Here is round two of the online exchange with Jeffrey Goldberg that began here.
Thank you very much for this reply. For our second round - which will be the last round for a while, as I'll explain - I'd like to shift from asking about the reporting you've been in the middle of, to the substance of the choice that the Israeli government will make.
(This is the last round for a while, because you're about to go out of communications range for a week, and I'm already in Internet limbo - this comes from a truck stop on the Tasman Peninsula that has just enough one-bar cell phone coverage to support an Android hotspot. I hope we can resume when we're both back.)
I understand the points you're making here -- about believing all along that the PM Netanyahu's threats have been serious, and that your recent "could he be bluffing?" column was meant as a thought-experiment more than a shift in conclusion.
Let me explain why I have felt all along that at some level this had to be a bluff, and why it remains hard for me to believe that, in the end, "even" Binyamin Netanyahu would go ahead and order this strike.
You and I agree that it would be better in a thousand ways if Iran does not develop a nuclear-weapons capability. The #1 reason, on my list, would be the ripple-effect pressure for proliferation in nearby countries- Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, etc. I recognize that the Israeli government has a different reason #1. But although many people, for many reasons, share the goal of avoiding a nuclear-armed Iran, a solution that doesn't solve the problem is not a "solution." And everything I have known, learned, and thought about this issue tells me that an Israeli strike would likely make the entire situation worse. Including the parts of "the situation" that put Israel in direct peril.
You're familiar with all these arguments, but as a refresher-summary for our discussion:
- Merely buying time. No one seriously contends that an aerial strike would eliminate Iran's nuclear potential in any permanent way. It's a matter of buying time - a year or two, by most estimates.
- Increasing resolve. In exchange for possibly buying that time, most analyses I've seen indicate that a strike would only intensify Iran's determination to go ahead with its program.
- Strengthening the regime. You can find examples in history of an external strike making a troubled regime seem fatally weak and vulnerable. (Eg: The effect of defeat in WW I on the Tsarist Russian regime.) But I can find more examples of foreign attacks being used as rallying tools - eg, as I mentioned recently, Castro with the Bay of Pigs. Every report I've read suggests that this is the more likely result within Iran.
- Short and medium term "kinetic" effects on Israel - and the United States. The "war game" that the Atlantic ran back in 2004 reached the same conclusions the Pentagon's recent war game reportedly did: that a motivated Iran would have lots of ways to inflict retaliatory damage, directly on Israel and on U.S. troops and installations in the region, and indirectly on the world economy and American interests in general.