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On Iran, Five Minutes To Midnight

On Iran, Five Minutes To Midnight

If for no other reason, The Atlantic, and its national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, deserve much credit for putting the threat of a nuclear Iran front and center in the mainstream media, with Goldberg’s cover story this month, “The Point Of No Return.”

But there are other reasons to recommend this important article for wide discussion. It is as thorough and thoughtful as it is frightening, laying out a variety of scenarios about what can and should be done by the U.S. and/or Israel, if and when Teheran goes nuclear. (Former American Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says the deadline for military action is this weekend, when Russia loads fuel rods into the Iranian reactor, though most experts say one to three years.)

None of the alternatives described in the Atlantic article are good, with the risks in taking military action as sobering as the risks in allowing Iran to have the bomb.

Goldberg, a fearless reporter with extensive experience in writing about the Mideast and terrorism, interviewed more than 40 Israeli and American high-level government and military officials, and concludes that unless the U.S. acts first, it is likely Israel will launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites next spring.

He lays out the heavy consequences, noting that even a successful bombing of the main sites of Iran’s nuclear program could spark attacks on Israel from Hezbollah and Hamas, result in a full-scale regional war, “rupture relations” between Washington and Jerusalem, cause the price of oil to skyrocket and set off a global economic crisis, place diaspora Jews “in mortal danger” as terror targets, and make Israel “a leper among nations.”

But if the strike is successful, Goldberg notes, Israel will also have removed (or at least delayed) a frighteningly real and existential threat to its existence, and garnered the sincere (though private) gratitude of moderate Arab states as well as the U.S.

One of the key dilemmas Israel faces is trying to gauge just how far two world leaders — President Obama and Iranian President Ahmadinejad — are prepared to go in taking military action.

For now, the reasonable U.S. position is to impose sanctions on Iran and offer negotiations that would give the country a graceful exit in suspending its nuclear efforts. But Goldberg told The Jewish Week on Tuesday that “Iran loves nukes and will do anything to have them.”

What the White House has not discussed is what action, if any, it will take if its current strategy fails, as seems increasingly likely.

Goldberg told us he believes Israeli leaders are “more comfortable” with Obama now then they were six months ago, and there is a sense that U.S. national security experts are focusing deeply on a plan of action.

Israel would much prefer a U.S. military strike, not only because of America’s greater capability and ability to revisit targets, but because Jerusalem sees the Iranian threat as one that endangers all of the Mideast and the free world.

“Iran poses a much greater threat to Sunni Arab hegemony than Jews do,” Goldberg said.

For now, we must do all we can in support of the administration’s efforts to convince Iran to end its nuclear program voluntarily. But Washington needs to address what happens when that fails.

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