Does the White House no longer think Israel has the guts to bomb Iran? That’s the implication of an explosive new piece by Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. While Goldberg’s well-sourced account is blowing up on Twitter for senior officials’ derisive descriptions of Netanyahu (“Aspergery”, “chickenshit”), their opinions (right or not) have strategic implications beyond the short-term media sensation:
“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not Rabin, he’s not Sharon, he’s certainly no (Menachem) Begin. He’s got no guts.”I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said that Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”
If this is in fact the conclusion U.S. senior officials have reached, their Middle East policy becomes clearer: The Israelis and the Sunnis are whiners who complain about U.S. policy toward Iran but are unable to do anything about it or come up with an alternative.
If the threat of Israeli military action is really off the table (and we should remember that this wouldn’t be the first time a U.S. administration misjudged Israeli intentions), then it’s very unlikely that a strong international coalition in favor of tough sanctions against Iran can long survive. Many of the European countries that have supported sanctions on Iran have been trying to deter Israeli military action as much as to influence Iran’s behavior. If Israel has missed its chance for military action, or is perceived to lack the will to take it, then as that perception spreads we will have to expect significant changes in the politics of the region and in the attitudes of the Europeans.
Israel may be at a critical turning point not only in its relations with the United States but in the way its power is perceived in Europe and in its home region.