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Two Very Different Takes on Iran

In two major national magazines this week, there are simultaneous articles on the confrontation between Israel and Iran over the latter’s probable development of nuclear weapons. The articles in The Atlantic and The New Yorker are written from two separate countries, but they could just as well have come from two different planets.

For his lengthy Atlantic piece, reporter Jeffrey Goldberg talked to more than 40 current and former Israeli military and civilian officials. He says there is a consensus that there is better than a 50 percent chance that Israel will strike Iran by next July — if the Islamic Republic is seen being three months away from assembling a nuclear bomb that could fit on a missile.

That strike could come without permission from the United States, even though the Israelis realize it might only postpone an Iranian bomb and create untold havoc in the region and beyond. In other words, some deadly serious business being discussed by the country’s top leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who talked at length with Goldberg shortly before returning to the premiership.

In striking contrast, New Yorker reporter Jon Lee Anderson, making an increasingly rare visit to Iran by a Western journalist, paints a picture of an Iranian leadership almost cavalier in its dismissal of Israel and whatever risks their own country might be facing. Their cocky self-confidence is bolstered by the awareness that they have crushed, at least for the forseeable future, any moderate or liberal internal opposition.

Also behind their relaxed attitude is the assumption voiced by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others that there is no way the United States would become embroiled in a third conflict in the Middle East and Muslim world. And from the perspective of Tehran, there is no difference between Washington and Jerusalem.

But much of Goldberg’s article is devoted to the politically and emotionally fraught relations between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government. He asserts that Israel ultimately will be driven by its leaders’ assessment of the country’s security, that Iran poses the gravest threat to the Jewish people since Hitler.

The national interests of the United States and international interests of an American president are clearly wider than that.

Curiously, these articles from the two Mideast capitals come as diplomatic Washington has been most recently absorbed by statements of President Obama and his top aides that a political opening with Iran looks more promising than ever because international sanctions are finally starting to bite seriously into the Iranian economy.

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