Bomb Iran?—Swine flu kept the story off the front pages of American newspapers, but the Israeli press is engaged in a robust public debate over the prospect of an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. That line of discussion continues in the Israeli press. “As far as Netanyahu is concerned, a decisive turning point in world history will occur when Iran completes its nuclear bomb,” wrote diplomatic editor Aluf Benn in a May 3 front-page story in the Israeli daily Haaretz. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s belief that a nuclear Iran would represent an existential threat is a well developed story line in Israel. Today’s debate is much more concrete. Haaretz also reported on the French magazine L’Express’s account of an Israeli Air Force exercise conducted near the British colony of Gibraltar, off the coast of southern Spain. According to L’Express, IDF exercises 3,800 kilometers from Israel confirm that “Israel is making concrete preparations to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.” Haaretz’s reporting referred to a mid-April story in the Times of London, which described Israel as prepared for an attack that could be launched in a matter of hours. “If its forces were given the green light they could strike at Iran in a matter of days, even hours,” a senior Israeli defense official told the Times. “They are making preparations on every level for this eventuality. The message to Iran is that the threat is not just words.” The Israeli daily Maariv reports that those preparations are now complete, and Netanyahu is satisfied that the IDF is ready to launch an attack on Iran.
Israeli media also widely reported remarks that historian Michael Oren made at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference held May 3-5 in Washington, D.C. Though speaking on a panel addressing Israel’s “cold peace” with Egypt, Oren opened with Iran. “Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” he said. Although not yet confirmed, Oren has been named as Tel Aviv’s next ambassador to the United States. Support for an attack on Iran extends beyond Netanyahu’s right-wing government. Sixty-six percent of Israeli Jews support an IDF attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to a poll co-sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan Unversity. (The poll did not report responses from Arab Israelis.)
What does all this mean? The public statements of Israeli officials regarding Iran are part of a broader effort to influence both Washington and Tehran. From the latter have come the predictable threats and rants of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Washington, however, is taking Israeli statements seriously. In late April, the defense analysis website Swoop reported that a series of private warnings regarding a potential attack on Iran had been conveyed from Washington to Tel Aviv. In mid-April, the warnings became more public, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cautioned in a speech to Marine Corps students that an attack on Iran would be counterproductive. In early May, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that an attack on Iran by Israel would be ill-advised.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has been a moderate on the question of a military attack on Iran, met with President Barack Obama on May 5. But the presidency of Israel is a ceremonial position. Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with Obama in Washington on May 18.
Cram-Down Crammed Down—The “Helping Families Save Their Homes Act” should have been an easy ride for Democratic Senators. It was part of President Obama’s broader effort to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, and would have given bankruptcy judges the authority to lower the principal (“cram down”) on some distressed home mortgages. Yet the bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, fell fifteen votes short of the sixty votes needed to block a filibuster. Only forty-three Democrats, and the Senate’s two independents, voted for the bill. Democrats voting with the Republican minority were the usual suspects on lenders vs. consumer issues. They are, along with their career contributions from finance, real estate, and insurance interests: Max Baucus (MT—$4,623,243); Michael Bennet (CO—appointed in to a vacancy in 2009, no contribution history); Robert Byrd (WV—$420,830); Thomas Carper (DE—$2,160,628); Byron Dorgan (ND—$1,102,884); Tim Johnson (SD—$3,025,166); Mary Landrieu (LA—$2,388,634); Blanche Lincoln (AR—$977,290); Ben Nelson (NE—$2,667,406); David Pryor (AR—$1,322,948); Arlen Specter (PA—$5,757,910); and Jon Tester (MT—$473,226). (Funding report courtesy of OpenSecrets.org.)