A storm of protest has arisen against a plan by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. This has been the Israeli media’s finest hour, and it started with a great journalist’s column.
In all the rising volume over Netanyahu and Barak’s plot to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilties, by far the most important sound in the air is silence – the silence of the heads of the IDF, IDF Intelligence, Mossad and Shin Bet. In his Friday column that broke it all open, Nahum Barnea wrote in Yediot Aharonot that the four security/intelligence chiefs – Benny Gantz (IDF), Aviv Cochavi (IDF Intelligence), Tamir Pardo (Mossad) and Yoram Cohen (Shin Bet) were all opposed to an attack. Since then, none of them have denied it, none of them or “sources close to” them have said a word. Which means it’s confirmed – all four leaders of Israel’s professional military-intelligence establishment are against bombing Iran.
Which means it ain’t gonna happen, at least not until further notice. The prime minister and defense minister can’t overrule the unanimous opinion of Israel’s war council – especially when all four of their immediate predecessors, led by ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, are also against it.
And here’s the latest good news: According to Ha’aretz, Netanyahu and Barak have found a third stooge: Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has changed his mind and now he, too, wants to attack. In the eyes of the world and most of the Israeli mainstream, no further proof is needed that this is an insane idea. Netanyahu and Barak could not have found themselves a worse reference.
They’re freaking out in Jerusalem over the shitstorm that Barnea’s “Atomic pressure” column started. “All sorts of systems and people have gone mad. This has no logical explanation or precedent,” Lieberman told IDF Radio. Dan Meridor, the proper, level-headed minister of intelligence and atomic energy, made Ma’ariv’s top story today by saying, “Anat Kamm [just imprisoned for 4-1/2 years for leaking classified IDF documents to a journalist] is nothing compared to what’s happening here. This is really crazy. I don’t think there’s ever been a public discussion like this.” (Meridor, however, reportedly opposes an Israeli attack on Iran, preferring that the U.S. do it.)
Lieberman and Meridor could be right about one thing: The reaction to Barnea’s column may be unprecedented; I can’t remember a newspaper article ever blowing the lid off such a supremely important issue so dramatically. On Friday he wrote: “The issue of whether to attack Iran is at the bottom of the Israeli discourse.” Never again, though. When Netanyahu made a brief mention of Iran at the opening of the Knesset winter session, Labor leader Sheli Yehimovich called out that he and Barak were plotting a “megalomaniacal adventure.” Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, also very proper, level-headed and ineffectual, counseled Bibi to “pay attention to the heads of the defense establishment…also on the issue of the Iranian threat.” Labor elder statesman and former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said it best, telling a party meeting: “Every citizen in the country has to be worried that these two fools, Netanyahu and Barak, are planning an attack on Iran.”
Yediot Aharonot, the largest-selling paper in the country, a tabloid that combines a modest amount of really good journalism with a ton of pandering garbage, has this time lived up to its self-styled brand as the “the newspaper of the nation.” After Barnea’s column, the paper ran a story by its intelligence reporter headlined, “Attack on Iran: The day after – Missiles and rockets on Israeli cities, terror attacks on dozens of Israeli targets worldwide, Israeli pilots in interrogation rooms of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards: How the Middle East could look the day after an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
Then the paper ran a story by its military reporter on the fears in Washington, which carried the extraordinary headline: “The Israeli threat.” Yediot columnists, including Barnea again, also weighed in on the possible consequences of Bibi and Barak’s (and now Lieberman’s) caper.
Channel 2, which has the Israeli TV news audience almost all to itself, joined in. It broadcast the influential cabinet minister Eli Yishai telling Shas party activists that he’s “losing sleep” over what could happen after Israel hits Iran: “Imagine [attacks] from the north, the south and the center, they have short-range and long-range missiles. In our estimate, 100,000 missiles and rockets.”
Finally, it’s happened. After years of hearing and talking about nothing but the potential danger of a nuclear Iran, this country is hearing and talking about the potential danger of trying to pre-empt that first danger with fighter bombers. We’re hearing not just about “the Iranian threat,” but about “the Israeli threat,” too. And after years of listening to the hasbara king talk about Hitler and 1938 and Holocaust déjà vu, the Israeli public is hearing, indirectly, from the people they trust more than the politicians – the professionals, the career warriors and spies – and the word they’re hearing from those tough guys is a very loud, urgent “NO.”
Meanwhile, the whole world is watching, and the whole world of course is also thinking “NO.” I don’t see how Bibi and Barak are going to pull this off. I think it’s impossible. One thing for sure – I’ve never seen the Israeli media, starting with Yediot Aharanot, do its job like it’s doing now. There’s no way to overstate the importance of this sudden reversal of Israel’s blind march to catastrophe behind those two bloody fools.
And it was started by the political writer I always thought of as Israel’s Orwell. He lost his voice after Operation Cast Lead, which he supported, but now he’s got it back. If you’re looking for journalistic heroes, you can have Woodward and Bernstein; I’ll take Nahum Barnea.