Middle East

Bangkok Bombings Fuel Israel-Iran Tensions

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Robert Siegel speaks with Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and columnist for Bloomberg View, about escalating tensions between Iran and Israel.


The war of words between Iran and Israel is now a war of assassination attempts. This week, Israeli diplomats were targeted by bombers in India and the Republic of Georgia. Then today, in Bangkok, an Iranian man seriously injured himself with explosives that he was carrying. Israel says Iran is behind those bombings. Iran says Israel is behind attacks on and abductions of its nuclear scientists.

At the center of all this is Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran denies is aimed at developing weapons. Israel, the U.S. and many countries in Europe and the Mideast say it most likely is aimed at making nuclear weapons.

Jeffrey Goldberg, he writes for Bloomberg and The Atlantic, has written extensively about Israel and Iran and joins us now. Welcome.


SIEGEL: Once again. Are we now in a new round of Israeli-Iranian tensions?

GOLDBERG: This is a shadow war that's been going on for at least 20 years, but it does seem to be accelerating. The assassination attempts of Israeli diplomats seem to be a tit-for-tat response to these attacks on the nuclear scientists. One thing that struck me about them is that they're not doing a very good job of assassinating these Israeli diplomats, which suggests that they're motivated a little bit by panic.

SIEGEL: You've addressed this question. Israel hears Iranian leaders continue to describe it as a malignancy that must be removed. It sees Iran getting closer to a nuclear weapon, but Israelis have not launched the big attack on Iran that's often discussed. Why haven't they done it so far?

GOLDBERG: The main reason they haven't done it is that they know that President Obama is adamantly opposed to this and they fear a rupture with the United States. Two other subsidiary reasons: One is that they acknowledge now that President Obama's sanctions regime is actually working. And the second subsidiary reason is that the things that we don't see - the computer viruses that are infecting the Iranian nuclear program, other kinds of cyber-threats that are being launched into Iran - those also have worked and may be continuing to work.

SIEGEL: But the Israelis speak of going past a point at which Iran will be effectively immune to attack because they'll be too far advanced in the nuclear programs. Do the Israelis really have a clock here that's ticking?

GOLDBERG: The Israelis do have a clock that's ticking. Part of this is bluffing, of course. Part of this is to convince the world, hey, you better deal seriously with this problem or we'll deal with it in a much more serious fashion.

The Israelis believe that, when the Iranians moved their centrifuges underground, away from the capacity to be destroyed from the air, that'll be too late. The U.S., of course, has greater capabilities militarily than Israel. And so, the U.S. clock on that is somewhat elongated.

SIEGEL: You say there's now evidence that the sanctions are working. Is there any evidence at all that Iranian calculations of how much damage the sanctions can do and what's in their best interests is changing in response to the sanctions?

GOLDBERG: The sanctions are working better than anyone thought. The most important news today, I think, is news that super tanker companies, the companies that actually move Iranian oil out, are not going to be moving that oil anymore because they can't get insurance under these new sanctions. But...

SIEGEL: You mean, even if China wanted to buy more oil from them, if they can't get a tanker to them, they can't get it?

GOLDBERG: It's becoming harder and harder for Iran to actually receive money through the international banking system for the oil. And now, it's becoming harder for them to actually move the oil out of Iran, so they're being squeezed.

On the other hand, the Iranians look at the world in the following way: Libya, which gave up its nuclear program, was crushed by the West. They look at American troops in Afghanistan and they think to themselves, we have to, at all costs, move toward nuclear breakout and this is the problem.

The question is, how much pain will the Iranian regime accept before it actually says to the West: OK, we're going to actually negotiate this nuclear question.

SIEGEL: Jeffrey Goldberg, thanks a lot for talking with us once again.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Jeffrey Goldberg writes for The Atlantic and for Bloomberg.



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