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Israel Is Not Going to Attack Iran (V)

Daniel Levy makes a persuasive case [1] that Netanyahu is unlikely to order an attack on Iran. He cites Netanyahu’s risk-averse behavior, which I have mentioned before, but goes beyond that to describe the political constraints in Israel that are rarely discussed here in the U.S.:

Another oft-overlooked aspect is the absence of public pressure in Israel for military intervention or of a supposed Iranian threat featuring as a priority issue for Israelis. The pressure to act is top-down, not bottom-up. And to the extent to which there is trepidation among the public, that is a function of fear at the blowback from Israeli military action, rather than fear of Iranian-initiated conflagration [bold mine-DL]. Also to be factored in is the possibility of 2012 being an election year in Israel (though technically the current parliament could serve until October 2013). If Netanyahu does pursue early elections, as many pundits expect, then the political risk associated with an attack increases, heightened by the likelihood of a strike being depicted as an election ploy. What’s more, prices at the pump are an issue for Israeli voters, just as they are in the United States.

So there appear to be a number of reasons why an Israeli strike on Iran harms Netanyahu’s political self-interest. Quite apart from the adverse consequences that an Iranian war would have for Israeli security, an Israeli attack on Iran could jeopardize the political survival of Netanyahu’s government. Members of Netanyahu’s own coalition represents another obstacle:

Especially noteworthy is the extent to which the elements of Netanyahu’s coalition further to his right have not embraced or promoted military action against Iran. In fact, they tend to demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm at the prospect. This applies to both the ultra-Orthodox and the greater Israel settler-nationalists. One reason is that they view the Iran issue as peripheral when compared with, say, the pursuit of settlements and an irreversible presence in all of greater Israel. In fact, a strike on Iran is sometimes depicted as presenting a threat to the settlement enterprise, in as much as there is an expectation that part of the fallout would be enhanced pressure on Israel to tamp down resulting regional anger by displaying more give on the Palestinian front.

This seems to be something that most American observers do not consider when thinking about the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran. One reason for this is that our Iran hawks tend to be equally vocal in their support for military action against Iran and their support for Israeli settlements. Perhaps Americans on both sides of the debate end up perceiving both positions as expressions of a uniform “pro-Israel” hawkishness. The idea that these two policies could be competing priorities inside the current Israeli government gets lost as a result. However, as Levy goes on to explain, keeping attention on Iran is useful to this part of the coalition:

The more settler-centric right is also cognizant of the distraction value served by the Iranian nuclear issue in deflecting attention from its land grabs and entrenchment in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Chances are, settlements won’t be making any headlines in next week’s Obama-Netanyahu meeting. Thus, removal of Iran from the agenda is a losing proposition for the settler lobby.

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3 Comments To "Israel Is Not Going to Attack Iran (V)"

#1 Comment By tbraton On March 3, 2012 @ 8:30 am

As I pointed out the other day, it is clear from Amos Yadlin’s op-ed piece in the NY Times that Israel is trying to blackmail the U.S. into giving an iron-clad guarantee that the U.S. will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if Israel “refrains” from doing so during the “closing window of opportunity.” Israel doesn’t want to attack iran because it lacks the capacity to effectively do so, the mission would carry high risks for Israeli pilots, and virtually all the opprobrium would fall on Israel, making it further isolated in the world, and possibly damaging its political ties with the U.S. That’s apart from the domestic Israeli political considerations you cite. By getting the U.S. to do its dirty work, Israel would be assured of less risk, a more complete infliction of damage on Iran and the shifting of most of the opprobrium to the U.S. It looks like a win-win-win situation for the Israelis, and, based on Obama’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic the other day, it looks like Obama is going to give the Israelis exactly what they want—the g__damn fool. We have seen Obama rolled by his generals on Afghanistan, rolled by the three harpies on Libya, and now by the Israelis on Iran.

BTW, if there was any doubt about Obama caving in to the Israeli demand, it was eliminated during last night’s Newhour on PBS when David Brooks extolled Obama’s “great intelligence” in assessing military consequences of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Brooks certainly thinks Obama’s in the bag, thus entitled to an extra dollop of praise.

#2 Comment By tbraton On March 4, 2012 @ 11:28 am

“based on Obama’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic the other day, ”

I didn’t realize that Jeffrey Goldberg who now writes for The Atlantic is the same Jeffrey Goldberg who used to write for The New Yorker. Just by coincidence, I came across a piece on another TAC blog the other day which appeared in 2009 and reviewed the history of the many prominent journalists who were very actively promoting the Iraq War back in 2002-03 and how well they have all fared despite their horrendous judgment. [2]

One of the journalists cited was Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote a piece for The New Yorker in 2002 entitled “The Great Terror,” which the reviewer describes as follows:

“Goldberg did this, in fact, in his (in)famous 2002 feature “The Great Terror,” which helped create the well-worn media portrait of Saddam as a genocidal lunatic with WMDs on hair-trigger ready to exterminate every hamburger-eating, freedom-loving person in the world. Both Bush and Cheney spoke approvingly of the 16,000-word article and singled it out as a good explanation why a war effort was justified. But the “Great Terror” is a J-school nightmare: bad sources, compromised sources, unacknowledged uncertainties, and the whole text spun through with an alarmist rhetoric that is now either laughable or nauseating, depending on your mood. (How did Remnick let this stuff go to print?) Goldberg floated sketchy theories that the dictator was working closely with Al Qaeda and was so irrationally villainous that he was developing a super-duper WMD from wheat mold that, in the author’s words, had “no military value [except] to cause liver cancer, particularly in children.” ”

The reviewer notes, however, that “He won a National Magazine award in 2003. And “The Great Terror” was given an Overseas Press Club award—which in its dazzling absurdity rivals former CIA director George Tenet and General Tommy Franks winning Presidential Medals of Freedom.”

As I noted the other day, concocted nonsense didn’t stop with the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The only difference is that the writers who concocted the modern versions of the “Protocols” continue to write and do quite well.

BTW the piece also covers those journalists who were right about Iraq, including TAC’s own William Lind, of whom it says:

“PENNILESS AND PRESCIENT Lind Pre-war position: This arch-conservative commentator may have been the most prescient voice in the American media warning against the military dangers facing us in Iraq. His career began as a protégé of America’s greatest military strategist, colonel John Boyd, and he has since achieved his own renown in that field. Prior to the war, Lind warned that invading Iraq would be of inherent benefit to both Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. He predicted, “When American forces capture Baghdad and take down Saddam Hussein, the real war will not end but begin … as an array of non-state elements begin to fight America and each other.” Bottom line: “It won’t be pretty.” He also pointed out that a basic tenet of military theory is that a democracy cannot win any prolonged war if the people are at all uncertain about the reasons for fighting. At that point, prior to the invasion, more than half of Americans thought Saddam had a hand in 9/11.

Career status: Still writing for a small audience. Lind is a contributor to the American Conservative and websites like military.com, counterpunch.com, and antiwar.com. No major publications have come calling, so not many people are hearing the urgent warning he’s offering now. “I think we’re probably going to hit Iran and that situation could be ten times worse than what we’ve got in Iraq,” he tells Radar.”

#3 Comment By Hamilton Fan On March 5, 2012 @ 7:31 am