Jeffrey Goldberg

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.

  • What Does the Gaza Attack Mean?

    There is no long-term military solution to the challenge posed by Gaza, but the Israeli government doesn't want to acknowledge this.

    So, weirdly, my advice to the Israelis to take a deep breath before taking a big swing at Gaza again was not heeded.

    I'm on the road again -- I just got into a fight with a former head of the Pakistani ISI at a security conference here in Istanbul (the moderator of our panel was surprised, I think, that we got into a fight) that I can't tell you about because the aforementioned ISI chief declared that most of his remarks would be off the record. Suffice it to say I won the argument.

    But I digress, and I don't have much time to post, but let me just ask one question: What is this Gaza conflagration about, exactly? Or let me rephrase the question: What are the goals of the Israeli counter-attack on Hamas? Right now, we're seeing, once again, a tactical response, provoked by a vile Hamas policy of acquiescing to, or even helping to launch, rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets. But what is the strategy? The fact remains that there is no long-term military solution to the challenge posed by Gaza, but the Israeli government doesn't want to acknowledge this.

    There are enough weapons, and enough young men in Gaza ready to use those weapons, to make life miserable for millions of Israelis for years to come, barring a full-scale invasion by the IDF of Gaza that wipes out the entire military structure of Hamas. And good luck with that, by the way -- good luck to Bibi getting the world to acquiesce. Netanyahu's failure to convince the world that he is serious about compromise (he might have succeeded, given his Palestinian counterpart's own alternately lackadaisical and obstreperous approach to peace talks, if he wasn't hell-bent on growing settlements) means that he has no political capital to spend.

    This operation will put President Obama in a tough spot, and remember, Netanyahu needs Obama for what he allegedly believes is the most important threat facing Israel. This operation also drives Egypt's president even further away from Israel (he wasn't close before but, like the Qataris, he might have been encouraged to to talk some sense to Hamas).

    But it does help Netanyahu's reelection campaign, and, it must be acknowledged, it might set back Hamas in some ways, but only temporarily. Another big question, of course, is, will Hamas use its longer-range rockets to bring Tel Aviv into the fight? I don't think this is overly likely, because this would put immense pressure on Netanyahu to launch a massive retaliation, even invasion. Hamas doesn't want an Israeli invasion of Gaza right now. Its leaders are already surprised by the Israeli response, though I don't know why; have they not been paying attention?

    Meanwhile, this gives Bashar al-Assad sufficient cover to kill even more of his citizens over the coming days. Keep an eye out for that. 

    More coming....

  • 'I Am Not al-Qaeda; When We Kill Bashar, I Will Shave Off My Beard'

    A report from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

    I spent late Saturday night north of al-Mafraq, in Jordan, along the Syrian border, where I witnessed the extraordinary sight of hundreds of Syrian refugees streaming out of the dark to safety. As these refugees filed past, I couldn't help but think in biblical terms -- except that these people were not crossing over the Jordan, but crossing into Jordan.

    Here is some of my report:
    We watched as a line of six trucks, which appeared as white blocks moving against a gray-black background, departed the village of El-Taebah, about two miles inside Syria. The Free Syrian Army operated the trucks. First, (Col. Nawaf) Tahrawi said, the rebels would deliver their wounded. The Jordanian army had ambulances stationed nearby. A line of refugees would be following behind, he said, carrying suitcases and children on their backs. The operator repositioned his cameras. Soon enough, we could see the outlines of people, hundreds, huddled in knots. They were seated on the ground. Then they rose, seemingly as one, and began moving slowly across the screen.

    "They'll be here soon," Tahrawi said. "Let's go and greet them." We climbed down from the tower and walked across brown fields in the frigid air. We descended into a wadi, a dry riverbed, and waited. We might have been on Syrian territory; the border is unmarked, and although the Jordanians are assiduous about keeping to their side of the border, it's an impossible task in the dark.

    Soon we heard a truck engine -- the first delivery of the wounded. The truck stopped before us. Gunmen hopped off. They were bearded, armed with AK-47s, and their nerves were torn. The Jordanians introduced me. "Weapons!" one rebel yelled. "Tell Obama we need weapons!" A second rebel said, "I only have 60 bullets! Sixty! What can I do with this?"

    The shabiha -- pro-Assad militiamen -- were all around. The delivery of refugees was becoming more hair-raising by the night.

