Tony Karon writes:
The reason TIME.com’s intelligence columnist Bob Baer this week found himself cast as the unintended source for “authoritative” claims that Israel is about to bomb Iran, is precisely because what he said had been speculative comments inadvertently played into the game of bluff at the heart of the matter. Bob saw an implicit warning in the unprecedented public comments last month by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former Chief of Staff, Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi warning that Israel attacking Iran would be an act of spectacular self-destructive folly — and lamenting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were both prone to such reckless whims. The likes of Dagan and Ashkenazi don’t bluff, Bob reasoned, and Israeli reports even suggested they may have directly blocked military action by their political masters. By speaking out, they seemed to be explicitly warning the Israeli public that Israel’s elected decision-makers were strategically incompetent, and needed to be reined in by more sober heads.
If these respected securocrats were willing to tempt the wrath of Israel’s government to sound the alarm, they must surely be trying to stop something that was in the works. And Bob’s history as a former CIA operative allowed some media outlets to cast what he insists was simply his analysis of what was being said in public as an authoritative claim that Israel was about to attack Iran.
Such an attack remains highly unlikely in the near term, of course, and Dagan even said as much, indicating that there were no imminent plans for a strike. But the centerpiece of Israel’s Iran strategy has been to cultivate the belief that if sanctions and other pressures fail to force Tehran to yield, Israel will feel compelled to go to take military action, even without U.S. backing. Israel said nothing at all before its 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, but scarcely a month has passed over the past three or four years without some new report calculated to create the impression that it was planning air strikes in Iran. The main line of criticism of Dagan in the Israeli camp did not challenge the content of what he said — that bombing Iran would be a catastrophic mistake, plunging Israel into a war it couldn’t win but from there would be no exit; instead he was pilloried for giving the game away.