Ha'aretz: Bibi, Barak, Lean Toward Confronting Iran; Mossad More Skeptical

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This weekend brought us a fascinating and complicated report from Ha'aretz's Amir Oren, who suggests that the early success of the Iron Dome missile-interception system makes it somewhat more likely that Israel would launch an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The argument over Iran's nuclear program, which appears to be on track again, after being sideswiped by the Stuxnet virus, is alive on in the highest reaches of the Israeli government:

"(T)he argument about Iran's nuclear program crosses party lines and security force branches. Neither the Defense Ministry, the IDF nor the Mossad has a consistent stance. Different people have different views. Neither Netanyahu nor Barak appear to hold consistent positions. Those who favored a shock-and-awe attack on Iraq's supposed nuclear program are likely to oppose a similar campaign against neighboring countries in the Persian Gulf.

That being said, the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister are hawkish on the Iran question, and are more apt to seek a military solution to the nuclear threat:

Last year, two camps seemed to evolve: a hawkish alliance of Netanyahu and Barak, and a moderate camp consisting of President Shimon Peres and former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan was considered to be aligned with Peres and Ashkenazi, while his successor, Tamir Pardo, is not known to have a strong opinion on the question. Should he veer conspicuously from his predecessor's relatively moderate position, he will surprise many. Top IDF officers also endorse Dagan's stance. This is not acquiescent appeasement; nor does it categorically obviate a move to eliminate Iran's nuclear program. Instead, it asks "how" and "when," and considers establishing a regional Middle East defense network.

Read the whole thing; it's very comprehensive. (One additional note, based on a couple of conversations I recently had: the new Israeli army chief, Benny Gantz, is not as adamantly opposed to a strike on Iran as was his predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi, but he's not great guns for it, either.) I recommend the Oren piece, in particular, to those who invest importance in the recent Wikileaks document dump suggesting that Israel in 2005 abandoned the idea of attacking Iran. Yes, this means I'm hoping specifically that Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now reads this and understands the depth of her naivete. We're having a little bit of a blog war, Friedman and I, and I happen to think her clear suggestion (I don't know if it's Peace Now's position) that Israel long-ago ruled out such an attack is not only naive, but factually incorrect. I invest no faith whatsoever in these 2005 cables, and most people I know who care about these things don't think they mean anything, for a couple of reasons, the most obvious being that we know that the Israelis approached George W. Bush in 2008, three years after these documents claim Israel dropped the idea of attacking Iran, and asked both for bunker-busting bombs and permission to use them on Iran. Bush refused both requests. (Read David Sanger's January, 2009 dispatch on this for more information).

Another obvious reason: Even if an official of the Israeli government in 2005 had told an American official that Israel ruled out an attack, this would now be completely irrelevant information for the simple reason - which Friedman should have considered -- that Israel is ruled by a different government today. Imagine the following sentence appearing in a newspaper in 2011: "A 2005 White House document clearly suggests that the U.S. government is weighing the privatization of Social Security." It might be true that the American president in 2005 was contemplating the privatization of Social Security, but since we have a different president today, this fact doesn't have great salience.

Why Friedman thinks that Israel has ruled out a strike is beyond me. I have nothing against her -- I never even heard of her before last week, and I generally admire Americans for Peace Now, a group that, on the one hand, has been eclipsed by J Street, the most important organization on the Jewish pro-Israel left, but which nevertheless does important work helping to monitor settlement growth on the West Bank, among other things. In poking around Peace Now's website, though, I found something that suggests Friedman's naivete is, in fact, reflective of the group's naivete on the subject of Iran. While acknowledging that Iran poses an existential threat to Israel, American for Peace Now nevertheless endorses the idea of no-precondition talks with Iran's thuggish theocracy:

APN believes that the longstanding past U.S. approach to Iran, consisting almost exclusively of sanctions and saber-rattling, has failed. APN strongly supports the Obama Administration's efforts to replace this approach with a serious, results-oriented Iran policy, comprising sanctions and meaningful incentives and founded on direct, determined US and multilateral diplomacy, without preconditions.

No one in the Obama Administration, including its most dovish officials, actually believes that Iran will respond positively to yet another American overture. Any understanding of Iran today begins with the fact that anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism are two of the pillars sustaining the regime. There is a vanishingly small chance that the Iranian regime will undermine its own ideology by responding to Obama's call for dialogue, especially now that Iran has seen what America is capable of doing to countries that have given up their nuclear programs. The story of Libya is one the Iranian leadership is studying carefully. It is safe to guess that Iran, watching Libya, is more committed than ever to crossing the nuclear threshold.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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