The internet has been burning up with responses to Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic cover story on the likelihood that either Israel or the United States will preempt development of an Iranian nuclear bomb by attacking its atomic sites. Goldberg does not flat-out endorse bombing Iran. Rather, after numerous conversations and briefings with US and Israeli officials, he concludes that there is at least a 50-50 chance that bombs will fly in a year or so. Goldberg himself does not take a position on whether bombing is warranted or justified. But, given the way he frames the article and his personal closeness to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu -- who speaks in apocalyptic terms of the existential danger a nuclear Iran poses to Israel -- it is clear that Goldberg sees no alternative to preventing an Iranian nuke, by whatever means necessary. And that includes war. Strangely, however, the article itself makes clear that the ramifications of a military attack could be dire. Here is the Goldberg scenario:
When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center Esfahan and possibly even the Bushehr reactor along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel - regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran's centrifuges and warheads and missile plants or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran's nuclear program - they stand a good chance of changing the Middle east forever; of sparking 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; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington which is Israel's only meaningful ally; and inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysm highs; launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; of accelerating Israel's conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted person into a leper among nations.
That is some worst-case scenario -- it basically concedes that Israel and Jews everywhere might pay the ultimate price -- especially given that not one of the possibilities Goldberg enumerates is improbable. Read it aloud to anyone and they will assume that it is written by someone who has ruled out the war option. Given all this, why would Israel or the United States even consider risking this set of horrors? Simple. Because, according to the "Bomb Iran" crowd, a nuclear-armed Iran, would almost surely attack Israel thereby destroying the Jewish homeland once and for all. If one accepts this premise, the hawks have little choice but to, at the very least, consider the bombing option. The attack could be dubbed "Operation Never Again." Except the premise itself is wrong, nonsensical even. That is because the one gigantic factor that the hawks a d neocons ignore is that Iran, even if it wants to destroy Israel, can only do so at the price of losing Iran itself. Iran does not yet have a single nuclear weapons. Israel has some 200, including sea based missiles that would give Israel the second-strike capacity that would destroy Iran even after Israel itself is gone. But, the neocons say they believe that the Iranians are just crazy enough to give up their civilization -- and all their people -- in exchange for the joy of taking out Israel. No matter that nations don't act that way. (It is hard to imagine that even Hitler would have initiated the Final Solution if he knew that the price was losing Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich). No matter that Iran under the mullahs has not only avoided taking anything close to suicidal actions but has been a cautious and almost conservative international actor. No matter that the world manages to exist with nuclear weapons in the hands of such truly irrational actors as the North Korean regime and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan's. No, the Mad Bombers would have one believe that Iran is unique -- given its religion and all that --and is hence crazy enough to trade its own existence to end the existence of some other nation. This is garbage, pure and simple, and one has to be duplicitious or irrational to believe it. So what are Israel and the neocons here really afraid of? The answer is obvious. So long as Israel is the only nuclear armed power in the Middle East, it can do whatever it likes whenever it likes. When it decides to attack Lebanon or Syria, no other power is in any serious position to object. When it blockades Gaza, year after year, no one can tell Israel to stop. When it attacks a relief ship in international waters, no one can do anything to make it cease and desist. Should it up and annex the West Bank without providing its people any democratic rights, the world would stand helpless knowing that the United States Congress, in hock to the lobby, would back Israel 100%. A nuclear Iran changes the equation, not because Iran would use its bomb but because Israel suddenly will have to take into account that the Arabs have a powerful ally, a very powerful ally. An ally that could not simply be ignored. That is the reason Israel is so vehement about an Iranian bomb, not because Iran would use it but because, just like Israel, it would have the ultimate "don't f--k with us" tool.
The whole Iran nuclear issue is about Israel retaining exclusive control of that tool. Regional hegemony. Nothing more. Nothing less. The United States should do everything it can (short of the use of force) to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons but it will not succeed unless and until it can provide Iran with something that makes Iranians feel that they are not condemned by us and the Israelis to second class status. That means we should take the military option off the table and begin the process of full unconditional negotiations with Iran that would address all the issues between the two countries -- the nuclear issue, support for terrorism, threats against Israel and our nonstop efforts to destabilize and overthrow the Iranian regime. (It should be overthrown but by the Iranians, not us. Considering our history with Iran since overthrowing Mossadegh, we are the last people with any right to get involved in Iran's domestic affairs).
The Bomb Iran nuts won't consider negotiations (unless they end in the outcome they insist upon: Israeli hegemony) because, for them, Goldberg's worst case scenario (dead Israelis, dead Iranians, dead Americans, dead Arabs, etc) isn't that terrible. They can live with all that to preserve Israeli hegemony.
Basically, it is they who would sacrifice Israel, and thousands of Americans too, to preserve Israel's ability to do whatever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever it wants. And if Israel disappears in the process, well... Better a dead Israeli superpower than a secure, living, thriving safe haven for Jews living within its internationally recognized borders (the '67 lines) but one without the ability to dominate its neighbors.
Bottom line: the mad bomber neocons actually hold the worldview they ascribe to the Iranians. It is not the mullahs who are suicidal. It is them. It's called projection.