Cross posted at Tikun Olam:
Ethan Bronner has published yet another softball story about Israeli policy towards its enemies, in this case Iran. The story is a curious jumble of bellicosity and caution supposedly meant to mirror the current state of affairs among western allies in relation to Iran and its nuclear policy.
If you ever wanted to judge Bronner’s over-coziness with his Israeli government and intelligence sources, note the grounds that he accepts for anonymizing them here:
“’Some have described it as a bear hug,’ a senior Israeli official said of the near-daily high-level meetings [between senior U.S. and Israeli officials], speaking on condition of anonymity in order to express himself freely on a charged issue, as did three other top Israeli officials for this article.”
I could perhaps concede granting anonymity to sources if they revealed new or controversial information or if they were endangering themselves in any way. But every Israeli statement in this article is not only old news, but merely a restatement of Israel’s position on the issue of sanctions and attacking Iran. As usual, Bronner gives away the store and gets nothing in return. This is an egregious example of giving sources anonymity for no reason other than that they demand it. And one thing we know about Israel and its leaders, they will demand the moon and give you nothing in return if you allow it as they have done here.
Nowhere in this story does it acknowledge that an Israeli attack would be an act of aggression, and that such aggression would have consequences that would be a direct response to that aggression. The underlying conviction, instead, seems to be that any Israeli attack would be an act of preemptive self-defense since Iran clearly means to develop a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the map. You can notice this thought process at work in the opening paragraph, in which Israel, the aggressor morphs into Israel, the victim:
“Preparations for a strike against Iran’s nuclear program are as evident as ever: the introduction of an attack drone capable of flying hundreds of miles, the frequent open talk of a possible attack, the distribution of new gas masks to the public.”
The introduction of gas masks into the story has not so subtle propaganda value and effect. It immediately turns Israel into a victim of Iranian aggression instead of the other way around. It harkens back to Saddam’s attacks on Israel during the 1991 Gulf war in which again, Israel was victim. It raises in the world’s mind the entirely unsubstantiated fear that Iran would counter-attack against Israel with chemical weapons. What is missing? The glaring fact that Israel would be engaging in an act that would draw censure if carried out by any other nation in the world.
Note the sanitized language of this passage:
“The American decision to press Israel to hold its fire stems partly from war game exercises in both countries that have raised complex questions about how effective a strike would be, how Iran would react…”
In fact, one of America’s foremost military strategic experts, Anthony Cordesmann, wrote an extensive study of this subject and essentially said that an Israeli attack would likely fail and that Iran would likely react by letting loose the Furies of revenge and terror.
Here is another unexamined and suspect statement made by an unnamed Israeli official:
“’No Israeli prime minister wants to make the decision to attack Iran,’ commented a former official closely involved in these discussions.”
The statement is preposterous. Of course this prime minister and the previous one want and wanted to attack Iran. We know for a fact that Olmert begged Bush to give him a green light and the latter refused. And it goes without saying that Bibi is itching to do the same and would (and may yet) if he thought he could get away with it.
More unexamined rhetoric:
“…The Israeli-American relationship has actually been improving lately over Iran.’
This is shorthand for “Israel is immensely pleased that the Obama administration has abandoned its hopelessly naive policy of diplomatic engagement and come around to Israel’s position that only a punitive approach will work.” The following passage is, besides being lame, hopelessly and self-evidently skewed:
“Both countries still find it useful to note that Israel is preparing for a strike and that its government includes some real hawks. This is a point American officials made to China recently to persuade it to join the sanctions regime.”
Gee, I didn’t realize Bibi’s government includes “some real hawks,” did you? And this will persuade China to get on board sanctions precisely how? Will China care that Israel attacks Iran? Well, yes the argument will be made that it will harm China’s economy. But I think China is smart enough to realize that any harm will be short-term and that Israel and the U.S. will ultimately pay the highest price for such stupidity and adventurism if it is allowed to happen. And for China, for Israel and the U.S. to walk into a hornet’s nest that causes both of them serious long-term damage to their international standing and global presence isn’t exactly an outcome that’d cause it to cringe.
More Israeli softballism from Bronner:
“Intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel is intensifying, and assessments regarding Iranian intentions and capabilities are closer than they were during the Bush administration.”
One of the most important points I want to make here is that to the extent that U.S. policy marches in lock step with Israel is the extent of the looming failure of an independent U.S. policy toward Iran. The closer we are to Israel’s interests and strategy the worse the failure Obama’s Iran policy will be. I started as a critical, but enthusiastic supporter of Obama’s Middle East policy. But I become more and more sour as time wears on and articles like this are written.
Returning to Bronner, more dubious, unexamined assumptions:
‘Israeli officials agree that the Iranian government and economy are weak and that harsh sanctions could pressure it into changing its nuclear policy.”
What does this tell us that is useful? Nothing. Almost every credible Iran analyst outside Israel (and many inside it as well) actually believes precisely the opposite of what it presented here. That is, that the Iranian economy cannot be seriously harmed by any conceivable sanction devised by the U.S. and that sanctions will never cause Iran to abandon its nuclear program.
The only new development in this story, and one that adds deeper concern to my sense of the disaster that is looming, is this:
“Israeli officials are due in Washington next week to urge Congress to take a tough unilateral stand on the issue.”
The idea that Israel thinks the U.S. should take a unilateral stand or pursue unilateral sanctions is yet another potential dead-end for U.S. policy. We can’t even get all our allies to agree on sanctions, yet Israel wants us to go it alone if this policy fails. Unilateral sanctions or whatever other unilateral policy conceived by Israel will be yet more of the same. And it will fail just as all previous sanction regimes have failed.
But I think Israel is lobbying for unilateral positions in the same way that Bush pursued unilateralism against Saddam. Once you are detached from your allies you are freer to pursue more extreme policies leading to military attack. That is what Israel is aiming for in the long run. A U.S. that either attacks Iran itself or gives Israel the green light to do so.
Yet another Bronner unexamined assumption:
“Iran said it had started to enrich uranium up to 20 percent, a huge step from its current enrichment of 4 percent. This would put it much closer to the capacity to enrich at bomb-making levels.”
What you won’t see explained by Bronner: that 20% is the level needed for medical research which is what Iran has claimed all along is its goal. Second, moving from 4% is a “step” but not a huge one. Third, achieving 20% enrichment would put it closer to achieving the 90% level needed for bomb-grade, but not “much closer.” Getting from 20% to 90% is a very large technical feat as confirmed by Muhammad Sahimi, a USC engineering professor and expert on Iran’s nuclear program. Why did Bronner leave all this important information out of that passage?
More pabulum from Israel passed along by its willing journalistic servant:
‘President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran attended a summit meeting in the Syrian capital with the leaders of Syria and the Lebanese group Hezbollah. His verbal attacks on Israel were harsher than usual.Israel says it is watching with enormous concern…They worry about weapons being smuggled into Lebanon and to Hamas in Gaza, and feel they [sic] may need to act.”
Because Iran’s president supposedly levelled harsher attacks on Israel than usual (no evidence provided), and because Iran is smuggling weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, Israel would justify an attack on Iran’s nuclear program. Is there some sort of rhetorical short-circuit in this passage? Why would an Israeli attack on Iran’s nukes follow from this?
In this entire article, the only acknowledgement of a serious policy difference between Israel and the U.S. is in this statement, and the validity of the Israeli claim is not even parsed by Bronner:
“…As a top Israeli official put it afterward: ‘For the Americans, Iran is a strategic threat. For us, it’s an existential one.’”