Andrew Sullivan's Preoccupation With Israel

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Andrew writes:

My colleague (ed. note -- that would be moi) writes the following sentence:
Since we all know that only Israelis and their neocon supporters in America seek a military attack on Iran's nuclear program, Bahrain must be under the control of neocons.
This is a preposterous distortion of the opposition to all-out war against Iran. It has been extremely well known and debated for years that the Sunni Arab autocracies fear and despise the idea of a Shiite or Iranian nuclear capacity as much as (if not more than) the Israelis do.

Well, no, not really. I've written about this issue, but, as Omri Ceren points out in a useful summary, many of America's leading Middle East experts (not Andrew's bogeyman, Dennis Ross, mind you) have argued that the Sunni Arab states adamantly oppose any sort of military confrontation with Iran. This includes the estimable Marc Lynch, who wrote an article for The Atlantic in response to my recent Iran cover story in which he stated: "The hostility to Iran in various Arab circles should not lead anyone to believe that Arabs would support an attack on Iran by the U.S. or Israel, however. While Arab leaders would certainly like Iranian influence checked, they generally strongly oppose military action which could expose them to retaliation. Iran hawks typically make far too much of the private remarks of selected Arab regime figures..."

These leaked cables do suggest otherwise.

Andrew is upset, I think, because this Wikileaks dump suggests that some of the most insistent agitators for military action against the Iranian nuclear program are Arabs and not Israelis, and Andrew, for whatever reason, tends to frame this issue in an overly binary way -- meaning, the warmongering Israel-first AIPAC/Neocon/Likud combine vs. Iran, whose nuclear program doesn't seem to frighten him as much as it does, well, nearly every country within missile range of Teheran, and many countries beyond missile range as well.

Andrew goes on to write (or, more accurately, quote from a previous post of his), "Why would Netanyahu not be more willing to make concessions on illegal settlements, in order to bolster relations with the US and the Sunni Arab states that are crucial to Israel's strategy to isolate Iran and weaken Hezbollah and Hamas?" On this question, I share Andrew's confusion. Netanyahu has an opportunity here (and has had it for some time) to build bridges to the Arabs on the most crucial issue of all -- Iran -- by signaling willingness to make significant compromises on the settlement issue, which he hasn't done. On the other hand, this Wikileaks treasure trove suggests perhaps that Netanyahu has known all along that the Arab regimes pay lip service to the Palestinian issue while obsessing over Iran.

By the way, in an earlier post, entitled "Israel's Imminent Threat" (in Andrew's recently-adopted understanding of the Middle East, Iran is more of a passive player than Israel, despite its support for organizations working for Israel's destruction -- and, I would remind readers, Iran seeks Israel's physical elimination, while Israel really doesn't care what happens in Iran as long as it leaves Israel alone), he links to an even earlier post in which he says, in reference to one of the leaked cables, "If we take (Ehud) Barak's word for it, the Israelis could launch World War III within a month. And would carry much of the Sunni Arab autocrats with it." 

This puts me in a strange position of being anti-alarmist on the question of an Israeli attack (and, of course, on the issue of whether this could be World War III; an attack could lead to a wider war, or it couldn't; I don't know, though, as I detailed in that cover story this summer, all sorts of bad consequences could flow from an attack by either Israel or America, as well as one possible good consequence -- the neutralizing of Iran's nuclear program). In my cover story, I stated that there was a better than 50 percent chance that Israel would strike Iran by next July, if all conditions remain the same. But they haven't, as I've posted in this space in recent days -- the Obama-led sanctions regime may be proving effective (I think Andrew would agree that Obama has done a magnificent job of rallying international support for tough sanctions) and in particular, the Stuxnet virus seems to have slowed down Iran's centrifuges dramatically, and now I tend to think that there is a less than 50 percent chance Israel will strike by next July. And by this Christmas? Well, nothing ever surprises me anymore about the Middle East, but this would surprise me.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/11/andrew-sullivans-preoccupation-with-israel/67099/