The editors of the Washington Post must be in funk as Mitt Romney’s chances for electoral success rapidly dwindle. Maybe that’s why they decided to indulge in their favorite fantasy: an imminent Israeli attack on Iran. But rather than bore themselves and their readers with the tedious ruminations of national security experts, they think the topic can be handled more colorfully through the medium of fiction, providing post-strike views from Washington, Tel Aviv, and Tehran.
Azadeh Moaveni’s effort in presenting the view from Tehran is commendable. Karim Sadjadpour and Blake Hounshell demonstrate why if either ever took a creative writing class they got an F, and the contribution coming from the Israeli criminologist, Anat Berko, is nothing less than delusional.
Berko writes: [After hearing explosions from incoming missiles] I bring my mother, who lives nearby, over to the house so she won’t be alone. Her 72-year-old face is lined from age and decades of worry and war. “They will never leave us alone,” she mutters. “Your father was in Iran for two years when he fled Iraq on his way to Israel. It was different then [under the Shah]; the Iranians loved us. Why did everything change?”
Together, with my three children, we go to our safe room. Almost every house in Israel has a room like this: a bomb shelter with thick, concrete walls, stocked with food and water, a radio, TV, and Internet, sometimes in the basement, but often a spare room used as a bedroom.
In late August the Israeli government distributed booklets on civil defense with the happy face of a muppet on the cover. They warn Israelis they would have “only between 30 seconds and three minutes to find cover and hunker down between the time air raid sirens sound and rockets slam into their area.” But the Los Angeles Times reported many Israelis don’t have anywhere to take cover:
Less than half the population has gas masks and only 30% have reinforced safe rooms, officials estimate. More than 25% lack access to a bomb shelter.
In Tel Aviv, probably a primary target of missiles, city officials this month designated 60 underground parking garages to serve as emergency shelters, capable of temporarily shielding 800,000 people, nearly twice the city’s population. The move came after critics noted that the city’s 241 public bomb shelters could accommodate only about 40,000 people.
Sadjadpour and Hounshell obviously missed the recent poll which showed most Americans are in no doubt that in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran, then Israel should bear responsibility for the consequences.
When gas prices soar after Israel bombs Iran, the average American can be credited with having enough intelligence to understand who to blame — though apparently some in Washington assume otherwise.
When the stock market closes [after the Israeli attack], oil prices are up nearly 40 percent, the largest 24-hour increase in history. CNN interviews Americans at gas stations across the country, notably in swing states such as Florida and Ohio; most blame Iran, not Israel or Obama, for the price jumps.
By Friday evening, leaks have emerged from within the U.S. government and military saying that the United States had no prior knowledge of Israel’s actions.
Obama manages to break away from his national security team to join his family for a quick dinner. Sasha and Malia are talking about their schoolwork. “I don’t like physics,” Malia says. “It’s too complicated.”
“I know just how you feel, honey,” Obama says. “I’ve got a few problems like that, too.”
Azadeh Moaveni presents the view from Tehran through the eyes of “Hamid,” a political science professor.
He flicks on the television at home; the state channel shows emergency workers in white hazmat suits carrying stretchers out of the dusty rubble outside Isfahan. All 1,000 workers at the plant have been killed, and winds are sweeping toxic smoke toward the nearby city. The supreme leader’s war council must be sitting on a woolen rug at Khamenei’s guarded house, appraising the damage to the nuclear sites and calibrating its response. The ticker at bottom of the TV screen says the price of crude oil has jumped to $130 a barrel.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemns the attacks and warns that his country’s airspace is off limits to “further aggression.” Iraq and Iran have grown friendlier since the end of the U.S. war, and Maliki might be willing to look the other way should some Iraqi pipelines mysteriously explode, diverting millions of barrels from the market. Hamid knows that the clerics want to avoid a regional war, but they can destabilize the world economy without going to such lengths. He thinks of the relief that Bashar al-Assad must be feeling in Syria, his regime bought precious days by Iran’s misfortune.
In the morning rush hour, cars whiz past billboards of smiling clerics on the expressway; everyone’s moving fast save for those in the two-block-long line at the nearest gas station. Hamid’s political-theory class starts at 10 a.m., but he has left early to see if he can get online at work; he must e-mail his daughter in Los Angeles to say he’s safe.
The authorities have shut down the cellphone network, worried that Israel’s agents will report back via the phone lines and that the Iranian opposition will scramble to exploit the chaos. The radio reports that the Islamic Association of Students has gathered outside the Swiss Embassy, which looks after U.S. interests in Iran, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” pelting rocks and tossing gasoline bombs over the concrete walls. These are the Basij front line, Hamid knows, the militiamen organized by the government.
He parks his Kia in the staff lot, wondering which former student he can reach to find out how officials are reacting. Most of Hamid’s students go on to key posts in the diplomatic corps and the Revolutionary Guard; he has supervised at least 20 theses gaming out precisely what might happen in this scenario, watched as his students defended their conclusions with glistening eyes, their fervor evident. Not all of them had itched for war with Israel, he reminds himself. Maybe just half.
After his class, in which rattled students argued that Iran should move to weaponize its nuclear program immediately, Hamid watches the supreme leader address the country, transfixed by the elderly mullah’s forceful calm. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never captured even a glint of his predecessor Ruhollah Khomeini’s legendary fire. Today, however, his oratory is masterful. He vows that Iran will not be defeated, that the great nation will retaliate and bring the Zionist enemy to its knees.
The speech is over, and the broadcast cuts to images of Tehran’s snow-capped Alborz Mountains and the Caspian Sea, set to “Vatanam,” a patriotic song of his youth. Hamid’s eyes fill with tears. He is a secular aristocrat by birth, the grandson of a shah’s cabinet minister, trained in Weber and Rousseau, but he is not above being moved by nationalism. Today it is not propaganda; it is genuine solidarity.