Americans tend to like and embrace the Powell Doctrine: the overwhelming use of force to achieve decisive results. The view of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is encapsulated in the unfortunate expression "mow the grass": you cannot stop the grass from growing, you will have to mow it repeatedly, but each mowing brings a temporary respite. For the IDF, the December 2008-January 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was a success because it brought many months of relative quiet, whereas U.S. commentators assessed it as a failure because it did not achieve what they assumed was Israel's real goal: destroying Hamas. When Americans say to Israelis that attacking Iran's nuclear facilities will only set Iran back temporarily, Israelis respond that this is all they ever expect from the use of military force -- and that this is good enough.
While the administration claims it could take Tehran a year to have weapon-grade uranium, the International Atomic Energy Agency warns that it could also happen in just three months.
But we shouldn't be debating how long it will take for Iran to complete a bomb, Milhollin says. "Instead, we should keep our eyes on the big fact here, which is that Iran is fast approaching the status of a "virtual" nuclear weapon state -- one with the ability to kick out UN inspectors and build a handful of nuclear warheads. This is not an argument for bombing Iran, by Israel or anyone else. But it is a warning -- a warning that we must confront the growth of Iran's nuclear capability, and not be lulled into imagining that it's not real.
Goldberg's deeply researched piece has all the hallmarks of real journalism: an abundance of sources, some questioning of its main premises, and what those in the industry call a "scoop of insight" that leads to wider debate. These features, alas, were lacking in much of what followed -- whether Will's fear-mongering stenography or the attacks on Goldberg's own background.
So let us set aside the temptation to shoot the messenger, and focus on the message: Goldberg's reporting may look like an attempt to shift the goalposts -- to make an Israeli attack on Iran into a fait accompli, or to convince the Americans to take over the job. But that effort is the real news here: Israeli officials, who kept rather quiet prior to bombing nuclear facilities in Iraq (in 1981) and Syria (in 2007), have suddenly decided to announce, loud and clear, that they plan to drop bombs on Iran unless somebody else does it first. The question now is whether Barack Obama takes the bait.
Israel's fond memories of past "preemptive successes" - the 1967 "Six Day War," the Osirak reactor strike in Iraq in 1982 and the destruction of what Israel described as a nascent nuclear weapons facility in the Syrian desert in 2007 - could lead it to overestimate its capabilities with regard to the sprawling and dispersed Iranian program. It should, instead, be focused on the memory of its failure to defeat Hezbollah alone during the short 2006 war, and the reality that even the most successful strike against Iran only postpones a day of reckoning.
A comprehensive peace that draws the Sunni Arab states into a de facto alliance against the revolutionary Shiites of Iran is the only long-term solution to Israel's security dilemma. That means a contiguous Palestinian state, returning the Golan Heights to Syria and signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
This all seems hard to imagine right now. Israel is in no mood (or political condition) to compromise. And Iran's regime is in a state of panic after last summer's unrest, even if the regime has (for now) prevailed. But neither side should be fooled: an attack on Iran cannot be "limited" in the way air strikes on Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas positions in Gaza. War on Iran means war with Iran, and that war will rock the world.
... it would take roughly a year -- and perhaps longer -- for Iran to complete what one senior official called a "dash" for a nuclear weapon, according to American officials. Administration officials said they believe the assessment has dimmed the prospect that Israel would pre-emptively strike against the country's nuclear facilities within the next year, as Israeli officials have suggested in thinly veiled threats.
Even as American and Israeli officials agree that the date that Iran is likely to have a nuclear weapon has been pushed into the future, that does not mean that Israel has abandoned the idea of a possible military strike.
American officials said that Israel was particularly concerned that, over time, Iran's supreme leader could order that nuclear materials be dispersed to secret locations around the country, making it less likely that an Israeli military strike would significantly cripple the program.
This very same intelligence assessment, it turns out, was reported in The Atlantic last week. And by the way, the Times article claims that Israel has been "persuaded" of a fact it already acknowledges. And by the way one more time, the article quotes no Israelis agreeing to the premise of the article. Or disagreeing, for that matter.
Yes, something has changed, Goldberg says. Israeli leaders believe Obama when he says he is "determined" to stop Iran's nuclear program, and Bibi may trust Obama more than he did a year ago, but "if Obama fails to stop Iran's nuclear program through non-military means, and then refuses to use military force to keep Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, the likelihood is still very high that Israel would try to destroy the Iranian nuclear program itself.
... nobody here believes that Obama will succeed through sanctions to stop the Iranian nuclear program. One thing has changed -- the Iranians have centrifuge problems, but these problems will most likely be fixed by the beginning of next year. So the timetable still holds: Israel will have to decide, as you reported, by the beginning of next year what to do. In the meantime, pray for Obama's success.