A Case Against Attacking Iran or a Case for Blaming Israel?

>This post is part of our forum on Jeffrey Goldberg's September cover story detailing the prospects and implications of an Israeli strike against Iran. Follow the debate here.


Marc Lynch's essay this morning is quite long, but necessarily so: in addition to discussing Jeff's article, he needs room to make sure that we get the real point, which is to blame Israel for everything. Everything.

A couple of lines give the game away. One is the analysis that "Turkey's star suddenly ascended after Prime Minister Recep Erdogan challenged Israel over its war against Gaza." Israel pulled every single settler and every single soldier out of Gaza in the summer of 2005. From 2006 through 2008, Hamas and other terrorist groups shot more than 5,500 mortars and rockets into Israel, and at the end of 2008 ended a truce then in effect for six months. To describe Israel's response to this series of events as "Israel's war against Gaza" is not so much to simplify as to reveal an inability to understand the Israeli predicament.

There is also this: "the Netanyahu government and its allies have done almost everything possible to undermine this administration's trust. ... why destroy his relationship with America at such a pivotal moment?" Marc ignores the opinion polls showing that something under 10% of Israelis now trust Obama, for that striking figure does not fit the story line. Is it possible, is it conceivable, that Obama has done something to undermine Israeli trust in his Administration's policies and world view? Not to Marc. Then there's this: "if Israel's leadership genuinely believes that Iran poses the greatest existential threat which Israel has ever faced, ... why has it taken so many steps over the last year and a half to alienate the world and to isolate itself?" So many steps. Are the partial freeze on construction in settlements (called "unprecedented" by the Obama Administration), permission for thousands of Israeli Arabs to shop once again in the West Bank and help its economy grow, and removal of scores of barriers to mobility in the West Bank, among them? Presumably they don't count for Marc, as they do not count for anyone disposed to blame Israel for everything.

The bottom line is clear: if Israel were to act to prevent a government that has pledged to eliminate the Jewish State from obtaining the means to do so -- i.e. nuclear weapons -- after every other effort to do so had failed (IAEA, UN Security Council, P5+1, even the demands of Barack Obama), Israel would be to blame. So, Marc tells us, if Israel strikes the Iranian nuclear weapons program "then the effects on Israel's relationship with the United States should be devastating." This is not descriptive, it is normative: should be devastating. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

There are a few additional ex cathedra, unsubstantiated comments that bear on Marc's response to Jeff's story. For example, any Israeli or American attack on Iran's nuclear weapons program would "badly weaken the already struggling Green Movement." What evidence or argument is offered? None. The statement is quite plausible; the converse is also plausible. Consider: Iranians wake up one morning to find that last night several sites connected to the nuclear weapons program, some of which they may never have heard of, have been destroyed or damaged, so that the years of isolation and sanctions they have suffered on behalf of the regime's nuclear weapons effort have all been in vain. Does this obviously, inevitably, unarguably increase support for the regime? Similarly, Marc assures us -- again, ex cathedra -- that a strike would "deeply complicate the tentative moves towards Israeli-Palestinian peace talks." How's that? Weakening Iran, preventing this foremost enemy of Israeli-Palestinian peace from obtaining nuclear weapons, would so obviously harm the chances for a successful negotiation that it isn't even necessary to argue the point?

Finally, as to the Arabs, Marc argues that "Iran hawks typically make far too much of the private remarks of selected Arab regime figures." Yeah, selected kings, princes, sheiks, foreign ministers, defense ministers; don't make too much of that. Despite Marc's straw-man argument, in fact no one does "expect these regimes to take a leading, public role in an attack on Iran." No one. But their private views have been made known to American officials for years, so I would argue we should not "make far too much" of their speeches and should pay far more attention to what they tell American leaders in quiet, private, intense conversations about their national security and their fear of Iran.

I agree fully with Marc that we need more debate, and we are getting it. But blaming Israel for everything and ignoring every other factor doesn't give us a more detailed picture of the situation; it gives us a caricature drawing.

The debate continues here.

Presented by

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Formerly deputy national security adviser on Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush administration, Abrams was also an assistant secretary of state for UN affairs, human rights, and Latin America in the Reagan administration. Abrams blogs at Pressure Points.

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