia over its disgruntled non-Persian minorities as if they were problems that can all be resolved by a wave of the Jewish magic wand.

Beyond the pure naiveté of assuming that taking the military option off the table will somehow turn down the political temperature of an increasingly heated Middle East, the demonstration exposed beliefs underpinning much of the discourse on the Israeli Left: beliefs in Israel’s ability to control the trajectory of current affairs.

Such assumptions are not only factually unfounded, they are also downright dangerous to peace.

To say the Jewish state pulls the levers of conflict and resolution at its own convenience is to believe the other sides involved in any of the region’s conflict have little, if any, responsibility for how events transpire. The image of Jews having absolute control over international politics (especially in the Middle East) has equally plagued much (though not all) of the criticism toward AIPAC, America’s largest and most influential pro-Israel lobby. Not surprisingly, AIPAC also came under attack on Saturday in the Tel Aviv demonstration, with one malicious sign reading “AIPAC Damn You” surrounded by pictures of skulls.

These charges usually lead to a distorted perception of regional and domestic politics, and, consequently, to unfair allegations against Israel. The tacit assumption being that if Israel (with the help of AIPAC) is in complete control of Middle Eastern peace and stability, then a lack of peace and stability can only be Israel’s fault. Why is this belief dangerous? Because these unilateral narratives, as we have seen so clearly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, lead to nothing but the kind of romanticized victimization that excuses Palestinians and Iranians from responsibility for their own faults.

Luckily, marginalized political groups such as those chanting on Saturday on Tel Aviv’s King George Street will never have to put their money where their mouth is. Shouting irresponsible and unfounded slogans is the one advantage radical opposition groups can still enjoy.

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