Leave it to The New York Times to get in a grand “two-fer” and call it news.
Reporting yesterday on assessments by “officials and outside analysts” that the likelihood of a military conflict with Iran is waning, the newspaper made sure to assert that “a growing divide in Israel between political leaders and military and intelligence officials over the wisdom of attacking Iran has begun to surface.”
According to the nameless sources expressing the good news, “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.”
The “flexible tactics” referred to here involve Iran’s having sent a delegation to the 5+1 summit in Istanbul a couple of weeks ago to “talk” about uranium enrichment, and its willingness to return to the round table in Baghdad this month for further diplo-dialogue.
Indeed, such a loud sigh of relief was heaved in Washington after the summit in Turkey that it could be heard throughout the mosques and the Majlis (Parliament) in Tehran.
U.S. President Barack Obama has been in a bind these days. On the one hand, he cannot afford to alienate Jewish donors, some of whom are concerned that he is a bit too soft on Iran and a tad too tough on Israel. And while in Europe, figures like Gunther Grass are able to get away with saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a greater global danger than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, American-Jewish liberals haven’t gone quite that far yet.
On the other hand, the last thing in the world that Obama wants or intends to do is take actual steps against Iran; nor does he want or intend for Israel to do the dirty work. From the outset of his presidency, Obama has made it clear that his main goal as commander-in-chief is to make Muslims feel good about themselves -- and realize what a great friend they have in the White House.
He said as much in Cairo a few months after his inauguration, when he spoke before a Muslim Brotherhood-heavy audience, and used an Arabic form of address used in the Islamic world exclusively between Muslims.
He spelled it out for the head of NASA, whom he instructed to make it the space agency’s key mission to help Muslims feel good about their accomplishments in science and math. Most importantly, he has shown this to be his objective by consistently abandoning allies in the Middle East in favor of radical Islamists.
This is not to say that the U.S. president necessarily wants Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. But this possibility seems less daunting to him in an election year than arousing the ire of the people who determine the price of oil or those who have to pay for it at gas stations. And no ridiculous “energy-saving” schemes he keeps trying to cook up alter that fact.
Furthermore, preventing the ayatollahs from having a jihad-driven atom bomb at their disposal requires both the proper world-view and the guts either to bring about the toppling of the regime in Tehran or to strike its nuclear facilities. Obama and his administration have neither.
It is thus that they are so thrilled to be having a second meeting of the 5+1 countries with Iran this month to be persuaded that the latter isn’t building weapons, or, if it is doing so, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world -- no pun intended.
They figure that the worst thing that can happen to them in Iraq is an upset stomach from the hummus and hot peppers. But, hey, if it keeps the West satisfied that Iran only wants nuclear power for peaceful purposes, it will have been worth the diarrhea.
Which brings us back to The New York Times. Not only is it literally and figuratively on the same page as the Obama administration, but it has a stake in helping the king it was instrumental in crowning to curb Israel.
Netanyahu has articulated his position repeatedly, that the only thing more dangerous than taking out Iran’s nukes is not doing so. He has never said it wasn’t risky. Nor has he been as pushy about it as some of us would have liked. Unlike The New York Times, however, a majority of the U.S. Congress is convinced that he’s right. Even a growing number of American Jews see the wisdom of his words. And recent polls show that if elections were held today, he would win by a large margin.
This has been very inconvenient for Obama and his die-hard supporters. Israel has been getting in the way of their agenda.
Imagine how relieved they were when former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) director Yuval Diskin opened his mouth last week and refuted everything Netanyahu has been saying.
Taking his cue from former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who spewed similar vitriol when he left his post a few months ago, Diskin accused the prime minister and defense minister of lying about the effectiveness of a potential strike on Iran’s nukes. It is the subsequent outcry on op-ed pages in Israeli papers that The New York Times jumped on to claim that Israelis in the know are divided on this issue.
There is nothing new about Israeli generals and spy chiefs suddenly sounding like pacifist Peace Now-niks the minute they retire from their positions. Nor is it novel for hysteria to ensue when this happens. After all, if counter-terrorism specialists with inside info are telling us the score, we have to believe that they know what they’re talking about, right?
They are unemployed guys, ones who couldn’t talk about their work beforehand, looking for their next gig. This usually means politics. And in the Israeli political system, they can be catapulted into realistic slots on party lists if they play their cards right. Nobody provides better capital for left-wing parties than former military or security honchos. Proof of this lies in the huge amount of publicity Diskin has been receiving for his remarks.
Touche to The New York Times for using anonymous American experts, and a big-name Israeli one, to “report” that the world is still a safe place, and to provide the leaders in Tehran with a good laugh about the weakness of their enemies.
Ruthie Blum, a former senior editor at The Jerusalem Post, is the author of a book on the radicalization of the Middle East, soon to be released by RVP Press.