Commentary Magazine


Media Undermines its Case Against Israel

The media pressure on Israel to refrain from launching a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities continues apace. The New York Times and Washington Post each have stories dedicated to either downplaying the Iranian threat or exaggerating the costs of attacking Iran, and both stories undermine their arguments.

First, the Times seeks to lay on the guilt with an article titled “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes.” It is a warning to Israel to consider the fact that the U.S. would also be a target of Iranian attacks if the country’s nuclear installations are bombed. But then the reporters seem to make the opposite case:

While a missile retaliation against Israel would be virtually certain, according to these assessments, Iran would also be likely to try to calibrate its response against American targets so as not to give the United States a rationale for taking military action that could permanently cripple Tehran’s nuclear program. “The Iranians have been pretty good masters of escalation control,” said Gen. James E. Cartwright, now retired, who as the top officer at Strategic Command and as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff participated in war games involving both deterrence and retaliation on potential adversaries like Iran.

The Iranian targets, General Cartwright and other American analysts believe, would include petroleum infrastructure in the Persian Gulf, and American troops in Afghanistan, where Iran has been accused of shipping explosives to local insurgent forces.

That is, Iran may possibly target American troops overseas, which it is already doing. Additionally, the U.S. recently prevented a massive Iranian terrorist operation on U.S. soil, so an attack on the homeland would not be an escalation. And Cartwright’s quote suggests an attack on Iran might have the reverse effect. As does this quote from the story:

Both American and Israeli officials who discussed current thinking on the potential ramifications of an Israeli attack believe that the last thing Iran would want is a full-scale war on its territory…. If Israel did attack, officials said, Iran would be foolhardy, even suicidal, to invite an overpowering retaliation by directly attacking United States military targets — by, for example, unleashing its missiles at American bases on the territory of Persian Gulf allies.

So in fact, an attack on Iran might encourage the Iranians to stand down for fear of inviting more attacks on their soil. The Washington Post story, on the other hand, tries to portray Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the boy who cried wolf. He’s been warning the world of an Iranian nuclear threat for 16 years now, the article notes. Most of the story is armchair psychoanalysis that is almost entirely irrelevant, now that we know Iran has indeed been working toward a nuclear weapon all these years. The article also spends some time ridiculing the notion that Netanyahu, for some strange reason, believes that as prime minister of Israel his job entails the protection and safety of the Jewish people.

But the last two paragraphs of the story are where the action is. Here’s the first:

Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the liberal daily Haaretz, who covered Netanyahu for years as the newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent, said the prime minister had succeeded in shifting the diplomatic conversation, after the Obama administration had been focused previously on peace efforts with the Palestinians. Then, Netanyahu’s rhetoric on Iran was seen as an effort to divert attention from Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, which was loudly opposed by Washington.

Leave aside the fact that Netanyahu’s concentration on Iran “was seen as an effort to divert attention from Israeli settlement building” only by extreme partisans on the left who obsess about Jews adding rooms to their homes in West Bank towns that will be part of Israel in any peace agreement anyway. Also leave aside the fact that anyone who thinks that clearly doesn’t take the Iranian threat seriously, and is thus not paying much attention to reality. The claim itself is disputed by the entire article leading up to it. If Netanyahu has been obsessing about the Iranian threat for 16 years, then it long preceded President Obama’s bizarre decision to pick a fight with Netanyahu about settlements.

And here’s the final paragraph:

“He did a very good job of changing the world’s priorities,” Benn said, “and he achieved that by saber-rattling vis-à-vis Iran. The problem is that you can reach a point when the political price of not going to war becomes too much to bear. If the Iranian nuclear program is a Holocaust, then the question becomes: What did you do, Mr. Netanyahu, to prevent it? You have to deliver.”

Here’s a riddle for you: When, in a democracy, does the political price of not doing something become too much to bear? Answer: When the public overwhelmingly supports that action. The ongoing attempt to paint Netanyahu as the leader of some kind of military junta is exactly the sort of thing you expect to hear from a Haaretz editor, but it’s not something that will earn the Washington Post or its reporter much credibility.

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