Oil prices rose Nov. 6 to $95 a barrel, a more than seven-week peak, on heightened concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and rumors of impending Israeli military strikes on the Islamic Republic. The tensions come as the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report finding that Iran is capable of developing a nuclear weapon, although stopping short of saying it intends to do so. (Reuters, WP, Nov. 7) Days earlier, Israel successfully tested a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The Jericho 3 missile, fired from Palmahim air force base, was seen by tens of thousands of Israelis. Many called the emergency services and radio stations in panic, believing it was an incoming missile. Defense minister Ehud Barak said: “This is an impressive technological achievement and an important step in Israel’s progress in the missile and space field.” (Irish Times, Nov. 3)
The Guardian stirred fears Nov. 2 with a report that “Britain’s armed forces are stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran,” foreseeing the use of Diego Garcia as a staging ground by US forces.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who once told me he believes that Iran is led by a “messianic, apocalyptic cult,” is correct to view Iran as a threat to his country’s existence.
And yet, a preemptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could be a grievous mistake. For one thing, it may already be too late. The Iranians may have dispersed and hardened their nuclear program to the point that an Israeli strike would do only glancing damage. The Israeli Air Force, as good as it is, would be stretched to its limit by such an operation.
The morality of a strike, which could cause substantial Iranian casualties, would be questioned even by those sympathetic to Israel’s dilemma. Israel will have succeeded in casting Iran as a victim and itself as something of a rogue nation. The international isolation it would experience could be catastrophic in itself. A strike might also endanger Americans in the Middle East and beyond.
It seems like Goldberg is playing his cards more carefully than he did at this time a year ago, when he flatly predicted an Israeli attack on Iran by the end of 2010. In fact, speculation of an imminent attack on Iran has been raised in the media numerous times over the past several years.