Amid widespread skepticism that sanctions will stop Tehran's nuclear development and grudging, belated recognition that the Green Movement will not deliver a more pliable Iranian government, a growing number of commentators are asking the question, "What does President Obama do next on Iran?"
For hawks, the answer is war. Last month, in The Weekly Standard, Reuel Marc Gerecht made the case for an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear targets. With the publication of Jeffrey Goldberg's "The Point of No Return" in the Atlantic, the campaign for war against Iran is now arguing that the United States should attack so Israel won't have to.
To be sure, Goldberg never explicitly writes that "the United States should bomb Iran." But he argues that, unless Israel is persuaded that Obama will order an attack, "there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July." And Goldberg's Israeli interlocutors readily acknowledge that the United States could mount a far more robust air campaign against Iranian nuclear targets than Israel could. A much more limited Israeli strike "may cause Iran to redouble its efforts-this time with a measure of international sympathy-to create a nuclear arsenal [and] cause chaos for America in the Middle East," he acknowledges. Goldberg believes the Obama administration understands that "perhaps the best way to obviate a military strike on Iran is to make the threat of a strike by the Americans seem real." But there is a clear implication that, if threat alone does not work, better for the United States to pull the trigger than Israel.
It's Time to Get Tough on Iran
Why it could be Tehran -- not Washington -- that provokes a war.
By Michael Eisenstadt and David Crist
Goldberg's reporting on Israeli thinking about Iran -- reflecting interviews with "roughly 40 current and past Israeli decision makers" -- including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- is exemplary. Unlike Gerecht, Goldberg does not skirt the potentially negative consequences of war. But Goldberg's reporting also reveals that the case for attacking Iran -- especially for America to attack so Israel won't -- is even flimsier than the case Goldberg helped make for invading Iraq in 2002, in a New Yorker article alleging that "the relationship between Saddam's regime and Al Qaeda is far closer than previously thought."
Goldberg's case for war on Iran starts with the Holocaust -- and a view of the Islamic Republic as a latter-day Third Reich, under ideologically obsessed, anti-Semitic leadership to which "rational deterrence theory ... might not apply." Israelis across the political spectrum have bought the argument that Iran is an "existential threat," he writes. But, as Goldberg himself acknowledges, this is not true. He recounts his realization of the "contradiction" captured in a photograph of Israeli fighter planes flying over Auschwitz that he saw "in more than a dozen different offices" at Israel's defense ministry:
"If the Jewish physicists who created Israel's nuclear arsenal could somehow have ripped a hole in the space-time continuum and sent a squadron of fighters back to 1942, then the problem of Auschwitz would have been solved in 1942. In other words, the creation of a serious Jewish military capability-a nuclear bomb, say, or the Israeli air force-during World War II would have meant a quicker end to the Holocaust. It is fair to say, then, that the existence of the Israeli air force, and of Israel's nuclear arsenal, means axiomatically that the Iranian nuclear program is not the equivalent of Auschwitz." (emphasis added)
Moreover, the Islamic Republic is not Hitler's Germany, particularly regarding Jews. No matter how many anti-Zionist or even anti-Semitic quotes Gerecht, Goldberg, and others may marshal from Iranian politicians, inconvenient realities undermine the Islamic Republic/Third Reich analogy: Roughly 25,000-30,000 Jews continue living in Iran, with civil status equal to other Iranians and a constitutionally guaranteed parliamentary seat. It is illegal in the Islamic Republic for Muslims to consume alcohol --but Jews (and Christians) are permitted wine for religious ceremonies and personal consumption. Iranian politicians frequently question Israel's legitimacy and predict demographics will ultimately produce a "one-state" solution in Palestine. It's true that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made provocative statements questioning the Holocaust. But neither Ahmadinejad nor any other Iranian leader has threatened to destroy Israel by initiating military conflict.