Thursday, August 12, 2010

Somedays, "war looming in the Middle East" isn't even news

So Jeff Goldberg has a new article out in the Atlantic about how Israel is going to attack Iran next spring.

Except, no, that's not really what it's about. It's actually about saying Israel will attack Iran--if the US doesn't attack first. But the Israelis would clearly like the US to attack, and not them.
And some Israeli generals, like their American colleagues, questioned the very idea of an attack. “Our time would be better spent lobbying Barack Obama to do this, rather than trying this ourselves,” one general told me. “We are very good at this kind of operation, but it is a big stretch for us. The Americans can do this with a minimum of difficulty, by comparison. This is too big for us.”
Part of the point here is that Israel would only get one shot at an attack on Iran, whereas the US could sustain days, or even weeks, of bombing without serious concern. The other point is that, of course, small countries like to get big countries to do the heavy lifting here for them.

Why, exactly, western readers are supposed to view Israel as a plucky country just sticking up for itself when it won't, um, stick up for itself is a mystery left to the reader.

What really annoys me about the Atlantic piece is the sheer craven dishonesty of the author. In 2002, Goldberg believed that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and he warned specifically that the failure of Israel's raid on the Osirak reactor should be a warning to liberals who thought Iraq had been effectively disarmed. In 2010, Goldberg instead writes:
Israel has twice before successfully attacked and destroyed an enemy’s nuclear program. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions; and in 2007, Israeli planes destroyed a North Korean–built reactor in Syria. An attack on Iran, then, would be unprecedented only in scope and complexity.
In a way, accusations of dishonesty are beside the point: at no point does it occur to a propagandist that the two contradictory things they've put to print can't both be true. Both are true as necessary. In 2003, Osirak was a failure because Iraq simply redoubled its efforts to get a nuclear bomb. In 2010, Osirak is a success and shows the invincibilty of air power to get the job done.

So the story we've got so far is that a) certain American writers play fast and loose with the truth, and b) Israel is nervous enough about launching a raid on Iran that they're using prominent American periodicals to ask Uncle Sam to do it instead.

Meanwhile, the article does actually capture the list of potential downsides for an Israeli or US raid on Iran: basically, lighting the Middle East on fire (again) for at best a temporary reprieve. Indeed, the Osirak raid is instructive here because many Iraqis have come forward to say that the Israeli attack actually convinced the Iraqi leadership to massively accelerate their nuclear program, which they did and was only interrupted by the Iraqi defeat during the Gulf War.

So you've got an Israeli leadership that is convinced, utterly convinced that for next to zero benefit (indeed, probably making their strategic situation worse) they'll launch a raid that will have the secondary effect of almost certainly setting off a wave of terrorist attacks, at the very least. It would also dramatically strengthen the role of countries like China and Russia in Iran, and weaken America's ability to give any kind of security guarantee to Israel.

It would, in short, be a clusterfuck pursued only by the insane or the insipid. But Israelis and Americans of all stripes are convinced that Iran is run by madmen.

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