My piece in Souciant this week understandably has generated some questions. The sort of thing in that piece is precisely the kind of thinking I often try to counter. And, under the current circumstances, where whatever the goals and motivations, Netanyahu and Barak are obviously trying to stir up fear and pressure through the media, it is a level head that is called for. It doesn’t help that the article came out around the same time as another blogger was embroiled in controversy, and opened to questions of having been manipulated by Israel’s hasbara efforts, over an obviously bogus document he presented as an Israeli plan for an attack.
Of course, I strongly considered the idea that I was falling victim to some sort of hasbara scheme. It’s possible that’s just what this was, though I don’t think so. Of course, if I thought so, we wouldn’t have this discussion in the first place, would we?
I don’t buy what my source told me whole cloth, in any case. As I stated repeatedly in the piece, I still don’t think Israel is going to attack Iran unilaterally. But where I was once 95% sure of that, now I’d say I’m 85% sure, because I do give some weight to what I was told. So why is that?
A reasonable question. Obviously, since I remain 85% sure, as I said numerous times in the piece, that the attack will not come off, I remain dubious. On the other hand, it did cause me to doubt my assessment more than I have in the past, and this is the case for a number of reasons.
1. The Source. Although I don’t know who the inside source is on this, the person I got it from is an someone I’ve known for a decade and who I trust very much. I also know, first-hand, that this person has genuine inside sources in the Israeli governmental and military establishment, and they have proven themselves sound to me numerous times over the years. Thus, even though the view I presented in my piece doesn’t line up well with my thinking, and I have serious questions about it, I can’t dismiss it out of hand.
2. The Sides In The Debate. Most of my fellow analysts, the ones I respect, am collegial with and I consider level-headed, have agreed with me all along that Israel won’t attack Iran. But there is an interesting split among analysts I am not personally familiar with: just about all the ones who have first-hand knowledge, or close to it, of Bibi and Barak are scared because they have all consistently affirmed that the B&B Boys are absolutely nuts on Iran, and therefore dangerous. That’s been bothering me for a long time. And this does explain it. Of course, so does the notion that such “insanity” is all part of the charade to get the US to take military action on Israel’s behalf. But that would depend on Oscar-worthy performances from both B&B Boys, something difficult to sustain for so long. Difficult, I say, but far from impossible.
3. Recent events. It is not surprising, of course, that pressure aimed at Obama would be ratcheted up as the presidential race moves into full gear. But what Barak did last week was nonetheless shocking. Leaking US intelligence and distorting its contents is something that has dire consequences, and Barak, with all his years of experience as both Prime and Defense Minister knows this very well. Just on a self-serving level, this is a man whose political future in Israel is nil and all he really had going for him was the fact that the US, Republicans and Democrats, loves him. While Congress will continue to embrace any Israeli official no matter how odious, he has burned his bridges with the military and intelligence communities and the Executive Branch, not just with Obama. Why would he do that? As a means to pressure Obama, this was, at best, a minor piece of the puzzle. This scenario offers some sort of answer to that.
4. The Israeli Domestic Scene. Bibi recently changed Cabinet procedures ostensibly to enable the Cabinet to move forward on matters despite the absence of some members, a genuine concern as this has produced some bureaucratic bottlenecks. But it also gives the PM leverage to manipulate votes, time them for when certain ministers will be absent, etc. And it empowers the PM to veto cabinet decisions, or override vetoes, pending further discussion. This can obviously affect decision-making regarding Iran, but such manipulation of that kind of decision would be suicidally perilous for any PM, no matter how secure. But it certainly serves to greatly enhance the PM’s power and ability to maneuver politically.
Bibi has been increasingly concerned about protests and the Knesset’s efforts to emasculate peace and human rights NGOs have stalled. One commenter on my article said that Bibi and Barak didn’t need to take radical steps since they already have the fascism they want. I disagree. The recent incidents of self-immolation, the continuing erosion of faith in Bibi’s ability to handle the Israeli economy, especially with a recession very likely in the near future, and other issues certainly show reason why a Prime Minister with fascist tendencies might be tempted to severely curtail democracy. Moreover, Bibi’s personal approval rates are falling and, while no serious contender for PM has emerged (Labor’s Shelly Yachimovitch isn’t close, despite the recent gains Labor has made in the polls), the looming elections in early ’13 could very well have the leading party with fewer than 20% of the Knesset seats, a potentially chaotic political environment. Bibi would probably be the leader of that party and would probably be able to form a government, but he would face pressure from many different directions in such a government.
Couple these with Bibi’s efforts to strip down Israeli democracy in general, and his recent turn toward rather amazing self-aggrandizement and these lend some credibility to a putsch theory. Again, I still am not sold on the idea, not even close. But these factors combine to remove the theory from conspiracy level fantasy to something I think at least deserves serious consideration.