    The rebels began unloading the wounded. "This man was tortured," one of the rebels said, pointing to a man prone on a stretcher. "Look what they did to him!" One of the rebels pulled down the man's pants; his buttocks had been whipped, the skin shredded. Another man was carried off the truck. A government sniper had shot him in the abdomen a few hours before. His clothing was soaked with blood.

    "I don't think he will live," one of the Jordanians said quietly.

    One of the rebels took me by the hand. We walked into the darkness. "I am not al-Qaeda" he said, though I hadn't asked. "When we kill Bashar, I will shave off my beard. I'm a law student, but I have no choice. Bashar killed my brother."

  • The Rockets of Gaza

    Rockets are flying from Gaza into Israel at a fast clip, and Israelis, it is said, are divided on how to respond.

    Rockets are flying from Gaza into Israel at a fast clip, and Israelis, it is said, are divided on the question of how to respond. I'm not there right now (I'm elsewhere in this exciting region) so I'm not current on Israeli government thinking about this issue, though Amir Mizroch just reported on Twitter that Avi Dichter, Israel's internal security minister, said  today that there is "no precedent in history destroying terror by airpower alone. Thus it is necessary to re-format Gaza altogether."

    Re-format? I'm not sure what word was actually used in Hebrew, but in English this doesn't sound very encouraging. By re-format, does Dichter mean that the Israeli army should invade Gaza, overthrow Hamas, and take direct control of the Strip? Is that what re-formating means? And does that seem like a good idea? Or something actually achievable, without a horrendous cost? 

    There is no military solution to the Gaza conflict, at least not one that Israel could pursue. Gaza isn't Chechnya and Netanyahu isn't Putin. Flattening Gaza is not a moral solution, nor a practical solution. Nor, for that matter, is it a politically possible solution. Netanyahu is calling in Western diplomats to explain to them that Israel has no choice but to respond militarily to the rocket fire. What he doesn't seem to understand is that he doesn't possess the political capital to ask the West for its understanding. There's plenty of blame to go around for the collapse of the peace process; his portion is substantial, and his alienation of leaders who might otherwise be friends is a continuing theme of his tenure.

    Israel has a right to defend itself, and life is an absolute misery for Israelis in rocket range. But before Israel invades, it might want to pause and ask itself if there is any other way possible to reach a ceasefire. Israel can certainly succeed in killing terrorists, but I fear an invasion will only set back Israel's cause further, and diminish its standing, leading to a situation in which the world would condemn any and all attempts by Israel to defend itself. Why not work, for at least a few days, to convince the world to pay attention to Hamas's crimes? Why let Hamas define the narrative? 

  • 'Now I'm Going to Offer You a Hamburger'

    Some quick reactions to last night's results.

    I'm traveling overseas, so posting will be light, but a few quick things:

    1)  I want to play poker with Sheldon Adelson.

    2) The Atlantic has excellent post-election coverage. You should read it all.

    3)  I asked Ron Brownstein via Twitter if Romney could have saved himself with Hispanic voters by making Marco Rubio his running mate. Ron, who is the world's leading expert on the Hispanic vote, said that Romney probably finished himself for good when he suggested that immigrants self-deport.

    4) Is this is a mandate? A negative mandate, maybe. If the Republicans had managed not to alienate Hispanics, and managed not to provoke a 13th-century debate about rape, Romney might have won, and the Senate would have more Republicans.

    5) Smart move, Indiana Republicans, ditching Richard Lugar, one of the finest senators of the past 50 years, and replacing him with a schmuck as a Republican nominee. (I know I promised Sister Mary I wouldn't use the word "schmuck" as an epithet anymore, but I can't help myself sometimes.)

    6) There are people in my Twitter feed, and in my in-box, who think that Chris Christie is some sort of Democratic plant. Apparently, Dick Morris is blaming Christie for Romney's loss. Ridiculous, but then again, there's this: If Romney had shown an ability to connect emotionally with middle-class people and their problems, he would have had a fighting chance. Chris Christie is one of those Republicans who actually knows how to connect, as he has shown over the past difficult week in New Jersey. So: You can blame Chris Christie for not teaching Romney how to be more like Chris Christie, I guess.

    7) Speaking of my in-box, I found this gem earlier from one Reed Rubinstein:

    Well done. When Iran nukes Tel Aviv and leaves Israel a smoking ruin,
    as Obama and the rest of you sit by in faux anguish (the real risk to
    peace, after all, are apartments in Har Homa (a neighborhood built on land taken in 1967 by Israel), perhaps you'll find time for tshuva (repentance) while you wait in line for your free Obamacare or at your next Springsteen concert.

