The odds of an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities within the next year have risen to above 50 percent, according to a report in a leading U.S. magazine.
In a lengthy article in the latest edition of a monthly magazine, "The Atlantic," Jeffrey Goldberg concludes that the possibility of an attack has increased amid concerns among Israeli officials about President Barack Obama's readiness to act against the Iranian nuclear program, which Israel and the United States believe is geared to producing a nuclear bomb. Iran insists the program is peaceful.
Based on interviews with policymakers whom he asked about the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iranian installations in the near future, Goldberg judges there is a "better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July."
Israel's disquiet over what it perceives as an existential threat is so great, he concludes, that it may even do so without asking Washington's approval.
The assessment is based on interviews with dozens of Israeli, U.S., and Arab officials, including Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Israeli policymakers estimate Iran is, at most, one to three years away from acquiring "nuclear breakout capability," which is defined as the ability to build a missile-ready nuclear device within about three months.
Goldberg assesses as unlikely the chances of Iran's nuclear aspirations being foiled by economic sanctions, Western sabotage, the replacement of the current regime by the pro-reform Green Movement, or a U.S. attack ordered by Obama.
"What is more likely, then," he writes, "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, Binyamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F0-15Es, 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."
Goldberg predicts that Israeli officials will explain that they decided to act because Iran is ruled by a religiously fanatical regime bent on Israel's destruction and posing the gravest threat to the Jewish people since Hitler. "They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice," he writes. "They will not be asking for permission because it was too late to ask for permission."Any Delay Worth It
The long-delayed, Russian-built Bushehr nuclear plant could also be a target.
An Israeli bombing campaign would target nuclear facilities at Natanz, Qom, Isfahan, and possibly even Bushehr -- where Russia has been helping Iran build a reactor -- according to Goldberg.
The aim would be set back the Iranian nuclear program by three to five years.
While U.S. officials have cautioned that a military strike would be unlikely to do more than delay Iranian nuclear efforts, Goldberg concludes that Israel and the United States are "talking past each other" on this issue. "The Americans consider a temporary postponement of Iran's nuclear program to be of dubious value," he writes. "The Israelis don't."
In support of that thesis, he quotes an unnamed Israeli cabinet minister describing how in 1981, Israel's then-prime minister, Menachem Begin, ordered the bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak despite being told that it would set the program back only one year.Forcing U.S. Action
Such action against Iran could have catastrophic consequences, Goldberg says, including "lethal reprisals and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians and possibly Arabs and Americans, as well."
It could also create an unparalleled crisis for the Obama administration, rupture Israel's relations with the United States, inadvertently strengthen Tehran's theocratic regime, send oil prices spiraling, cause a severe global economic shock, and possibly expose the Jewish Diaspora to revenge-driven terrorist attacks," he writes.
Goldberg quotes unnamed Israeli Air Force generals and strategists as saying they would prefer any attack to be carried out by the United States. He quotes one as saying: "Our time would be better spent lobbying Barack Obama to do this, rather than trying this ourselves. The Americans can do this with a minimum of difficulty by comparison. This is too big for us."
The article depicts Israeli policymakers as preparing to take military action reluctantly only because they are unconvinced that Obama would be prepared to do so, despite the U.S. president's repeated assertions that all options remain on the table.
Goldberg says the Israelis are also unconvinced of Obama's sympathies for the Jewish state. One official is quoted as comparing him to "J-Street Jews," a reference to a liberal American Jewish organization. "If he is a J-Street Jew, we are in trouble," the official says. "We are worried that he thinks like the liberal American Jews who say, 'If we remove some settlements, then the extremist problem and the Iran problem will go away.'"
If Not Bush, Why Obama?
But Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst with the Israeli-based Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company, dismisses Goldberg's scenario as "nothing new" and ridicules the possibility of Israel attacking Iran without U.S. help and permission.
"I think that's very unlikely because Israel tried to do that during the [President George W.] Bush era and Bush turned it down, and Bush was a sworn ally of Israel. Obama is somewhat more objective in his support of Israel and even less likely to condone such an attack," Javedanfar says.
Some analysts have ridiculed the idea of a solo Israeli strike.
"With U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, if Israel were to do this without permission and there were U.S. casualties, it would put an unbearable strain on relations between Israel and the U.S."
According to several accounts, in 2007 Bush dissuaded former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert against sanctioning a strike on Iran's nuclear installations.
Javedanfar thinks the underlying goal of the Israeli officials Goldberg quotes may be to frighten Iran into compromising, while persuading Russia and China to apply sanctions more stringently.
"The other target is the Iranian government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad," Javedanfar says. "The aim is to rattle their cage and it aims to scare them enough to bring them back to the negotiation table where they would accept President Obama's nuclear swap offer, which was made last October."
Writing in "Foreign Policy
," Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett accuse Goldberg of raising the specter of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran in an effort to manipulate Washington into just that.
They write that Goldberg's article "reveals that the case for attacking Iran -- especially for America to attack so Israel won't -- is even flimsier than the case Goldberg helped make for invading Iraq in 2002, in a 'New Yorker' article alleging that 'the relationship between Saddam's regime and Al-Qaeda is far closer than previously thought.'"
Calling for U.S. rapprochement with Iran's Islamic regime, they add: "Obama will not achieve greatness by acquiescing to another fraudulently advocated and strategically damaging war in the Middle East. He could, however, achieve greatness by doing with Iran what Richard Nixon did with Egypt and China -- realigning previously antagonistic relations with important countries in ways that continue serving the interests of America and its allies more than three decades later."