Iran in the media

The renewed interest over the possibility of a preemptive military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities seems to be serving Israeli interests quite well.

IAF F15 fighter jet 311 (R) (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
IAF F15 fighter jet 311 (R)
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
Public speculation about whether Israel is planning a preemptive military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities has erupted on numerous occasions in the past.
Already in the early 1990s, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who was then head of Military Intelligence and later was chief of the General Staff, predicted in private that if the Islamic Republic was not stopped it would have a bomb within a decade.
In June of this year, outgoing Mossad head Meir Dagan sparked controversy when he warned that an Israeli attack on Iran would be a “stupid idea.” However, over the past week, the pitch and fervor of public discourse have reached unprecedented heights.
High-ranking politicians – such as Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor and Minister-without- Portfolio Bennie Begin – warned of the potential dangers resulting from a lively public debate about a subject best left to the discretion of political leaders who are privy to top secret intelligence data and analyses.
Undoubtedly, Begin was right to argue – in a diatribe apparently directed against Dagan – that public servants were obligated to “guard state secrets forever, also after they leave their positions.”
It was unclear, however, in what way Dagan, or any other public servant for that matter, such as the ones who might have generated last weekend’s banner-headlined story in Yediot Aharonot titled “Atomic Pressure” had in fact revealed such secrets. If censorship laws were broken, the guilty party should be prosecuted in a court of law, not publicly lambasted by politicians.
Nor is it immediately clear how, even if it could be stopped, public speculation about whether Israel should or should not attack Iran is damaging to Israeli interests, as Begin and Meridor have claimed.
True, it can be argued that the recent flurry of Hebrew media reports was an intentional ploy to “unveil” Israeli plans for an attack, and thus ruin the element of surprise.
Or they could be an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of such an attack, by claiming, as sources in the Yediot Aharonot story did, that only two men – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – were involved in the decision-making process.
Contradictory media reports claimed that Netanyahu was working to assemble a majority in the inner cabinet of eight in favor of a strike and had recently won over previously skeptical Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
The government does not seem to be taking measures to defuse the situation. Several news media outlets, both local and foreign, described a major IAF exercise in Sardinia, Italy, over the weekend, planned months ago, that was said to include all of the types of planes Israel would use in an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Meanwhile, The Guardian added fuel to the speculation fire when it reported Wednesday that the British military was accelerating planning for its part in a potential US-led attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. And The New York Times reported that the Obama administration planned to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf, perhaps to position itself better for a possible military confrontation with Iran.
Though Begin, Meridor and others believe otherwise, these media reports, coming ahead of a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, due on Tuesday, that is expected to offer new information about Iran’s attempts to develop designs for warheads and delivery systems, actually seem to serve Israeli interests.
The media spotlight clarifies that eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat is not solely an Israeli concern.
The US, Britain, Italy and perhaps other nations have a vested interest in making sure that the military option remains “on the table” along with more robust economic sanctions and various sabotage techniques ranging from cyber-warfare tactics – a la Stuxnet and “son of Stuxnet” – to the assassination of key Iranian atomic energy experts.
Also, the discourse inside Israel and abroad helps refocus attention on the Iranian threat and away from other issues such as the Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN.
All the talk and media exposure also serve to obscure Israel’s real intentions. Therefore, while it is of utmost importance that public servants safeguard military secrets, the renewed interest – both locally and abroad – over the possibility of a preemptive military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities seems to be serving Israeli interests quite well.