This is not about the Iranian nuclear programme and how far along they are to building a bomb, nor is it about Israel’s ability to carry out a unilateral strike. Or America’s determination to protect Israel if a regional war breaks out following an attack (by one or more parties). In fact, I’d rather like to stop talking about an attack, and instead write about what’s going on in the media in this boisterous and very belligerent summer.
In the name of full disclosure: Although blogging under a pseudonym, I am not in fact Bibi Netanyahu. Or Barack Obama. And I am not working for the Pentagon or the IDF. This means that I have more or less the same access as your average journalist to what the People Making the Decisions regarding Iran are actually thinking, and my predictions on why they act as they do or when they will give what orders are – guestimates at best, conjuncture at worst. And not terribly useful most of the time. So I’ll refrain from posting them.
However, seeing that the current media blitz on “Will Israel attack Iran” isn’t dying down, here are some points to consider.
In a nutshell: From where I sit, it’s clear that Iran is not backing down on its nuclear programme. In order to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and letting a regime that actively supports global and regional terrorism get their hands on nuclear material (so they can make dirty bombs and give sense of protection to their proxies) Iran has to be stopped. Diplomacy only works at this point when it comes with back-up. Such as the sanctions scheme. But Iran also needs to be reminded that the alternative to talking with the West is being forced to step down by the West , by military force. Now, to put it crudely: As long as Iran thinks that the West can and will attack its nuclear facilities, the West doesn’t have to attack them. But the moment Tehran senses that it’s nothing but an empty threat, that is the moment Iran has no incentive to negotiate, or stop their nuclear programme. And the West will have little choice but to use military force.
That’s where we stand right now: Tehran is calling what they see as Israel’s bluff. All the talk of attacking, they say, was nothing but offensive rhetoric. So Tehran pushes on with its efforts. On the other hand, Israel is calling what they see as America’s bluff – Obama’s promises not to let Iran get a nuke is far away and Israel feels isolated and threatened. And so Israel ups the preparation for military intervention.
My point is this: the debate in the press is part and parcel of this because all three sides (Iran, the US and Israel) have been fighting it out in the press the past year more or less, with endless amounts of leaks and quotes. We don’t know what’s being said in the diplomatic channels, but this crisis is an example of how dangerous it is to build a strategy where the media plays such a central role – because by the end of the day, the media in Israel and the US cannot be controlled and they are spinning their own stories along with the pieces placed by officials and politicians. And it’s hard for us mere mortals to see what is what.
Which is why I at the moment wish everybody would just stop writing about whether or nor Israel can/will/should attack Iran. That conversation does nothing except confirm to the Iranian leadership that Israel is indecisive. Not the signal to send at the moment. In addition, Washington and Jerusalem have demonstrated a sad trend of trying to manoeuvre the other side more in line with their respective position by leaking some of the stuff that should *not* be in the press, feeding the beast and creating serious breaches in both trust and security (exhibit A, exhibit I).
Obviously this doesn’t mean that the press shouldn’t cover this (or the Gates of the City should post and tweet about it). But it does mean that we should all take a step back and evaluate the text in front of us, trying even harder than normal to figure out what it’s doing in this context. Bearing in mind that:
Listen to the cynical voice in the back on your head: Don’t believe everything you read.
1. People who know don’t talk, and people who talk don’t know.
It’s not just a cool saying from the army, it’s also true most of the time. Especially about Iran. Take for example the recent example of an American blogger who published the “Israeli plan of attack.” It got massive coverage, in Israel and abroad. But his source was not only anonymous, it was in fact another post on an Israeli website. Where it is pretty clear that the person writing doesn’t have an actual memo, and is instead doing some speculating. However, all the prominent papers forgot that part of the story. In other words, when some news item claims to bring you classified information, check out the sources.
2. They read Ynet in Tehran too.
Seriously, they do. Just like we read their papers (thank you internet). This means that the press is part of a complex game of shadows where stories and narratives and political messages are placed in order to convey something to ‘the other side.’ Sometimes, the headline in the New York Times is not for the readers but for the politicians. It’s getting increasingly hard to tell when it’s one and when it’s the other, but wars are increasingly fought with words. And the battlefield is ripe with readers. Don’t let them kill your critical judgement. But this is also a source of concern for me, since even stupid pieces can end up carrying political weight.
3. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone. And most have an ego too.
This means I try to avoid opinion pieces (even with prominent names like this or this or this). The people writing them seldom have any real information, they are by now simply joining the line of People Who Have an Opinion About Iran. Especially in Israel where by now we all recognise that this is going to be one of those Historical Moments. So Everybody who is Somebody or was once Somebody or wants to be Somebody one day is now suddenly a self-procliamed expert on Iran… But every article on this topic is trying to push an agenda and in order to do so, they can make an already tense situation even worse. Or when reporting something that is not even new (like this – stating that a war will cost money is not news; it’s providing an argument against the war).
These are my two cents on the topic.