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.
He draws this fearful conclusion after recounting his discussions with key Israeli military and intelligence officials, present and former, who describe to him in great detail: (1) why Israel is incapable of conducting such an attack; (2) why such a foolhardy action would fail to stop Iran’s nuclear program; and (3) why it would actually leave the situation far worse than it is now.
Not only is his conclusion at odds with virtually everything he produces as evidence, but there are some omissions in his analysis that regrettably have become predictably routine in talking about the Iranian nuclear program:
He darkly quotes “the latest intelligence” about the number and current activity of Iran’s centrifuges. Where did he get that secret information? Well, just like you or me, he can read the periodic reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which are published on the web virtually the same day they are handed to member states.
How did the IAEA get that “intelligence?” Not hard: they have inspectors in all the sites where Iran is producing enriched uranium. These inspectors, who make frequent surprise visits, keep cameras in place to watch every move, and they carefully measure Iran’s input of feed stock to the centrifuges and the output of low enriched uranium, which is then placed under seal. You would think that would be worth mentioning, at least in passing, but it gets overlooked by virtually every journalist writing on this subject.
Like virtually all other commentators on this issue, Bergman slides over the fact that the IAEA consistently reports that Iran has diverted none of its uranium to military purposes. Like others, he focuses on the recent IAEA report, which was the most detailed to date in discussing Iran’s suspected experiments with military implications; but like others, he fails to mention that almost all of the suspect activity took place seven or more years ago and there is no reliable evidence that it has resumed. A problem, yes; an imminent threat, no.
Bergman also overlooks the fact that Iran has almost certainly NOT made a decision to actually build a bomb and that we are very likely to know if they should make such a decision. How would we know? Simply because those pesky IAEA inspectors are there on site and Iran would have to kick them out and break the seals on their stored uranium in order to produce the high enriched uranium needed for a bomb.
Would Israel actually attack while these international inspectors are at work? No, they would need to give them warning, thereby giving Iran warning that something was coming. The IAEA presence is a trip wire that works both ways. It is an invaluable resource. Risking its loss would be not only foolhardy but self-destructive to Israel and everyone else.
Bergman’s dramatic statement that “I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012,” is also nothing new — it simply changes the date. We heard the same thing a year ago from Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, and two years before that from uber-hawk John Bolton, who confidently predicted that the U.S. and/or Israel would strike Iran before George W. Bush left office. It is becoming almost an annual ritual.
Why do these false alarms keep going off? Bergman suggests an answer with disarming honesty: “Some have argued that Israel has intentionally exaggerated its assessments to create an atmosphere of fear that would drag Europe into its extensive economic campaign against Iran…” To this, the ubiquitous “senior American official” adds that “It is unclear if the Israelis firmly believe this or are using worst-case estimates to raise greater urgency from the United States.” In other words, Israel benefits by keeping the pot near the boiling point so that no one can ignore the Iran issue, even for a moment.
If that is true, then Israeli strategists and American hawks should be overjoyed at Bergman’s analysis.