“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future,” said Yogi Berra, Yankees catcher and philosopher.
This week’s edition of the Jewish World features a Page 1 story from JTA about the controversy surrounding Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover story in The Atlantic’s September issue, regarding the possibility of an Israeli bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities — an event that could transpire early next year. Or not.
We’ve been here before. In the Jan. 8, 2010, AJW editorial, I reviewed then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s views on dealing with Iran, in answer to a question I posed during a teleconference he held with Jewish journalists in January 2008. I won’t go into the specifics of his answer for a third time here; but I did note in the editorial that ostensibly knowledgeable observers had been warning of a showdown between the West and Iran: “Pundits, alleged experts in Middle East affairs, predicted that either Israel or the U.S. would initiate an attack on Iran to destroy their nuclear facilities. It was imminent. These erroneous assessments were predicated on the existential threat to Israel from a nuclear-armed Iranian regime. The military attack never came — not in 2008, nor in 2009.”
And not in 2010, so far. However, Goldberg thinks that Israel might attack Iran in about six months or so. He posits that Israel will launch an attack with an array of sophisticated U.S.-made bombers, then inform American officials of the fait accompli.
The March 2011 time frame mentioned by Goldberg comes from an unnamed “Israeli policy maker” who told the journalist that Israeli officials interpreted a statement in June by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, regarding Iran’s capacity to build a nuclear weapon, as indicating that they must preempt the mullahs in March.
The Israelis fear the existential danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iranian regime, according to Goldberg and others, and don’t count on sanctions prompting President Ahmadinejad and the clerical rulers of Iran to change course. They also are busy trying to figure out under what, if any, circumstances President Obama might launch a preemptive strike on Iran. “If we assume that nothing changes in these estimates, this means that we will have to begin thinking about our next step beginning at the turn of the year,” the Israeli official told Goldberg.
The story in The Atlantic is interesting; Goldberg theorizes that Netanyahu’s 100-year-old father, Benzion — an expert on the Spanish Inquisition and a former secretary to Vladimir Jabotinsky, the “revisionist” Zionist leader who took a hard line against Arabs living in Israel — exerts a powerful influence on the Israeli premier. “Always in the back of Bibi’s mind is Benzion. He worries that his father will think he is weak,” one of the prime minister’s friends tells Goldberg.
So, Goldberg has spoken about Iran with Obama and Netanyahu, and dozens of other security officials, past and present, from the Israeli and American governments. Over at the New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson, who reports from various forbidding war zones around the planet, talked recently to Ahmadinejad. His article, “After the Crackdown,” appears in the magazine’s Aug. 16 edition.
Before his formal interview, Anderson attended a press conference with the president. It turns out that Ahmadinejad and the clerics are at odds over religious edicts on dress codes: “This is an important issue for many younger Iranians—in north Tehran, the streets are full of dyed-blond hair, spray tans, and Amy Winehouse-style beehive hairdos — and Ahmadinejad had angered conservative clerics by opposing their demands. A few days later, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance published official guidelines for appropriate hair styles for Iranian men: pompadours were permitted, but not gelled, spiked, or overlong hair.”
After this lighthearted digression on Iranian cultural conflicts, Anderson writes that most of the other questions at the press conference “had to do with the controversy around Iran’s nuclear program.” He mentions the June sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council, “with the notable assent of China and Russia” and that the U.S. separately “demanded that foreign firms doing business with Iran, particularly in the oil and gas sectors, give up their interests or risk being banned from the U.S. financial markets. Ahmadinejad retaliated by announcing that Iran would suspend all nuclear talks with the West until late August. Before they could be resumed, he said, Iran must know the position of its negotiating partners in the P5-plus-1 group — the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany — toward the ‘Zionist regime’ and its nuclear weapons. Listening to Ahmadinejad, it was hard not to feel that a confrontation was looming.”
In Anderson’s one-on-one interview with Ahmadinejad, the president began with a discourse on “the universality of humanity, love, friendship and respect,” then tried to divert the journalist’s questions about fears in Israel and the West about an Iranian bomb. Anderson does a good job of interspersing facts amid Ahmadinejad’s peculiar rhetorical devices. The journalist notes that the Iranian president’s “routine denials of the Holocaust have led to widespread public outrage in the West and embarrassment in some circles in Iran. Whether he is genuinely or willfully ignorant of 20th-century history, he certainly understands the provocation he causes with his outrageous language. He looked delighted when I asked if he believed in an international Zionist conspiracy to control the world. (He intimated that he did.) As a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he suggested, as he has before, that a referendum be held on Israel and the Occupied Territories. ‘We believe that the people of Palestine, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or Jew, should be allowed to choose their own fate. Those who came from elsewhere, if they are interested in staying, should live under the government of the people, and that government will decide what they should do. If they want to return to their own lands, they can do so.’”
He’s just like Helen Thomas.
The dance of death between Iran and the West will continue over the coming months, with journalists explicating more nightmare scenarios about a military conflict and its repercussions. Hopefully, some bright minds can figure out a way to stop the two trains barreling down the track at each other before the wreck.
— Mordecai Specktor / email@example.com
(American Jewish World, 8.20.10)