    I understand that Obamacare death panels will soon be meeting at Springsteen concerts, as his fan base ages.

    I'm not sure what motivates Mr. Rubinstein, but if he actually thinks that Jews who supported Barack Obama don't care about Israel's safety, then he hasn't been listening to his fellow Jews, or to Obama. I'll have more on what Obama's second-term holds for the Iran, and for Middle East peacemaking, in a later post. But: There's no reason to think that Obama will fundamentally alter the U.S. relationship with Israel now that he's won reelection, for two reasons: 1) Congress, and the American public, won't let him; 2) He's not actually anti-Israel, but pro-Israel (read this for my definition of what a pro-Israel president looks like), so why would he? I don't imagine Obama actually paying that much attention to Israel (to the peace process, and to settlements, specifically) in the near future. He saw Bill Clinton end his second term in utter frustration over the peace process.

    8) This video, of Benjamin Netanyahu congratulating Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel (btw, mazel tov, Dan, on keeping your job) is just super-awkward, and I love Netanyahu's closing line: "Now I'm going to offer you a hamburger."


  • 'I'm Keeping My Eye on Virginia,' the Palestinian Refugee Said

    What they're watching in Amman

    I doubt that one in 10 -- or one in 20 -- Americans could name the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, or the prime minister of Jordan, or the president of Nigeria, whose name is very easy to remember. And yet, tonight, in Amman, I fell into conversation with a group of Palestinian-Jordanians who seemed to be reading RealClearPolitics (or Molly Ball) every single day.

    I was hoping for a discussion about broad themes in American foreign policy -- such as, for instance, will any American president come up with a suitable plan for eventual Middle East compromise? Or anything having to do with the Muslim Brotherhood, or Iran. But all these guys wanted to talk about was the electoral map. How many votes does Ohio get? Why is New Hampshire so important when it's so small? One of these guys, an engineer (and a refugee from the West Bank) said, "I'm keeping my eye on Virginia." I asked him why. He said he read on FoxNews.com that Virginia was key this year.

    This is just a reminder to Americans, who seemed, especially during this campaign, to forget that the rest of the world exists, and matters, and that people in virtually every country around the globe care immensely who becomes the president of the United States. One of the people I was speaking with said something else that struck me: "Your elections are very polite. The candidates are very polite." I expressed surprise, and asked him, compared to what?  "Syria," he said, and laughed.

    One thing, though: Not one of these men had an opinion, one way or the other, about Nate Silver. So there are limits to their knowledge.

  • How Would Obama and Romney Handle a Zombie Invasion?

    I want a president equipped to handle the sort of emergencies -- natural and man-made -- that seem to be coming at us at a faster and faster rate.

    For those of you haven't yet gone to the polls (readers outside the U.S. -- please don't go to the polls, it just wouldn't be right), and for those of you who haven't decided on a candidate (and what, by the way, is wrong with you? How indecisive can you be?) I wanted to suggest that you read my Bloomberg View column, which asks the most critical question of all: Which of the two men who want to be president is better equipped to vanquish a zombie uprising?

    (Okay, the second-most important question, the first being, "How will this election affect Nate Silver's reputation"?)

    I've become a bit of a zombie obsessive, thanks in good part to The Walking Dead (about which I'm in a great dialogue with The Atlantic's J.J. Gould and Scott Meslow) and I was a bit surprised that Bob Schieffer didn't ask either candidate to discuss their plans for zombie-neutralization (I'm not surprised that Jim Lehrer didn't ask the same question, because Lehrer -- well, you know the rest of the joke). The attacks of 9/11, and Katrina, and the great recession, and now Sandy, have made this question particularly pertinent: What I want most of all in a president is someone equipped to handle the sort of emergencies -- natural and man-made -- that seem to be coming at us at a faster and faster rate. From the column, which features the thoughts of Daniel Drezner, the Tufts University professor who is the Walter Lippman of zombie policy:

    The mother of all 3 a.m. phone calls would begin like this: "Mr. President, very sorry to wake you, but it seems that a devastating pathogen has reanimated the dead and turned them into cannibals, and now they're feasting on the living, especially in the swing states of Ohio and Virginia. Would you like me to assemble those members of the Cabinet who aren't eating their deputies?"

