On the Nature of Israeli Spin

A response to Yossi Alpher's contention that this month's Atlantic cover story fell prey to an Israeli public relations campaign

Yossi Alpher contends that the forty or so Israeli leaders and strategists I spoke to for my cover story on Iran (please see this fascinating debate about the piece here) -- the ones who, collectively, helped me come to the conclusion that there is a better than 50 percent chance Israel will try to strike Iran's nuclear facilities by next year at this time, if everything remains more or less the same as it is now -- were spinning me. Here is part of his argument:

First, he cites the consensus assessment of the 40-some Israeli decision-makers, past and present, that he spoke with, to the effect that "there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July", then adds, "They were not part of some public-relations campaign." I beg to differ; they were. Most of these people knew exactly whom they were talking to and how influential he is in certain circles in Washington. Most of them without a doubt believe that it is possible to influence President Obama's ultimate decision--if and when sanctions fail--as to whether the US itself should attack Iran. They understand (as Goldberg himself notes) that the US can do the job far better than Israel and that an Israeli attack not coordinated with Washington that Goldberg writes about would be disastrous for Israel's relations with the US as well as the rest of the world.

Unless I'm mistaken, Yossi Alpher was not in the room during any of these forty or so interviews. He offers no proof that these men (and a couple of women) were part of a concerted public relations campaign. Even by the standards of the Interwebs, this is quite a leap for him to make.

It's not a leap without any merit, however. Everyone, of course, spins. I was not the target of a campaign, however. I say this in part because I spoke to many people outside the current Israeli command structure; because many of the people I spoke to hate other people I spoke to and these people disagree on everything; because many of the meetings were background interviews held against the wishes of the official power structure; because many of the people I spoke to didn't know with whom I was speaking; and, of course -- to counter one of Alpher's mistaken assumptions -- I didn't speak only with people who support a strike on Iran. In other words, I tried, imperfectly, I'm sure, to take into account the fact that some people would try to spin me. (And, by the way, my editors here at The Atlantic, who are not, to the best of my knowledge, perfidious Zionist neocon fifth columnist dual-loyalist warmongers, were also aware of this, and we did, collectively, build some countermeasures into the process.)
It is true that some policymakers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, especially those who want the U.S. to do what they think Israel might not be able to do itself, were trying to convince me that Israel is poised to strike. This, by the way, is a tactic used to good effect by the Obama Administration itself -- the Chinese government is more cooperative on sanctions precisely because Administration officials -- Dennis Ross, and others -- have warned the Chinese that the Israelis are more than willing to strike Iran unilaterally.

But it is another thing to assume uniformity among my informants. Some of them told me that it is a near-hundred percent certainty that Israel would strike by next year. Another told that it was a ninety percent certainty that Israel would strike Iran in October, just before the American mid-term elections. And others told me that the chance of an Israeli strike is near-zero. I accepted the fact, going into this story, that people everywhere (not only in Israel, but in the Gulf, most certainly, and also in the White House) would try to spin me in a self-interested way. I tried to take this into account.