This ariticle appeared at the Sacramento News & Review on February 9, 2012.
Israel now estimates that Iran’s nuclear program is nine months away from “being able to withstand an Israeli attack,” which happens to be the same timeline as the U.S. presidential election. Meanwhile, a well-connected U.S. Pentagon adviser believes that Israel might give the White House only an hour or two warning before attacking Iran, “just enough to maintain good relations between the countries but not quite enough to allow Washington to prevent the attack.”
These troubling assertions were contained in a recent and authoritative article in The New York Times Magazine about a potential Israel-Iran confrontation. Written by the magazine’s Israeli correspondent Ronen Bergman, who has access to top Israeli leadership, the story reports that Israel believes three key conditions for starting a war may have been met.
First, that Israel can cause serious damage to Iran’s sites and “withstand the inevitable counterattack.” Second, that there is tacit support from the “international community,” particularly the United States, for carrying out an attack. And third, all other possibilities of containing the threat have been exhausted, and it will soon be too late to prevent.
Standing in the way, according to the article, is President Barack Obama, whom the Israelis suspect “has abandoned any aggressive strategy that would ensure the prevention of a nuclear Iran and is merely playing a game of words to appease them.” The same conclusion has been suggested elsewhere.
So the stage is set for nuclear brinksmanship in an American presidential-election year. The role of Republican candidates is to ensure that the second condition is met, that of “tacit support” for an Israeli strike, even if forced by political pressure. The balance of forces is lopsided at present, with most Americans worried about Iran and unprepared to resist a sudden outbreak of war, Congress—dominated by supporters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—and the media are not prepared to oppose a strike. A short “successful” war—a highly dubious prospect—would be accepted by American public opinion until serious consequences set in afterward.
Any public expression of protest against this war is far better than silence, of course. But the greatest opportunity for protest may be in the arena of the presidential-election drama now playing out. It is fair and accurate to say both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are collaborating, for political reasons, to push Obama into war during the presidential election, with Rick Santorum on the bench if needed.
The New York Times has also now documented, in a front-page story, the millions spent by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his Israeli wife to save Gingrich’s presidential campaign. Adelson was pleased when Gingrich, seemingly out of nowhere, recently condemned the Palestinians as “an invented people.” Adelson owns a newpaper chain in Israel supportive of the Netanyahu government and is a vocal opponent of a negotiated settlement.
No one in the mainstream media so far has written the story of Romney’s past consulting and business partnership with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu at Boston Consulting Group, but his campaign rhetoric echoes Netanyahu’s position, that Obama can’t be trusted to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. The Romney and Gingrich campaigns create an unrelenting pressure on Obama to support an attack on Iran with little countervailing pressure. But neither the Republicans nor the Israeli hawks are comfortable being charged with using political pressure to start a war.
Santorum, whose Republican ranking is third, is equal to Romney and Gingrich in his hawkish position toward Iran. Santorum has deep support from right-wing Christian groups who believe that war in the Middle East will hasten the Second Coming.
Avoiding war with Iran may be Obama’s best option in policy and politics, if he can navigate the campaign winds. The question is whether any organized force has his back.