    A zombie invasion, although a low-probability event (only for the technical reason that zombies don't exist) represents, in the words of Daniel W. Drezner, the author of "Theories of International Politics and Zombies" and a Tufts University professor, "the perfect, protean 21st century threat -- it's terrorism and biowarfare and pandemic rolled into one."

    Drezner argues that zombies are a prism through which we can understand how governments react to supreme emergencies -- of obvious relevance in an era when disaster seems to be visiting us with great frequency.

    (...)

    One problem a president would face, Drezner says, is that the zombie crisis, like so many today, might begin ambiguously: "When it emerges, it will be very, very hard to define exactly what the threat is."

    "The problem with the undead is that they pose a nightmare for interagency policy coordination," Drezner says, noting the large number of federal organizations that would be required to fight the zombies.

    So which candidate would be better equipped to make the decisions necessary to thwart this threat? To answer that question, we have to understand each man's vision of the role of the federal government.

    Romney, we already know, isn't exactly enamored of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; we can assume he won't be doubling the budgets of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health, the organizations that, with any luck, would find an antidote to zombification.

    Obama, on the other hand, thinks the federal government should play a primary role in disaster management, and that government is generally a force for good. But there is a downside to overly generous federal spending: Drezner argues that the chance that a zombie pathogen could escape from a government laboratory grows as federal spending increases.

    To read the rest, click here.

  • When Andrew Sullivan and I Agree

    He's wrong about plenty -- but not about everything.

    Yesterday, I wrote the following:

    "Is an American president 'pro-Israel' if he neglects to mention to the Israeli leadership his worries about Israel's future as a Jewish-majority democracy, in which freedom of speech is sacred and the rights of minorities are protected? Is it 'pro-Israel' to not point out the various demographic, moral and security challenges presented to Israel by the continued expansion of settlements on the West Bank?"

    Andrew Sullivan made this his "Question of the Day," which caused several Goldblog readers to issue complaints, like this particularly trolly one:

    "I don't know if you noticed, but Andrew is approvingly citing your questioning of how to define pro-Israel. Doesn't it bother you that Andrew, who hates Israel, is citing you approvingly? How can you be pro-Israel if Andrew Sullivan is agreeing with you?"

    Obviously, in general, I think Andrew has become hyperbolically anti-Israel, but just because he tends to exaggerate Israel's faults (or, more to the point, because he presents an oversimplified picture of the Middle East, and of American foreign policy in the Middle East) doesn't mean he's wrong about everything. And if he has come to the conclusion that the continued settlement of the West Bank poses an existential threat to Israel's future as a Jewish democracy, well, what I am supposed to do? Tell him he's wrong? Why would I do that? He's right. 

  • 'The Most Important Election of Our Lifetimes'

    If you're an American, the election may be a big deal. If you live overseas, it probably won't change much at all.

    I just ran into an old friend of mine in the lobby of an Amman hotel who said something cutting and true-sounding about the American election. This old friend is Palestinian, from the West Bank, who now works in a completely different conflict zone for an international NGO. He asked me why everyone keeps talking about tomorrow's race as the "most important election of our lifetimes." I said that this is partially campaign rhetoric, but partially rooted in reality -- the two men running for president have fairly different visions about the role of government in the lives of Americans on issues of health care, taxation, and so on. His response: "For the rest of the world, this is the most important election of our lifetimes only if you're three years old."

    His argument, which isn't actually disputable, is that Romney and Obama really do resemble each other in many ways in their approach to the world.  On the important questions facing the region I'm currently visiting, there's really not that much difference between them. Continued support for Gulf monarchies -- check. Continued support for Israel and its qualitative military edge -- check. Continued use of drones -- check. Continued use of foreign aid as a policy tool -- check. Continued sanctions on Iran -- check again. I happen to think that Obama would be more effective next year in managing the Iran crisis than Romney would be, but their opinions on the issue aren't so fundamentally different.

    Both Obama and Romney are, in some ways, pragmatic moderate Republicans, of the sort that used to exist in great numbers. (Really, how much different is Barack Obama from George H.W. Bush on many issues?)  I don't agree with my friend on much -- he would like to see Israel sanctioned and isolated, for instance -- but I don't think he's wrong to assume that American foreign policy won't shift much, no matter which man wins.

  • Why Obama Is Better for Israel Than Romney Is

    It's not that Romney isn't devoted to Israel, or to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, so much as the type of devotion he expresses.

