The Israeli case for war in ‘The New York Times’

US Politics
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Obama in Oval Office Feb  13 photo by Pete Souza
Obama on telephone, Feb 13, White House photo by Pete Souza

An extraordinary op-ed in the New York Times today is entitled “Israel’s Last Chance to Strike Iran.” Written by Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, the article deepens the impression that members of Israel’s security establishment have a faucet at the Times which they can turn on at pleasure. Thus on the eve of Netanyahu’s AIPAC visit, Yadlin observes with alarm that Israel cannot bomb Iran as effectively as the U.S. can; yet if President Obama waits much longer, Israel will be forced to act alone. Israel, however, is willing follow Obama’s schedule provided it gets “ironclad American assurance” that he will bomb when a moment arrives on which the two countries have agreed in advance.

This is discussed in public, in a famous American newspaper. For what purpose if not to soften American opinion? The New York Times is helping one more war after Iraq and Afghanistan–a war against Iran–to become for us an everyday fact, an
understood arrangement.

A similar proposal of war was floated in the Times a little over three weeks ago, in an op-ed entitled “To Weaken Iran, Start with Syria.” The author, Efraim Halevy, was director of the Mossad from 1998-2002. He asked his American readers to recognize the good sense of his idea that the U.S. combine with Russia to overthrow Assad and install a mutually agreeable puppet regime in Syria. Like the follow-up suggestion by Yadlin, that earlier argument for an American attack on Israel’s behalf was presented in the language of emergency. It was an opportunity that the U.S. must seize or else–an “option” (as Halevy called it) which “we do not have the luxury of ignoring.”

The high strategy op-eds by luminaries of a foreign power, appearing so close together in the Times, deal with superficially different subjects but they are by no means incompatible. The first asks us to see an attack on Syria as a logical way station to the bombing of Iran. The second concedes that, given “ironclad American assurance,” Israel may be willing to wait a little longer before joining the U.S. against Iran. (Long enough maybe for the fall of Assad.)

Meanwhile President Obama continues a policy of minimal explanation concerning Israel and Iran. He gave a hostage to fortune and contradicted warnings by his
secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs when he
said that the U.S. was marching “lockstep” with Israel on Iran. Characteristically, as three years of his presidency have shown, Obama works by tacking and co-opting. He goes some distance to meet the most dangerous of demands, and seems not to have understood the impression of weakness which this pattern has infallibly conveyed. His counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, by contrast, moves rapidly, emphatically, and unembarrassed in the medium of American politics. He has the assistance of the jingo media of the far right but also the mainstream media. Is it wrong to suspect that Obama is entering his next encounter in a usual state of mind for him–passive, wishful, and ill-advised?

About David Bromwich

David Bromwich teaches literature at Yale. He is a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post and has written on politics and culture for The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and other magazines. He is editor of Edmund Burke's selected writings On Empire, Liberty, and Reform and co-editor of the Yale University Press edition of On Liberty.

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