An important crack in the wall: last night Chris Matthews hosted former spook Robert Baer, now of Time magazine, and NBC foreign correspondent Richard Engel and they both said that Israel is escalating hostilities with Iran to provoke Iran into an attack that will justify American military response. As Matthews said, oh, so they're trying to hook us into a war?
Baer is the leader of this conversation. He has no doubt that Israel killed the Iranian scientist (and Engel echoes). He has no doubt of the aim: war. Matthews seems to concur, but with a faked puzzlement.
That is the most curious part of the exchange, to me, Matthews's practiced innocence. At the end, he says the most important words, we'll be following this till the election. And in a signal to his bosses, he says, Because it's politics. It's not about Israel's divine right to exist. It's about the lobby playing out in our politics. I think that Matthews is telling the Comcast boys-- David Cohen, who formerly chaired the Jewish federations in Philadelphia, Matthews's home town-- that he has an obligation to cover this stuff because it's about America going to war and it's in the political campaign and that doesn't make him an enemy of Israel (Israel has plenty of enemies around the world, he has already said, here). But to the partial transcript:
Baer: It's undoubtedly the Israelis, it couldn't be anyone else. The Israelis as far as I can see are trying to provoke the Iranians into doing something.
Matthews: We are vulnerable over there. We have an American who has just been condemned to death for espionage.
Baer: What we're seeing is an escalation, Chris, and it's almost as if the intention is to get the Iranians to fire a missile at an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, which would cause a wider war.
Matthews: Why would that help us?
Baer: It wouldn't help us, it would help them... because the Israelis would force us into hitting the Iranians, hit them back, and that's exactly what they want.
Matthews (with virginal voice): Oh so it's the Israelis forcing us into this....
Engel: Incredibly hard sanctions on Iran [have the country] backed into a corner. If you want to hit Iran and you need a pretext to do that...the way to do that is by forcing your adversary into making some kind of aggressive move and everyone will think you're correct when you respond by force....
Matthews: This is moving toward creating a pretext for an eventual attack on nuclear facilities?
Baer: Oh absolutely... This is speculation... I know the White House doesn't want a war with Iran. But we see from all quarters, this pressure, this logic of war that keeps on marching forward... The Iranians [Baer means Israelis] look at it this way. They have a year or two [in which to act]... They can't be seen to be initiating this. So they keep on assassinating the people in Iran, you will get a reaction out of them that will look stupid... then the rest of the world will say, you know there's nothing else we could have done, except hit the Israelis [he means Iranians]....
Engel: The Israelis can't be seen, or it's very difficult for them to be seen, as drawing first blood... Killing a 32 year old scientist who worked in procurement is not going to stop the program... They've so far killed five people...
Matthews: How can the U.S. not see this as adversarial by Israel to try and hook us into a war? If that's seen to manipulate that into a war we don't want to get into, how can we not see that as from an ally, hostile? ... Bob, you're saying that Israel is trying to provoke the Iranians into attacking.
Baer: If we're attacked, it gives Israelis and the Americans, it puts us on the same side to hit the Iranians. They need our Air Force.
Matthews. We're going to be hearing about this from now to election day. I just read Elliott Abrams in the Wall Street Journal. All the politics are on the table now. It's all involved in politics and not just the survival of Israel down the road.
Baer argues that the impact on the nuclear program itself is likely to be so minimal, it is unlikely to be the aim of the murder campaign.
"It's a provocation," he says. "My theory is that Israel couldn't get the White House to agree to bombing. It is not satisfied with sanctions, so the Israelis are trying to provoke the Iranians into launching a missile and starting a war."