    I'm in a transit lounge in Paris, heading for hotter places, but I wanted to put down a few thoughts about the presidential election and the Middle East. Forgive the choppiness; I have to get on a plane shortly. Maybe I'll write more when I arrive. Or maybe I'll just collapse in an Ambien heap.

    Last week, in a dialogue with the sometimes-dyspeptic but always thoughtful Yossi Klein Halevi, I argued that Israel's bipartisan support in America is under threat:

    If Romney wins, and if Benjamin Netanyahu stays in power in Israel, I can almost guarantee you that you will see a melting away of whatever Democratic support there is for tough action against Iran, and a melting away of whatever liberal support there still remains for a strong America-Israel relationship. American support is a pillar of Israeli national security policy. Israel cannot thrive - and maybe it can't survive - in a Middle East dominated by a nuclear Iran. But it will also have difficulty surviving without American support, and I'm telling you, medium- to long-term, Israel could be in trouble in the U.S.

    I believe I was somewhat hyperbolic in asserting that a "melting away" of liberal support for a strong America-Israel relationship is almost guaranteed (Yossi can get me going), but I think the underlying truth remains: Republicans have had a good deal of success turning Israel into a partisan issue, mainly by misrepresenting President Obama's record (but also helped by certain Obama missteps), and if they continue to press their case, many Democrats will find supporting Israel distasteful -- they will lump supporters of Israel in the same category they reserve for climate-change-denying anti-choice Obamacare haters. This would be very dangerous for Israel.

    Maybe it's all going to happen anyway: Israel, after all, is moving rightward (it has a foreign minister, the second-most powerful man in Israel, who would be a more appropriate office-holder in Putin's Russia than in a liberal democracy), and there is no hope on the horizon for a two-state solution. Forty-five years of occupation has had a cumulative effect on Israel's reputation among progressive-minded people. The narrative long-ago shifted -- when I was a kid, the Israel Day parade in New York was a carnival of liberalism: unions and civil rights groups and secular people of all shapes and colors, standing up for plucky little Israel. Now, it's more and more an Orthodox parade, and support for Israel is strongest among conservative evangelicals, many of whom do not know actual Jews but have a theological vision of what Jews are, and what they should be.

    A few months ago, I interviewed my friend Kurt Andersen, the novelist, here on Goldblog, about his latest book, "True Believers," in which Israel plays a small but highly symbolic role. In 1967, Kurt's very not-Jewish family in Nebraska threw a party to celebrate Israel's victory in the Six-Day War. The feeling that inspired that party, he said, has dissipated:

    For sure Israel remains vastly more popular among Americans than any country in its part of the world. But that's a very low bar. A few years ago at a swank Manhattan dinner party I got in a serious shouting argument with a Brit who'd said that Israel was a worse country than its neighbors. Americans have not yet become reflexive Euro-style anti-Israelites in significant numbers. But the country has gone in my lifetime from being our bestest non-European buddy, our spunky amazing inspiring heroic pal, to being...a friend, a friend who's in a tragic and terrible tight spot, a friend most Americans these days would prefer not to think too much about.

    I think it is true that Israel remains popular across a large swath of America. I also think it's true that this could change, as it already has among many liberals, including among some liberal American Jews. Barack Obama, who is pro-Israel -- let me repeat that: Barack Obama, who is pro-Israel -- has done a lousy job managing the peace process, and a lousy job understanding, and manipulating, Benjamin Netanyahu, but he has done a stellar job defending Israel's fundamental rights against many foes -- including from the podium of the U.N. General Assembly --  and he has done an outstanding job making sure that Israel receives the highest-level military cooperation with the U.S. possible. Mainly what he has done is try, quite strenuously, to remind Democrats why their party has traditionally supported a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

    I don't doubt that Mitt Romney is devoted to Israel, and I don't doubt that he's committed, in his own mind, to stopping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. But the question here has to do with the type of devotion he expresses, and with his ability to actually stop Iran. I've argued before that Romney would face some obvious problems in the crisis with Iran: His foreign policy team will be inexperienced; as a Republican, he would face extraordinary opposition from a revitalized anti-war movement and from Democrats in Congress; he himself doesn't want to gain the reputation George W, Bush gained for himself, and so on. Obama, as I have argued in this space, over and over again, is in a better position to carry through his promise to keep Iran from going nuclear, and he has proven he is cold-blooded enough to use force if he thinks American interests are at stake. As he has said, over and over again (including in this space), he believes it is a "profound" American national security interest to stop Iran. In the matter of Iran, I believe Israel is better off with Obama in the presidency.

