Whatever happened to that war with Iran?

Justin Elliot writes:

Last August, the Atlantic published a splashy cover story by Jeffrey Goldberg that led with a startling prediction: Israel would more likely than not launch bombing raids on Iran’s nuclear sites by July 2011, according to Goldberg’s mostly Israeli (and unnamed) sources.

Today is July 1, and there has, of course, been no attack. It’s worth looking back at the influential piece and considering what happened. Wrote Goldberg:

[A] consensus emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July. (Of course, it is in the Israeli interest to let it be known that the country is considering military action, if for no other reason than to concentrate the attention of the Obama administration. But I tested the consensus by speaking to multiple sources both in and out of government, and of different political parties. Citing the extraordinary sensitivity of the subject, most spoke only reluctantly, and on condition of anonymity. They were not part of some public-relations campaign.)

The piece, packaged with a provocative cover image and headline (“ISRAEL IS GETTING READY TO BOMB IRAN”) was the subject of intense debate when it came out. Glenn Greenwald here at Salon accused Goldberg of feigning “‘ambivalence’ about whether Iran should be bombed … while infecting the discourse with the kinds of factual falsehoods documented here, all in service of skewing the debate towards ensuring an attack happens.” Others like Clive Crook hailed the piece as “an amazing intellectual coup.”

A common critique of the piece was precisely what Goldberg tried to preemptively address in the excerpt above: that his Israeli sources, with the protection of anonymity, were overstating the possibility and imminence of an Israeli strike in order to persuade Washington to more aggressively pressure Iran, or even launch its own attack. As Ben Smith wrote at the time, the “unstated logic here [is] that, if Israel is going to bomb Iran, the U.S. might as well do it itself.” That critique seems to have been strengthened by the fact that the central prediction of the article didn’t pan out.

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