Will Israel Attack Iran This Year?

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Ronen Bergman writes in The New York Times Magazine:

Netanyahu and Barak have both repeatedly stressed that a decision has not yet been made and that a deadline for making one has not been set. As we spoke, however, Barak laid out three categories of questions, which he characterized as "Israel's ability to act," "international legitimacy" and "necessity," all of which require affirmative responses before a decision is made to attack:

1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran's nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?

2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?

3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran's nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?

For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of Israel's most powerful leaders believe that the response to all of these questions is yes. (Bold is mine.)

This last statement is partially untrue. Several key Israeli leaders believed these conditions obtained in 2010. Some Israeli leaders believed these conditions actually obtained in the latter part of the George W. Bush Administration. Bergman's first point has absolutely been true for quite some time. Number two is not necessarily true, even today. And the reason number two is not necessarily true is that American officials disagree with Israeli officials on point number three. Even some Israelis in the inner cabinet believe that this is the final moment for an attack to be successfully launched.

I write this, of course, as someone who thought, based on interviewing many of the same people Bergman interviewed, that there was a very good chance that Israel would have struck Iran by last summer. The success of the Stuxnet virus, which operated against Iranian centrifuges, altered the calculus in that case. And so I wouldn't be at all surprised if Bergman's analysis is premature. I certainly hope it is premature -- I think an attack on Iran would be disastrous for Israel, in part because condition number two (above) does not yet obtain.

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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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