Panetta Throws a Brushback Pitch as Israel Inches Closer to an Attack

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Anshel Pfeffer writes in Tablet that an Israeli attack on Iran is not only a foregone conclusion (he goes farther down this path than a certain writer did in a certain magazine story last year), but would represent the opening not of a first front but a second front in the Israeli-Iran war:

When that attack happens, most likely in the early spring, Israel's second Iranian war will officially begin. The first has been going on through much of the last decade in the battles Israel has been fighting with Iran's local proxies--Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip--and in the secret war being waged against Iran's nuclear program. The front lines of this war extend thousands of miles, from Bandar-Abbas, an Iranian port on the Persian Gulf, to the eastern Mediterranean and in the Arabian Peninsula, northeast Africa, and north into Turkey. This secret war involves the interdiction of Iranian arms bound for Hezbollah and Hamas and of vital components bound for Iran's nuclear facilities. Few of these operations, such as the commandeering of cargo ships carrying missiles, are ever revealed as official Israeli actions.

Pfeffer also describes the squeezing out of top officials in the Israeli security apparatus who were or seemed ambivalent or opposed to taking action on Iran, including former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. This isn't new news, but all of this seems to be making Defense Secretary Leon Panetta increasingly nervous.

The changes at the top of Israel's security establishment, along with reports on intensive preparations for a strike, prompted U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to visit Israel in early October. Panetta publicly stressed during his visit that the United States is "very concerned" about the Iranian threat but emphasized that countering that threat "depends on the countries working together." Panetta demanded that Jerusalem warn Washington in advance of an attack on Iran, but he did not receive clear assurances it would, according to American diplomatic sources.

While Panetta already cautioned Israel about its increasing international isolation, yesterday, ahead of a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Panetta warned that an Israeli strike on Iran could have a major impact on the global economy: "There are going to be economic consequences to that (an Iran strike), that could impact not just on our economy but the world economy."

Here is the disconnect between Panetta and Barak, and between Netanyahu and Obama: The very real isolation, extreme violence and economic havoc that could be brought on by an Israeli attack on Iran is of limited consequence to an Israeli leadership that believes that a nuclear Iran could spell an end to their country.  

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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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