    There is one wrinkle: I've also argued that the Iranians may be more apt to believe that Romney is crazy enough to attack them, and so they might be more apt to negotiate an end to their nuclear program for fear of a Republican president (there's not much evidence available to suggest that the regime is frightened of Obama, in part because Obama has been undermined on occasion by members of his own administration who have publicly labeled the military option a terrible idea. It may be a terrible idea, but it doesn't help Obama's negotiating position when his own employees say so publicly). One reason to discount a potential Romney-is-crazy-like-Nixon ploy is that I have serious doubts about whether the Iranian regime will give up its nuclear program, no matter who is president.

    One final-for-now thought, that runs counter to a certain prevailing narrative about what it means to be pro-Israel. I'll pose it as a question: Is an American president "pro-Israel" if he neglects to mention to the Israeli leadership his worries about Israel's future as a Jewish-majority democracy, in which freedom of speech is sacred and the rights of minorities are protected? Is it "pro-Israel" to not point out the various demographic, moral and security challenges presented to Israel by the continued expansion of settlements on the West Bank? Obama did a poor job, in his first term, helping Israelis analyze their existential dilemmas, save the existential dilemma posed by an Iranian bomb. But if wins, he could try to re-set (to borrow a term) his relationship with Netanyahu, and he could raise the sort of questions privately that need to be asked. (I'll address the issue of whether putting public daylight between Israel and America is a good, or bad, thing, from an instrumental, not moral, point of view, in a later post).

    If I thought that Romney were willing to ask these hard questions about Israel's future, I would be more apt to suggest that he would be good for Israel. But there's no proof that he would engage Netanyahu in this sort of dialogue.  Being pro-Israel means many contradictory things these days: Standing against Iran's annihilationist impulses; defending the justice of the Jewish national liberation movement; thwarting the jihadist desire to hurt Jews. But it also means finding a way to help Israel think through the consequences of its policies on the West Bank, before it is too late. The truth is, Israel isn't best served by either Romney or Obama. What it needs is a concentrated dose of Bill Clinton. 

  • So, Israel Nearly Attacked Iran in 2010; Who'd a Thunk It?

    More evidence of Netanyahu's determination to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

    From Jodi Rudoren

    An Israeli news channel reported Sunday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked the Israeli military in 2010 to prepare for an imminent attack on the Iranian nuclear program, but that their efforts were blocked by concerns over whether the military could do so and whether the men had the authority to give such an order.

    The report, by the respected investigative journalist Ilana Dayan, came in the form of a promotional preview for an hourlong documentary about Israel's decision-making process regarding Iran, which is scheduled to be broadcast Monday night. Ms. Dayan said on the channel's evening newscast on Sunday that Mr. Netanyahu, in a meeting with a small circle of top ministers, turned to Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the Israeli Defense Forces at the time, and told him to "set the systems for P-plus," a term meaning that an operation would start soon.

    (...)

    Mr. Ashkenazi was quoted saying of the P-plus order: "This is not something you do unless you are certain you want to execute at the end. This accordion will make music if you keep playing it." But Mr. Barak told Ms. Dayan that "it is not true that creating a situation where the I.D.F. and the country's operational systems are, for a few hours or for a few days, on alert to carry out certain operations means the state of Israel is compelled to act."

    "Eventually, at the moment of truth, the answer that was given was that, in fact, the ability did not exist," Mr. Barak said in the clip that was shown on Sunday.

    I would point Goldblog readers to this story in The Atlantic, "The Point of No Return," from 2010, in which I suggested that Netanyahu and Barak were quite serious then about launching an attack. The new Ilana Dayan report makes the case that Netanyahu and Barak were ready to order the strike, but the now-deposed Gabi Ashkenazi and Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, fought back vociferously. The most interesting suggestion in the previews of this blockbuster report comes from Barak, who is quoted as sayng: "Eventually, at the moment of truth, the answer that was given was that, in fact, the ability did not exist."

    A kind of generals' coup in reverse -- the ultimate argument the IDF high command has against an Iran strike is that it can't pull it off. This is not a position uniformly held in the IDF; some of the generals I spoke to in the spring and summer of 2010 believed the Israeli Air Force could successfully attack Iran's nuclear facilities. This issue will remain murky for some time, but it does raise the obvious question, to which people have only partial answers: Has the Israeli security establishment shifted from this position privately? Publicly -- or at least, outside their command posts -- the IDF leadership says today it can pull off a strike. But maybe this is a bluff.

