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Media Watch | Is Israel Truly 'Determined to Attack Iran' Before US Election?


21 Aug 2012 23:15Comments

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BibiOfficialsIRNA.jpg 11:15 p.m. IRDT, 31 Mordad/August 21 The Israeli media is once again filled with reports that a "decision" is about to be made on whether or not to attack Iran before the year is out. Over the past week, the tone was struck by a number of news items and editorials which indicated that Israel is on the verge of going it alone and launching an airstrike unless the United States holds it back. Israel's Channel 10, for instance, aired an "exclusive report" claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now "apparently determined to attack Iran before the [November 4] elections in the United States." If the Obama administration wishes to restrain Israel at this point, it would -- according to this narrative -- have to provide assurances that it will collaborate on an attack next year if no international agreement on Iran's nuclear activities has been reached.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu is arguing behind closed doors that "taking action to set back the [Iranian nuclear] programme is legitimate because [a] delay could give birth to numerous unforeseen developments" and that Israel should act even though it cannot expect to destroy the program. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren hint that an attack would be worth the risk because even slowing down the program's progress could set in motion the collapse of the Islamic Republic. "One, two, three, four years are a long time in the Middle East," the ambassador told an interviewer last week.

This talk -- broadcasting an official preference for regime change even as the P5+1 talks continue -- is a substantial departure from the silence that preceded Israeli Defense Force operations against Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. Has Israel decided to "condition" the media to an "inevitable" preemptive strike in 2012/2013, or this the same overhyped forecasting of an "imminent decision" that has been augured since 1992? Taking the latter view, Time's Tony Karon suggests that the "loose talk" is at least in part aimed at securing maximum concessions on sanctions. Indeed, as a 12-week period begins of which former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy claims Iranians "should be very fearful," it is worth observing how various media items could be aimed at compelling Israel's allies (and enemies) to take more seriously warnings that the use of force is imminent and thus accede to Israeli demands.

The center-right daily Maariv first reported that both the Obama and Romney teams had given private assurances to Israeli leaders that the United States would militarily back any Israeli attack on Iran. Channel 10 reported that President Barack Obama's top campaign strategist is arranging a meeting, perhaps as early as September 25, with Netanyahu at which the president "will assure Israel that the US will use force to stop Iran's nuclear weapons drive by next June at the latest if the Islamic Republic has not halted its program by then."

Maariv also reported that former Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai -- now ambassador to the People's Republic of China -- is pushing back on a censored television report in which Israel's top general said the home front was not ready for a military conflict. The government has denied suggestions that Vilnai's replacement, Avi Dichter, was selected to sway Netanyahu's cabinet in favor of an attack. Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister, declared of Dichter's appointment that "the prime minister is spearheading a mistaken, corrupt and cynical process." Turning directly to Netanyahu, Mofaz stated, "You are playing a dangerous and irresponsible game with the future of the entire nation." Meanwhile, the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom reported that President Shimon Peres's public denial that any attack would take place before the U.S. elections might constitute a "severe violation" of secrecy laws.

And while these reports and statements have been coming out, a series of editorials in both the American and Israeli media have offered the view that the United States must now take drastic steps to stop Israel before it acts unilaterally. Amos Yadlin, a former military intelligence director who now chairs the influential Institute for National Security Studies, told the Times of Israel that "the American threat has to be a great deal more credible" to stop Israel from attacking Iran in 2012. Ron Ben-Yishai, who writes for Yedioth Ahronroth, cites an unnamed "senior official in Jerusalem" to argue that if the United States wants to forestall an Israeli airstrike, it must commit to an attack on Iran's nuclear sites after November if "significant progress" has not been made toward resolving international concerns.

Former American diplomat Dennis Ross contends, in an interview with Al-Monitor, that Israel is not bluffing. "Before, they were trying to condition the rest of the world. Now [the public discussion is] much more to prepare the Israeli public if they act." In a New York Times op-ed, he outlines a series of steps that the United States can take "to synchronize the American and Israeli clocks so that we really can exhaust diplomacy and sanctions before resorting to force." Ross concludes, "Although some may argue that these actions will make a military strike more likely next year, they are almost certainly needed now in order to give Israel's leaders a reason to wait."

On the subject of Israel this past week, however, the Iranian press chose to focus on Quds Day, the state-sanctioned "Palestinian solidarity day" -- the date always coincides with the last Friday of Ramadan -- established in 1979 by the regime to protest the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. Solidarity events were held in cities all over the world, including Jerusalem itself. Iran's state-run Press TV reports that "millions of enthusiastic Iranian people held massive rallies in Tehran and more than 550 cities and towns" to "show Iranians discernment, loyalty to the Supreme Leader and Iran's support for Palestine." The Ministry of Culture proudly proclaimed through Fars News Agency that it would host an international conference on the "resistance, Islamic awakening and liberation of Palestine" in conjunction with the rallies. A number of hardline clerics, parliamentarians, and media outlets praised the embattled government of Syria and accused other Islamic countries of being "passive" and "indifferent" toward the Israeli occupation.

Amid the Quds Day events, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- whom Golnaz Esfandiari at Payvand reports is once more being subjected to intense criticism in conservative papers -- again called "the Zionist regime" a "cancerous tumor" and thunderously reiterated many of the anti-Semitic tropes for which he has become infamous. In turn, the Israeli press devoted a fair amount of column space to analyzing the Iranian president's -- and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nashrallah's -- bombastic comments in light of the nuclear question. Ahmadinejad's inflammatory statements are often cited by Israeli officials as a reason to strike Iran sooner rather than later.

Editor: Dan Geist

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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