Netanyahu Bluffed an Attack on Iran

Jeffrey Goldberg Helped Out

Shibley Telhami, at Reuters, says that the thing Israel hates about this deal, that it is focused on Iran’s nuclear weapons and not on regime change or its regional actions, is something that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu himself effected. In 2011-2012, Netanyahu convinced the Americans that he was determined to attack Iran, which would have been a disaster for the U.S. But in fact the gambit was a bluff by Netanyahu with two dread aims: to expose Obama politically in the U.S. election and/or cause the U.S. to strike Iran first.

The meat of Telhami’s analysis:

Netanyahu preferred U.S military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, over Israeli ones, from the outset. His calculus was that the key fear that could drive the U.S. debate to support military strikes on Iran was the timeline of Iran’s nuclear program — not Tehran’s support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

Netanyahu exaggerated the imminent nuclear threat as much as possible. Remember how many times, over the years, he cited Iran as being only six months away from a bomb? He gave the impression that Israel was prepared to take matters into its own hands by striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, even without U.S. backing. Initially, however, most analysts, including U.S. officials, believed he was simply bluffing.

There were many reasons why the United States didn’t take Netanyahu’s early threats seriously…

in the lead-up to the 2012 U.S. presidential elections. The Israeli pressure on the Obama administration to take action substantially increased…

Here was Netanyahu’s political angle:

It was no secret that Netanyahu preferred the Republican nominee for president, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. His pressure on Obama was seen to be playing into the Republicans’ hands.

More on the Israeli bluff:

The Israelis took steps in 2012 that portrayed as credible their threat to attack Iran – and inevitably drawing the United States into the fight. We don’t know much about the specifics, but reports revealed hints that the Obama administration was growing increasingly alarmed by Israel’s actions. The Netanyahu government was spending billions of dollars on a military buildup, as well as consolidating military cooperation with Azerbaijan near Iran’s northern borders.

Not until a year later were there whispered suggestions — including one from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — that Netanyahu had spent billions to make his threats look more credible to Washington rather than for serious military preparation.

What is clear is that the Israeli moves were taken seriously by the Obama administration, which shifted its assessment in 2012 as more high-level U.S. officials began to take the Israeli threat to attack as credible.

Even aside from the coming presidential elections in November, the prospect was seen as disastrous for Obama.

Telhami leaves out the assist that Netanyahu got from Jeffrey Goldberg. The same fella who wound up American fears of Saddam Hussein’s alleged chemical weapons and helped get us into that war wound up fears of Iranian nukes in an article for the Atlantic, in September 2010, confidently predicting an Israeli attack on Iran in the next year. Right in Netanyahu’s timeline!

“The Point of No Return” by Goldberg:

What is more likely [than a US attack on Iran] is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)

In these conversations, which will be fraught, 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.

That attack never happened… in spite of all the Hitler talk. Whether Goldberg was a willing tool or a dupe, who cares. He was very helpful to the Iraq war. Did you hear him on NPR in 2003?

ROBERT SIEGEL: So this man might personify a link conceivably between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

Mr. GOLDBERG: He is one of several men who might personify a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

It was partly because of all the Hitler talk about Iran that Obama acted to make this nuclear deal. Now we are being told that Iran’s actions in the region — supporting Israel’s enemy Hezbollah — and its very character are the real existential threat. Another bluff to sway the superpower?

Articles by: Philip Weiss

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