Analysis: Media frenzy on Iran contradicts reality

Media preoccupation with Iran contradicts new reality forged by sanctions.

January 31, 2012 02:58
4 minute read.
IAEA cameras in Iran uranium plant [file]

IAEA cameras in Iranian uranium enrichment facility 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Here is an example of just how tightly wound the media is when it comes to anything related to Iran these days.

On Sunday night, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a piece on US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in which he said it would take about a year for Iran to build a nuclear bomb from the moment it makes the decision to do so.

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All of the Israeli news sites – and several international ones as well – went wild. Some put up Panetta’s remarks as their top story leaving it there for a number of hours. What they didn’t realize though is that Panetta made the remarks in December when he was interviewed by anchorman Scott Pelley, and that the same comment on Iran was aired already back then and picked up widely by the same media.

On the other hand, one could ask what difference does it make if the media recycles the same exact story that it wrote a month ago especially now, when chances for an Israeli strike against Iran in the coming year are increasing as Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman predicted in his recent piece in The New York Times Magazine.

The truth is that the pace of the reports coming out of the American media in recent weeks about Iran is almost breathtaking.

First was Bergman’s piece, which opened with the dramatic description of Defense Minister Ehud Barak peering out the window of his luxury apartment in the Akirov Towers in Tel Aviv at the lights below while warning that Iran’s ultimate goal is to destroy the State of Israel.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat

Then came a report in the same paper that Israel cast doubt on the notion that a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities would set off a catastrophic war. The message – it can be done and won’t be so bad.

Next, was The Washington Post report that the US was sending a floating commando base to the Persian Gulf just a week after sending an aircraft carrier through the volatile Strait of Hormuz.

Contrary to popular thinking though, Israel has yet to make an official decision on whether or not it will attack Iran, and there is already some talk within the defense establishment’s upper echelons of the possibility that due to the increased sanctions – particularly the European’s oil embargo – such a standoff might even be postponed, possibly sometime into next year.

In general, Israel’s strategy has been the same since it began the saber-rattling and beating of the war drums in late October ahead of the International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran: threaten to use military force in order to ultimately not to have to.

The strategy employed by Israel was disclosed by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan in a US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks in late 2010 but still for the most part remains the same with the focus still on sanctions, diplomacy, covert measures and, of course, on the credible threat to use military force.

The current state of Iran’s nuclear program is such that Tehran has mastered the fuel cycle and uranium enrichment process and has developed all of the necessary components it would require to build a bomb. All it needs to do now is decide to built it.

The question is if they will.

The defense establishment hopes that the sanctions, covert acts and the credible threat of action by the US and Israel will succeed in delaying Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from having to make that decision in the near future. If it does, then the question that would appear on the Israeli government’s table – to attack or not to – will also be pushed off.

The objective of a military strike – whether launched by Israel or the US – would be similar to that of the sanctions and the covert measures taken by the West. According to most assessments, no matter who attacks, the damage will set the Iranians back just for a number of years, during which time the regime will likely be able to rebuild its capabilities and have more domestic legitimacy to do so.

While Israel is satisfied with the world’s continued crackdown on Iran, it is still not enough. Iran is continuing to enrich uranium and to install centrifuges in the new heavily- fortified Fordow facility near Qom.

The first way to escalate would be for the EU to enact the ban on Iranian oil immediately and not to wait until July. The second step would be for the US and the EU to impose direct sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, a move that would definitely cripple the Iranian economy.

While skeptical, Israel believes that only this combination would succeed in getting the Iranians to make the decision on their own to stop. The rationale is quite simple – the Iranians have been defying the West for years while they worked on the bomb. Now, they are so close that it will be difficult to get them to simply walk away.

This does not mean that if it comes down to it, Israel is not prepared to take military action. According to the slew of recent reports, the contrary is probably true. Either way, it will do everything it can to delay that day from arriving.

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