Reversing Course, Journalist Says Israel Attack Unikely This Year
Ronen Bergman, whose New York Times Magazine article predicted a strike against Iran in 2012, has changed his views.
An Israeli military strike “is not imminent,” and highly unlikely to take place in the next six months, according to Ronen Bergman, the high-profile Israeli journalist whose New York Times Magazine cover story, “Will Israel Attack Iran?” (Jan. 25), concluded otherwise.
Bergman, the polished, self-assured senior political and military analyst for Yediot Achronot, told The Jewish Week that “nothing will happen before the U.S. elections,” and only after that if Iran presents an immediate and serious threat to Israel.
He added with certainty that “the U.S. will not lead” an attack on Iran.
In an interview May 1 prior to his appearance with Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, the founder of Clal: National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, at the Riverdale Y, Bergman said Israelis are deeply worried about Iran making good on threats to wipe Israel off the map, and people stop him on the street to ask “when will it take place, not ‘if’,” he said.
Bergman’s thorough report in The New York Times Magazine concluded, “after speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012,” based on the conviction that the U.S. will not intervene and that Israelis feel only they “can ultimately defend themselves.”
In the interview last week, though, he implied that his Times report may have had an impact on the course of world events since it “created some commotion” among American officials and helped add pressure on the U.S. and Europe to strengthen sanctions on Tehran.
“Many things happened in the last three months” to ease the fear of a looming Israel attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bergman said, including the Obama-Netanyahu White House meeting in March, which he said left administration officials feeling “a bit more relaxed” that the two leaders held similar positions regarding Iran. Another key factor is the upcoming presidential election in November, he added. (The interview took place before this week’s Likud-Kadima deal, which also appears Iran-related, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to be seeking to solidify his political position prior to the American elections.)
Bergman, a prominent print journalist who also has a television show in Israel, said that as recently as two weeks ago a senior Israeli official told him that “nothing has changed” in terms of the thought process of government leaders, who believe that Israel’s decision regarding a military strike will be made strictly based on its assessment of Iran’s actions.
Regarding the tougher economic sanctions in place, Bergman said that two years ago Israeli officials would not have believed them possible and “would have been cheering” over what has been accomplished. “But is it too late” to stop Iran’s push for nuclear arms, he wondered, pointing out that Iran will not meet any of the “four or five preconditions” Israel has set regarding the upcoming negotiations between Iran and the U.S. and its Western allies.
The discussions between U.S. and Israeli officials on the Iran issue are “at the highest level ever,” Bergman said, but the two sides still appear to differ on the timing of a military strike. The U.S. speaks of preventing an attack, while Israel focuses on striking before a bomb is actually prepared.
He noted that both the U.S. and Israel employ vague language to hide their differences.
Bergman says it is “wrong” for Netanyahu to compare the Holocaust to Iran’s threat to Israel, because the Jewish state is strong militarily and “can defend itself.” A grandson of Holocaust survivors, Bergman believes the Shoah’s “memory should remain unique,” and that all Israelis, not only survivors, are “profoundly impacted” by the tragedy.
In the program that evening moderated by Yeshiva University President Richard Joel, launching The Rose Dialogue Series at the Riverdale Y, Rabbi Greenberg said “the Holocaust has to be the guiding light” to Israel’s response to the threats from Iran, and one lesson is that “you take people seriously when they threaten you.”
No Israeli prime minister who feels responsible for the Jewish people could trust its fate to another country, he asserted, adding that it is the responsibility of American Jews to prod Washington in assuring Israel’s security, based on American interests as well as the moral argument of preventing another Holocaust.
Bergman told the audience of several hundred that Israel has numerous allies in the region opposed to Iran obtaining nuclear arms. A number of Arab states, he said, have a “deep fear and hatred of Iran.”
In his initial remarks Bergman focused on the efforts of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. (He is writing a book on the history of the agency and says he has interviewed 650 people as part of his research.)
Thanks to its efforts, he said, Israeli intelligence “has regained the upper hand” in the last several years in its clandestine war with Iran and terror groups it sponsors like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Bergman credited Israel’s leaders for a willingness to authorize the intelligence community to undertake “full-risk operations that would put James Bond to shame.”