    What is not a bluff -- and what, apparently, was never a bluff -- was Netanyahu's determination to launch a strike. 

  • The Lieberman Threat

    Former Israeli negotiator Uri Savir thinks that the current Israeli foreign minister has no feeling for democracy.

    Not Joe, the other one. It's very hard to argue with this, from Uri Savir, who thinks that Avigdor Lieberman has no feeling for democracy:

    The good thing about Liberman is that he never hides his views; he says what he means. The dangerous thing is that he actually means what he says. If he could, he would outlaw much of the left-leaning civil society, as he attempted in his party's legislative efforts. He is racist toward Arabs, as exemplified by hundreds of statements and by the legislation attempt on - "no loyalty, no citizenship." He threatened to bomb the Aswan Dam in Egypt (2001) and to depose Mahmoud Abbas (2012). These are his real aspirations and now, if elected, he can pursue them.

    The new Likud Beytenu alliance has turned these elections from a referendum on policies to one on the very nature of our socio-political system. A Netanyahu-Liberman victory would endanger our very democratic and Jewish nature, isolate us regionally and move the clock forward on a binational state which would be boycotted the world over.

  • Christie and Springsteen, Updated

    I look forward to watching Chris Christie introduce Springsteen at a Stone Pony benefit concert in the near future.

    Well, Bruce showed himself to be magnanimous last night during a concert in Rochester. He said from the stage:

    "We're a band that you can't separate from the Jersey shore -- still basically a glorified bar band... at your service! So we're gonna do this tonight from our hometown to your hometown. We'll send this out to all the people working down there: the police officers, the firemen, and also to the Governor, who has done such a hard job this past week."

    I look forward to watching Chris Christie introduce Springsteen at a Stone Pony benefit concert in the near future.

  • Why Exactly Is Chris Christie Subverting Mitt Romney?

    Chris Christie is love-bombing President Obama -- the man he labeled clueless just last week -- and Maureen Dowd is asking why.

    Chris Christie is love-bombing President Obama -- the man he labeled clueless just last week -- and Maureen Dowd is asking why:

    White House officials seemed a bit flummoxed by Christie's bearhug. "It's unnerving," one laughed, noting how odd it is that a Romney big gun might help break the stubborn tie in the electorate in Obama's favor.

    They speculate that Christie, who always puts Christie first, has decided that it's better for his presidential ambitions to be a maverick blue-state governor with a Democratic chief executive exiting in 2016 than to have President Romney and Tea-Party Republicans in Congress pulling him over to the extreme right for the next eight years. He also knows he'll need a boatload of federal cash to make his state whole again.

    Here are three theories about Christie:
    1) The first, most benign theory: Christie, in my experience, is a deeply emotional and highly sentimental man, and he is torn-up about the devastation along the Jersey Shore. The support he's received from President Obama -- the support he receives from anyone -- at such a wrenching moment, makes him inordinately grateful. And President Obama has been extremely attentive.

    2) To add to Maureen's theory, Christie is an impatient guy, and the idea of running in 2016 is much more appealing to him than running in 2020. He will have faded from memory by 2020, in any case; plus Paul Ryan, who will have been vice president for four or eight years, would be a formidable challenger. For 2016, Christie is in the top-tier of Republican candidates. In 2020, who knows?

    3) Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen. (This story, by yours truly, explains why.)  Bruce Springsteen loves Barack Obama. Bruce Springsteen does not love Chris Christie. Being overtly supportive of Barack Obama might get Chris Christie his holy grail: The approval of Springsteen, even a meeting with him. Believe me -- he'd rather meet with Springsteen than with Obama, or anyone else.

    For what it's worth, I think the explanation for Christie's effusiveness is mostly 1) with some 2). The third explanation might be true at a more subconscious level. 

  • The Power of Credible Threats at Work?

    "The moment of truth" in the crisis over the Iranian nuclear program might have just been delayed by eight to ten months.

    Now, admittedly, Ehud Barak might not be the most reliable narrator of the Iran nuclear crisis, but his comments this week are still interesting:

    Barak told Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper that an immediate crisis was avoided when Iran chose to use more than a third of its medium-enriched uranium for civilian purposes earlier this year.

