Will Israel Attack Iran? Writer Explores Possibility : The Two-Way Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic piece on a potential preemptive Israeli attack on Iran is a must-read. It has created a tremendous amount of buzz in Washington and beyond and contains telling details, like the impact on the Israeli leader's father.
NPR logo Will Israel Attack Iran? Writer Explores Possibility

Will Israel Attack Iran? Writer Explores Possibility

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits in the cockpit of an Israeli air force F-15i as commander Ido Nehoshtan points out its features.   Uriel Sinai/Getty Images hide caption

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Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

It's no secret that Israel views the possibility of Iran gaining nuclear weapons as an existential threat. Israel has said as much, as have U.S. policymakers.

It's also well known that Israel has a policy of pre-empting threats to what it views as its survival. We need look no further than the 1981 precedent of the Israelis' attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear plant.

We've also long known that U.S. policymakers can exert only so much influence over Israel.

And anyone who's followed the coverage of U.S.-Israel relations since early 2009 knows that Israelis have more questions about President Barack Obama's willingness to use force against Iran than they did about his predecessor, President George W. Bush.

Those are all major themes in Jeffrey Goldberg's much discussed and controversial in the Atlantic, the "Point of No Return," a piece that has drawn much attention. It's not because it breaks news as much as it focuses attention on the very real possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran.

Much of the attention has come from Goldberg critics who accuse him of being a "propagandist" trying to make a war more likely.

That has drawn defenders like writer James Fallows to vouch for Goldberg's journalism and to say, if nothing else, the piece provides useful clarity of the way Israeli and U.S. policymakers think about possible military action against Iran.

Aside from that raging debate, some of the piece's smaller details were fascinating.

For instance, Goldberg writes that numerous Israeli defense ministry offices contain the same aerial photograph of Israeli jet fighters flying over a historic site in Poland with particular meaning for the modern world -- Auschwitz. It's a graphic reminder of one of the Jewish state's shibboleths: Never Again.

Then there's the influence of Ben-Zion Netanyahu, the 100-year old father of Israel's prime minister, who is a noted historian of the Spanish Inquisition.

Goldberg describes the scene of a birthday party for the Israeli leader's father at which the centenarian spoke, to demonstrate the pull of the father on the son.

“Our party this evening compels me to speak of recent comments made about the continued existence of the nation of Israel and the new threats by its enemies depicting its upcoming destruction,” Ben-Zion began. “From the Iranian side, we hear pledges that soon—in a matter of days, even—the Zionist movement will be put to an end and there will be no more Zionists in the world. One is supposed to conclude from this that the Jews of the Land of Israel will be annihilated, while the Jews of America, whose leaders refuse to pressure Iran, are being told in a hinted fashion that the annihilation of the Jews will not include them.”

He went on, “The Jewish people are making their position clear and putting faith in their military power. The nation of Israel is showing the world today how a state should behave when it stands before an existential threat: by looking danger in the eye and calmly considering what should be done and what can be done. And to be ready to enter the fray at the moment there is a reasonable chance of success.”

Many people in Likud Party circles have told me that those who discount Ben-Zion’s influence on his son do so at their peril. “This was the father giving his son history’s marching orders,” one of the attendees told me. “I watched Bibi while his father spoke. He was completely absorbed.”

Small wonder this piece has generated so much buzz in Washington and elsewhere.