Ronen Bergman’s article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine about the possibility or likelihood of an Israel-Iran confrontation did not present much new information that had not been printed in many other places previously, for those who have been following the story carefully. Bergman, however, pulled together considerable material into one coherent presentation together with some good interview notes. What was most important about the article—as opposed to other recent pieces on the same subject– was that it was the cover story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine. It thus was guaranteed a far larger readership than Jeff Goldberg’s deeply researched piece in September 2010 in the Atlantic Monthly (and his subsequent blogs and comments on the subject) or Matthew Kroenig’s piece in January/February Foreign Affairs or many of the other excellent articles that have appeared on the subject. The size of the readership for the Bergman piece is obvious and impactful. It was timed to hit readers just when the issue again is reaching a critical moment, as another U.N. inspection team is about to arrive in Iran.
There are two comments about the Bergman article which need to be made; one of omission and one unstated. First, the growing instability in Syria may well affect the timing of a possible attack on Iran. As long as there continues to be an escalating and chaotic situation in Syria, neither the Assad Government nor the rebels can or could deflect their attention to joining Iran in a serious response to an Israeli/West attack. The Syrian unrest removes at least one possible Arab response to an attack on Iran. For Israel, neutralizing even one likely point of reprisal is significant. It also may affect any Hezbollah or even Lebanese response to an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites and/or any Iranian retaliation.
Second, Bergman implicitly demonstrated the clear differences both in substance and style between Defense Minister Ehud Barak, one of the two most highly decorated soldiers in Israeli military history, and his former IDF colleague in the most elite military unit, Sayaret Matkal, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It is clear from Bergman’s presentation that Barak is far less ideological in weighing Israel’s choices. Barak seems to have a more sohisticated and balanced view both of the issues facing Israel and of the value of Israel’s American friends; while Bergman’s exposition implies that he believes Netanyahu is not nearly as open to alternative views.
While Netanyahu did not speak directly to Bergman, it is suggested that Barak must be acting as a moderating force in the most important inner security cabinet’s deliberations on Iran. Unstated as well was that Barak does not have another political contest to fight for which he must prepare. Barak, unlike Bibi, can act as a military strategist with the experience of politics, but without the need to placate a party or a coalition directly. Barak thus gives Netanyahu both a way out– should he need one– as well as political cover. At the same time he is totally free to offer a range of choices that Netanyahu might not be willing to consider in the critical decision-making period ahead.
Hopefully, Bibi will listen.