    He told the paper that the decision "allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by eight to ten months".

    "There could be at least three explanations. One is the public discourse about a possible Israeli or American operation deterred them from trying to come closer," he said.

    "It could probably be a diplomatic gambit that they have launched in order to avoid this issue culminating before the American election, just to gain some time. It could be a way of telling the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) 'oh we comply with our commitments'."

    Analysts say Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs if it were refined to a high degree, but may still be a few years away from being able to assemble a missile if it decided to go down that path.
  • Romney's Critique of Obama's Iran Policy

    It's been in the interest of Obama to paint Romney as a warmonger, and in the interest of Romney to paint Obama as an appeaser. But their Iran policies are not so far apart.

    Here is an example of the b.s. of all campaigns, everywhere. Just before last week's foreign policy debate, the Obama campaign sent out a bulletin entitled "Romnesia, Foreign Policy Edition," which contained the following bullet item:

    ROMNEY HAS ISSUED VOLATILE RHETORIC ON IRAN THREATENING "IF YOU WANT PEACE, PREPARE FOR WAR"

    Romney To Iran: "If You Want Peace, Prepare For War." "The United States needs a very different policy. Si vis pacem, para bellum. That is a Latin phrase, but the ayatollahs will have no trouble understanding its meaning from a Romney administration: If you want peace, prepare for war."

    Scary, no? Except that the idea of keeping the peace by preparing for war has been American doctrine, and everyone else's doctrine, for just about ever. Could you imagine a Romney campaign press release headlined: "Obama Secretly Orders Pentagon to Prepare for War in Persian Gulf"? This would be a perfectly true statement. So would "Obama Orders Pentagon to Prepare for War Against North Korea" and "Obama Spends Billions to Target World with Nukes." 

    I mention this only to make the observation that the Iran policies of Obama and Romney are actually not so far apart. They are both opposed to containment, they both support tough sanctions and they both hold out the option of military action should Iran continue down its current path.  It's been in the interest of Obama to paint Romney as a warmonger, and in the interest of Romney to paint Obama as an appeaser, but I think both of them are united in the idea that a military confrontation to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold may be necessary. Obama would go into 2013 with certain advantages -- as I've written before, I think Obama is more likely than Romney to move toward military action, particularly in the short-term, if the moment comes (which is not something that Sheldon Adelson wants to hear), but I've come to believe that there is a slightly better chance that the Iranian regime would show up for serious negotiations with Romney as president. 

    Why? President Obama has been undermined from time to time by his own team on the Iran question -- whenever a senior official of his administration analyzes publicly the dangers of a military confrontation to the U.S., we should assume the Iranian leaders breathe a sigh of relief, and make the calculations that Obama is bluffing on military action.  So far at least, Romney's people haven't undermined him the same way. In any case, the Iranians most likely believe that the Republicans are more bellicose. (Mind you, I don't think the Iranians are very much interested in making the deal the U.S. wants them to make, but this could change as sanctions become more punishing.)

    All this is a roundabout way of getting to the debate, and Romney's seemingly new emphasis on seeking a negotiated end to Iran's nuclear program. Like some hawks, and some doves, I asked myself if Romney was shaking the Etch-a-Sketch, and so I e-mailed him some questions about his Iran thinking. Here are some of his e-mailed answers, which appear in my Bloomberg View column today:

    "I have always talked about the diplomatic process," he wrote. "I will not rule out diplomatic options, so long as we would not be rewarding bad behavior and so long as the Iranian leadership was truly cornered and ready to change its behavior. A crumbling economy is not enough. Because even with a crumbling economy, the Iranian leadership is still racing towards a bomb right now."

    Romney went out of his way to suggest that the Obama administration plans to spring some sort of late-November surprise on America's Middle East allies, citing a recent New York Times report that Iran and the White House had agreed to face-to-face negotiations after the election (a report denied by the White House). "Our closest allies, like Israel, will not learn about our plans from the New York Times," Romney wrote. "And I'll be clear with the American people about where I'm heading. I won't be secretly asking the Ayatollahs for more flexibility following some future election."

    He also denied that his new emphasis on negotiations means that he would accept less than a complete halt to Iran's nuclear work: "To be clear, the objective of any strategy will be to get Iran to stop spinning centrifuges, stop enriching uranium, shut down its facilities. Full stop. Existing fissile material will have to be shipped out of the country."

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