Media roundup: An imminent strike on Iran?

Some commentators compare the escalating rhetoric on Iran with the lead-up to the 2003 war in Iraq.

Israel Netanyahu
Israeli leaders are regularly cited in western media calling for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities [GALLO/GETTY]

An Israeli attack on Iran is imminent; at least that’s what someone reading much of the Western media might think these days.

As Iran continues to develop its nuclear energy programme, some policymakers and commentators in the west say that the Islamic Republic is really after a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has responded calling the claim an “absurd lie” and condemned the use of nuclear weapons as “against Islamic rules”.

Robert Gates, the former US secretary of defence said that an attack on Iran would be a “catastrophe,” and Meir Dagan, the former head of the Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, also warned against an attack saying Iranian President Ahmadinejad is “rational”.

Despite this, some Israeli leaders continue to call for an attack, while US President Barack Obama refuses “to take any option off the table”. 

‘Iranian servant’

In February, US General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: “I don’t think a wise thing at this moment is for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran…”

Dempsey continued, “…we are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor.  And it’s for that reason, I think, that we think the current path we’re on is the most prudent path at this point.”

The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Dempsey’s comments drew condemnation from Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who have been leading the calls for an attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

One Israeli official went as far to say that Dempsey’s comments “served Iran”.

“The Iranians see there’s controversy between the United States and Israel, and that the Americans object to a military act. That reduces the pressure on them,” the official said.

Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan, who runs the blog Informed Comment, called on Barack Obama to condemn the Israeli officials’ comments against Dempsey and said Netanyahu’s calls for war were aiding the Iranian government:

“It is, of course, Netanyahu who serves the purposes of the Islamic Republic of Iran. His sabre rattling has gotten Iranians’ back up and killed what was left of the protest movement. Iranians are very nationalistic and won’t risk a division in their ranks when they are under the gun from an outside power.”

Attack to setback

In a January/February Foreign Affairs article titled “Time to attack Iran”, Matthew Kroenig, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that waging attacks on Iran would benefit global security:

“The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.”  

In February Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli pilot who took part in the bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, opined in the New York Times in favour of an attack on Iranian nuclear sites. Yadlin wrote that any attack would delay an Iranian nuclear weapons programme by a “few years”.

Yadlin also highlighted the 2007 attack on an alleged nuclear site in Syria:

“After the Osirak attack and the destruction of the Syrian reactor in 2007, the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programmes were never fully resumed. This could be the outcome in Iran, too, if military action is followed by tough sanctions, stricter international inspections and an embargo on the sale of nuclear components to Tehran. Iran, like Iraq and Syria before it, will have to recognize that the precedent for military action has been set, and can be repeated.”

However, Yadlin’s argument was refuted by Colin H Kahl, former US deputy assistant secretary of defence for the Middle East. In a Washington Post article, Kahl warned against an attack – saying that Yadlin and his comrades’ bombing of Osirak actually backfired and encouraged then President Saddam Hussein to speed up his weapons programme:

“By demonstrating Iraq’s vulnerability, the attack on Osirak actually increased Hussein’s determination to develop a nuclear deterrent and provided Iraq’s scientists an opportunity to better organise the programme. The Iraqi leader devoted significantly more resources toward pursuing nuclear weapons after the Israeli assault.”

Kahl’s argument was supported by Israeli author Amos Oz, who recently told the Haaretz daily that an attack on Iran would serve as an incentive for Iran to build a weapon:

“Instead of moving ahead to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, they [Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak] are whipping themselves into a frenzy ahead of an attack on Iran. An attack on Iran will not be of much use, because you cannot bomb knowledge and you cannot bomb motivation, and the Iranians have both the knowledge and the motivation to make nuclear weapons. Even if an attack on Iran postpones the manufacture of nuclear weapons for a year or two, it will immeasurably heighten the motivation to use the weapons.”

A blast from the past

In March, Al Jazeera’s Listening Post, a programme that monitors global media, compared the talk of war in Iran with the run-up to the Iraq war ten years ago.

Host Richard Gizbert said in the show’s opener:

“WMDs, long-range nuclear missiles, terrorist sleeper cells and threats against Israel and the United States – those are all terms that the world grew familiar with in the months and years immediately after 9-11 and they are featuring once again in 2012, particularly on the American news media.

“This time it’s Iran, not Iraq, but the terminology is strikingly similar so are the misgivings of those who warn against an invasion and there are parallels aplenty in the way the media are conducting themselves.”

US-based Iranian-born journalist Jasmin Ramsey took the point further in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera comparing the current US president with former President George W Bush, who led the US to war in Iraq in 2003: 

“(Barack Obama) may have begun his term by trying to pursue a different path with Iran, but his acquiescence to domestic lobbying has made the results of his policies indistinguishable from his predecessor.”

The non-debate debate journalist Glenn Greenwald criticised US media’s skewed coverage of Iran, highlighting a number of articles in the New York Times that privileged Israeli voices while ignoring the Iranian perspective:

“For months, Americans have been subjected to this continuous, coordinated, repetitive messaging from Israeli officials, amplified through the US media. This is generally how the establishment American media conducts the debate over whether to attack Iran: here are Israeli officials explaining why an attack is urgent and why the US must conduct it.”

In his New York Times column, Nicholas Kristoff wrote that the media might be giving the false impression that there is a “genuine debate” among experts about whether or not to attack Iran.

“There really isn’t such a debate,” Kristoff wrote. “Or rather, it’s the same kind of debate as the one about climate change – credible experts are overwhelmingly on one side.”

Follow Matthew Cassel on Twitter: @justimage

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies