War and rumors of war continue to bubble up in the Israeli press:

  • Israeli officials declare the sanctions against Iran are not working and urge Europe and the U.S. to agree. Since the harshest measures only went into effect in July, this seems a bit premature.
  • Defense Minister Barak cites U.S. intelligence showing that Iran has made significant progress toward a nuclear bomb. There is no confirmation on the U.S. side and Secretary of Defense Panetta says they do not have a nuclear weapon.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet with President Obama late in September and tell him that Israel will attack Iran before the November election. He expects the U.S. to join in. Will Obama have the guts to say No, I'm sticking with diplomacy?

How serious are these rumors? What is the point of their conspiratorial air? Would Netanyahu actually threaten Obama: Go to war or lose the election? More: August 18: Gary Sick, long-time Iran-Israel expert and professor at Columbia has this to say: "an Israeli (or American) attack would very likely leave the situation much worse than it was before taking military action. Israels security would not be improved; in fact, it might be imperiled by the negative response of even Israels closest allies. And Irans creeping approach to nuclear capability might turn into a sprint."This awareness of the day after effect has persuaded many security specialists that an Israeli attack would be the very definition of a Pyrrhic victory."UPDATE August 18: Stephen Walt: "the recurring talk of "closing windows," "red lines," "zones of immunity," and the like is a political ploy, designed to stifle diplomacy, strengthen sanctions, and gradually inch the United States closer and closer to a commitment to use force.The Israelis know that they cannot do the job themselves, and their larger aim is to keep attention riveted on Tehran (and not on settlement expansion) and to make sure that if war does come, the United States does the heavy lifting. In short, all this war talk is a bluff, but one can scarcely blame Israel for employing a tactic that keeps working so well.It's our fault we keep falling for it [bf mine]."UPDATE August 17: The Kabuki Dance continues: "It remains unclear to what extent Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak are serious about attacking, or whether the idea is more to use the credible threat of an attack to press Washington and rest of world into imposing tougher sanctions on Iran or even into declaring a commitment to American-led military action at some later date." NYTimes Does have the whiff of blackmail, does it not?Earlier links below the fold.Earlier Update: This from the Israeli Ynet: "Once every few years Israel needs a slap in the face to remember where it stands in the world. On Tuesday it was US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey who assumed the role of the responsible adult and slapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the duo orchestrating the national hysteria surrounding the possibility of an attack in Iran."Israel can "delay but not destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities," he said while sitting next to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who visited Israel a few weeks ago to allay the concerns of the leadership in Jerusalem." HT: Pat Lang, who comments on it...From Haaretz: A majority of Jewish Israelis oppose an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities without U.S. cooperation, and think it is unlikely Israel will soon launch a unilateral strike against the Islamic Republic, a poll released Thursday has found. Some 61 per cent of those questioned oppose an Israeli strike, compared to 27 per cent in favor, the poll by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University's Evens Program in Mediation and Conflict Resolution found.

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels is a former editor of Commonweal. 

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