In the September Atlantic’s cover story, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg reports, “A consensus has emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July.” Specifically, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who “does not place great faith in sanctions,” is allowing the West’s efforts at non-military curtailment of Iran’s program to last through December, under the assumption that Iran could achieve capability as early as March 2011.
The Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.
There are several truckloads of reporting in the piece, and you should read the whole thing. (My favorite nugget: “[President George W.] Bush would sometimes mock those aides and commentators who advocated an attack on Iran, even referring to the conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol as ‘the bomber boys,’ according to two people I spoke with who overheard this.”) Goldberg explains that the consequences of an Israeli strike could be catastrophic for Israel, for the United States, and for the all-important U.S.-Israeli relationship. Netanyahu is aware of this, of course; if he goes ahead and launches the strike anyway, according to Goldberg, it will be because his father, Ben-Zion Netanyahu (profiled in Tablet Magazine by Jason Epstein), imbued his son with, in Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s words, “a deep sense of his role in Jewish history.”
At the piece’s close, Goldberg seems to come out against an Israeli attack. (For a comprehensive argument in favor of one, here is contributing editor David Samuels in Slate last year.)
Goldberg also argues that the Iranian regime’s consistent assertions of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are properly taken at face-value—meaning “that rational deterrence theory, or the threat of mutual assured destruction, might not apply.”
“Let me tell you a secret,” Netanyahu apparently jokes. “The American military is bigger than Israel’s.” Yet, though President Barack Obama has called a nuclear Iran “unacceptable” and has said nothing is off the table, most Israeli observers doubt he will actually strike Iran. In a crucial nuance, Goldberg reveals that while the United States and Israel actually do see quite closely on the dangers of a nuclear Iran, Israel seems to much more highly value the possibility of postponing that state of affairs.
More thoughts later as responses, inevitably, roll in.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.