The New York Times fed the hysteria 3 months ago with this cover story. Now Israeli leaders have given it permission to staunch the hysteria
The Israel/Iran story is suddenly exploding (as my friend Ilene Cohen puts it). The solid argument for war that Israel and its friends built in the last year is crumbling. What follows is the latest news. And let me highlight a topsy-turvy theme underlying these accounts: the Israeli discourse is driving the American one.
Most importantly, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (who authorized the slaughter in Gaza) yesterday joined the chorus of prominent Israeli critics of the rush to war. He attacked Netanyahu in New York, and was booed by Americans for doing so. Ann Barnard in the Times reports on a conference held in Manhattan by the Jerusalem Post:
Drawing boos from a largely American audience in New York, he fired off a wide-ranging broadside against Mr. Netanyahu’s foreign policy, saying that the prime minister was unprepared to offer meaningful compromise to Palestinians, disrespectful to the United States and dismissive of the international community at a time when Israel particularly needs foreign support to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons...
some in the crowd peppered Mr. Olmert with shouts of “Naïve!” and “Neville Chamberlain!” and booed loudly when he called for a less confrontational stance toward President Obama, whose political opponents Mr. Netanyahu has openly courted.
This difference among Israeli leaders is giving American leaders permission to step away from the missiles. James Risen in the Times:
After a winter of alarm over the possibility that a military conflict over the Iranian nuclear program might be imminent, American officials and outside analysts now believe that the chances of war in the near future have significantly decreased.
They cite a series of factors that, for now, argue against a conflict. The threat of tighter economic sanctions has prompted the Iranians to try more flexible tactics in their dealings with the United States and other powers, while the revival of direct negotiations has tempered the most inflammatory talk on all sides. A growing divide in Israel between political leaders and military and intelligence officials over the wisdom of attacking Iran has begun to surface.
Obama surely deserves credit for ratcheting down this craziness; last month he boldly denounced "loose talk" of war. But he did so politely, while deferring to Netanyahu. As Gideon Levy observed at the time, America was the ant, Israel the elephant.
The American conversation on this question of war has been-- except for an entertainer, Jimmy Kimmel, calling Netanyahu a yahoo-- far more restrained than the Israeli one. "Are Israel's leaders coming down with mad Jew disease?" Chemi Shalev asks in Haaretz-- a question you would not see from an American columnist, it would get him fired.
And what do the three outgoing heads of the revered [Israeli] security services, hitherto the most widely-respected experts on these matters in the international arena, have to say about [our leadership]? That Israel is being run by a couple of morally-lapsed loony-tune leaders who hear voices in their heads while laughing themselves silly mouthing the words “two-state solution” and who pour over the maps of bombing runs over Iran while quoting General “Buck” Turgidson from Dr Strangelove to each other: “I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”
Yes and who made the argument for those Strangeloves? Ethan Bronner, on the front page of the New York Times, two months ago, wrote the following slop:
Israeli intelligence estimates, backed by academic studies, have cast doubt on the widespread assumption that a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would set off a catastrophic set of events like a regional conflagration, widespread acts of terrorism and sky-high oil prices.
And of course Jeffrey Goldberg also made the case for war. At the Atlantic, strong Jim Fallows, obviously disturbed by this recent campaign, politely challenges Jeffrey Goldberg to concede that the bomb-Iran threat is receding:
It has been convenient for Benjamin Netanyahu to present the following maxims to America:
- If you care about Israel's security, you must agree with me;
- If you don't agree with me (about bombing Iran, settlements, etc), it therefore follows that you must not care about Israel's security, and further that you probably are callous about the lessons of the Holocaust and the welfare of Jews worldwide.
This argument is bad from America's perspective, because it presents a glossed-over version of disagreements within Israel. I think it's not just bad but dangerous from Israel's perspective, since an Israeli attack would drag the US into a war our own military and political leadership opposes -- and which, we now can see, many influential Israelis view in the same way.
To bring this back to my one question for you: Is it right to think that the odds of an Israeli strike are lower than they were a month ago?
Note that Fallows grants Jeffrey Goldberg power. And why: because he has power. Again, my question: Why is the bomb-Iran threat receding in the press? Not because of American realists like Steve Walt and Zbig Brzezinski-- or Mike Mullen and David Petraeus--who objected to these war plans from the start. No, because the Israeli consensus is shattering. And that Israeli consensus was, as Fallows implicitly concedes, driving the American discourse.
How did it drive the discourse? Through the offices of the Israel lobby, including the zealots who cried Neville Chamberlain at Olmert yesterday, and including the likes of Goldberg, who mouthpieced hysterical thinking to the American mainstream.
Consider that just three months ago the New York Times Magazine ran an incendiary cover story, Israel Vs Iran, When Will It Erupt? with an image of fire on its cover. The article was written by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman.
Would the Times publish such views now that the Israelis are defecting? Why did it publish those views then?
Here is some of the slop the Times ran in its ad for the story:
"For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged, the conditions for an Israeli assault have been met. With all other options for containment exhausted, will Israel attack Iran. And when?"
Gary Sick wrote, brilliantly:
Will Israel Really Attack Iran? The real answer is no, they will not. But you would never figure that out by reading the New York Times.
The sensationalist article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine (Jan. 29) adds to the hysteria surrounding U.S. and Israeli relations with Iran. Ronen Bergman, a columnist with the leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, concludes that Israel will probably attack Iran this year.
And the issue, I insist, is why Gary Sick has less influence in the U.S. discourse than a crazed Israeli journalist.